Tag Archives: Compromise

Don’t Get Used to It

WeAreHereIn the early 1990’s, a group called Queer Nation came up with the “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!” chant. It was wildly successful and contributed greatly to the phenomenal success of the Gay Rights movement. That movement was so successful that other movements still look to it as the gold standard for both inspiration and strategy. Many of them have adapted and adopted the “We’re here!” slogan-as-a-strategy in form, in spirt, and in attitude.

Arguably however, the slogan has jumped the shark. Even Lisa Simpson, longtime advocate for Gay Rights, eventually shouted in frustration “You do this every year, we ARE used to it!” (seen here). At this point, one could launch a counter-chant “You’re here! We’re used to it! Get used to it!

But the slogan is past its day in deeper ways. I’ll get to that shortly.

First let me point out that the slogan has become much more than a mere rallying chant. It reflects a worldview, an attitude, a tone, and an approach to relationships, both societal and personal that has influenced all of our culture. This message was so successful that it became deeply internalized and enculturated.  It permeated the very thinking of a generation of liberals and conservatives alike. It says, in the most uncompromising terms, that you get what you want by ultimatum. There is no room to negotiate. There is no shared responsibility nor shared blame. The burden is all on the other side. You had better change because I am what I am and I am not going to change or go back into any form of a closet. It is a problem when this no-compromise attitude is generalized beyond the bounds of movements like Gay Rights.

In addition, Liberals were particularly influenced in a much different way. The slogan enculturated the idea that we should not expect others to compromise. We must accept anything and everything no matter how distasteful we find it. We must never criticize other ideas or behaviors, let alone expect or demand anyone else to change. Good liberals chasten each other when they are insufficiently accepting of other viewpoints and differences. This is another unfortunate lasting impact of this movement which taught that it is wrong to judge or criticize.

If this seems confusing to you, I say good! It means you are paying attention! I am suggesting that the Gay Right’s movement in general and the “We’re here!” slogan in particular had two seemingly contradictory side-effects. One was to encourage a destructively uncompromising posture, and the other was to instill an attitude of principled acceptance. These actually reinforce each other.

In current culture this encourages us to assert an unwillingness to accommodate others in any way – even as we chide and criticize those who a do not accept the inflexibility of others. In practice, this is manifest by self-righteous “take me or leave me” declarations when the issue impacts us strongly, and at the same time preachy “you should accommodate others” admonitions when the issue does not impact us as personally.

While it was the right message at the right time for the Gay Rights movement, this confrontational get-over-it ultimatum it isn’t necessarily a good template for other movements. Moreover, it isn’t a particularly good attitude for society in general and it certainly is not a good approach to interpersonal relations. It is a strategy adopted even by the most vile and indefensible groups and individuals.

We’re here! We’re loud and obnoxious! Get used to it!

We’re here! We’re Confederates! Get used to it!

We’re here! We’re Gun-toters! Get used to it

Civilized societies have to cooperate, negotiate, moderate, and compromise if they are to survive. In most cases, an ultimatum strategy is doomed to result in unfortunate outcomes for both parties. When we can compromise and make changes, we can demand that both sides make some effort, some accommodation.

The same is true for interpersonal relationships. If one roommate declares “I’m a messy slob but I’m not going anywhere so you better just get used to it,” it leaves the other party no choice but to walk out. Love me or leave me doesn’t work. Unlike gender identity, most things are somewhat under our control and there are things we can and should do to improve our own behaviors.

In truth, this attitude is dated. Those still influenced by it are blind to the times we live in today. During this Era of Trump, uncompromising declarations and pious acceptance are not as appealing as they once were. People who are making a difference today are people who say “I am willing to change and I do not accept your assertion that you cannot change as well.”

WereHereWith radical crazies infesting the government and with Trump running a for-profit White House, we can no longer accept the “Accept the things I cannot change…” platitude. We cannot accept the fact that Donald was elected President. This picture posted like subversive graffiti on a telephone pole near my house. It reflects the new, more engaged attitude. It reads “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.

We cannot simply accept evolution and climate change deniers in the Congress and Senate. We cannot simply accept a narcissistic lunatic in the Oval Office. We have to criticize. We have to fight. We have to demand change. We have to give up this “liberal principle” of polite acceptance that has lobotomized our brains since the Gay Rights movement launched its famous slogan. We must stop falling for the jiu jitsu logic of Conservatives who tell us that – as we told them about Gay Rights – we now must “get used” to Trump and everything he fails to stand for.

The Gay Rights movement did not intend to teach us acquiescence. Quite the opposite – it was all about boldly fighting for your cause. But it also did not intend to teach that any assertion of an absolute position on any issue must be completely accepted. If both sides take absolute positions of ultimatum, we can only have division and dysfunction.

Apart from basic human rights issues, we do NOT have to accept every card we are dealt. No one should be allowed to build unassailable walls around their intransigence and we should not be pressured by our own peers into respecting and accepting those artificial constructs. “Get used to it!” should not be a principle that we apply in an uncompromising and self-destructive fashion.

Ultimatums are not a strategy, and neither is Zen-like acceptance. In most things, engagement with others and compromise on both sides is how we find win-win solutions.

In realms of faith, many of us conclude that my need for you to respect my crazy belief forces me to respect and support any crazy faith you may have. Truth and belief become inextricably blurred. It’s kind of the same thing here. If we want others to accept our ultimatums, we must then accept the ultimatums of others – no matter how crazy.

We have to exert more nuanced and fact-based judgement in both areas. It’s time to deprogram ourselves away from the old ultimatum-based “We’re here!” thinking of the Gay Rights era and adopt more sophisticated strategies to win hearts and minds and make real change. That starts with not accepting ultimatums or wisdom that tells us to accept what those who profit from the status quo tell us we cannot hope to change.

 

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Liberal Moderation

ModerationAll things in moderation” is a pretty sound truism. It is true for most things, but there are exceptions. Lead is never good to ingest even in moderation. Likewise, activism is not usually very effective and can even be harmful when taken in moderation.

Imagine you were an abolitionist living in the 1760’s. Would you demand a complete end to slavery or would you politely request limits on slave whippings?

Or how about if you were a feminist in the 1860’s? Would you demand equal rights or would you have request (demurely) that women be allowed to smoke in public?

How about if you were a civil rights activist in the 1960’s? Would you demand nothing less than equal rights or would you go out of your way to show how nonthreatening you are by simply asking to sit a few rows further up in the bus if all seats further back are taken?

This was the very question that troubled Martin Luther King in 1963. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” King pushed back against his well-meaning supporters and their strident calls for moderation. He correctly assessed that these friends were a bigger hindrance to the achievement of equal rights than were his opponents. The modest calls of his so-called allies undermined his own demands by making them seem unreasonable and even radical in comparison.

I feel his same frustration. In all the causes I care about, I feel thwarted by fellow “activists” who demand only minor incremental improvements with negligible benefits. Often doing a little bit is worse than doing nothing at all. It often gives the impression we’ve already “fixed” that issue, making it even harder to come back later for real effective change.

That was certainly true for Healthcare. Failing to demand national healthcare and accepting at least a public option was a tactical mistake of President Obama from the beginning. Now we are stuck with a private for-profit “solution” that addresses none of the systemic private-market abuses of our healthcare system.

JoyBuzzer.pngIn fact, President Obama took years to figure out that his moderate reasonable approach in all areas were doomed to fail. Over and over he reached out across the aisle with modest requests of Jokers in Congress, only to accomplish less than nothing. It took him what, 5 years of getting joy-buzzed to finally understand that moderation did not make his opponents any more reasonable or receptive.

Bargaining isn’t a new or complicated skill. In bazaars all across the continents merchants show us how to do it. You demand 10 times what that trinket is worth and finally settle for “only” 5 times its actual value. Only a fool starts out with its actual value and hopes to get anything close to it.

Yet far too many activists fail to apply these simple bargaining rules. In a vain hope of looking reasonable, they ask for next to nothing and if they are unfortunate enough to get it, it becomes extremely difficult to come back for more. The other party always wins when they give away next to nothing. Yet we see these moderate activists in every important area diligently undermining the “extreme militant activists” who might without their “help” bring about real change.

Healthcare: What we asked for and got was a “reasonable” giveaway to the private healthcare sector. What we should demand in the next round is nationalized healthcare. We may be willing to settle for a quality low cost public option.

Gun Control: What moderates call for are “sensible” expanded background checks and mental health services. What we should demand is a near total crippling of the gun industry and close security monitoring of those who own certain guns. We might settle for reestablishing the right to sue gun manufacturers and dramatically increased gun controls and insurance requirements.

Climate Change: What moderates call for are “realistic” industry-friendly systems like carbon trading. What we actually have to achieve in order to save our planet is a near total shutdown of carbon-based fuels and greatly expanded emission limits. Our planet simply does not have the time for moderation on this.

Campaign Financing: What moderates call for are modest reforms that do nothing except create yet more loopholes and workarounds. What we should demand is a complete prohibition from politicians receiving any outside money or working in the private sector for 10 years after leaving office rather receiving a generous government pension. We might settle for public campaign financing.

Atheism: “Non Angry” atheists call for mutual respect and a live-and-let-live attitude toward religion. What we should demand is that magical thinking, like racist or homophobic thinking, not be taken seriously in any aspect of civil society. What we might settle for would be a far stricter enforcement of the separation of church and state including an elimination of all religious carve outs and tax benefits.

War Funding: Our “pragmatic” moderates are thrilled if we can just limit the amount of annual increase in the Pentagon budget. What we should call for is a 90% reduction of our military budget and a retuning of our military industrial complex. Perhaps we might settle for only a 50% reduction.

Abortion: Supposedly hardcore Choice advocates feel lucky if they can mange to push back on just a few of the State actions to restrict abortion. We should call for Federal funding of abortion services and a requirement that all institutions receiving Federal funds provide abortion services. We might settle for much stronger Federal protections of abortion services that prohibit any State legislation that intentionally or unintentionally inhibits abortion services.

Income Disparity: Moderates beg for a slightly higher minimum wage. What we should demand is a steeply graduated progressive tax up to 90% with a maximum income cap based on some multiple of a guaranteed minimum income. We could possibly negotiate on the threshold levels.

Presidents: Moderate liberals feel lucky if they can elect a President that is only slightly to the Left of their Republican opponent, even if that takes us much farther to the Right than before. They should support Bernie Sanders and maybe settle for Hillary Clinton. But they should not vote for her out of fear. The timidity and fear of our liberal moderates ensures we keep losing ground and that is why our nation has drifted steadily Right for nearly 40 years.

In the end, moderation in activism does more harm than good. Moderation does not ever sway our opponents or make the battle any easier. The effort to achieve ANY compromise is not significantly lessened if the demands are modest. Rather it is often easier to get ones opponent to accept a significant compromise if far below the demands. And in the end the ground gained through a small compromise of modest demands is far less than the ground gained by a large compromise on grander demands. Further, you often only get one compromise in a decade or more so incremental movement is often a delusion, or at least far too slow for the people or the planet involved.

A bolder and smarter enemy will give a bit of inconsequential ground to keep their key institutions safe. They will give a bit of ground to gain a bunch of ground elsewhere. That is all the Conservatives give us in response to our modest demands. Conservatives are bold and smart and they know how to demand and bargain and play the long game.

But like President Obama, liberal moderates have no clue. They are neither bold nor smart and they generally lose the long game on every front by moderating each other with continual calls for moderation.