Conscience and Compromise

Let me first introduce the concept of group conscience, a process by which 12-step groups decide what to do. It is a dialogue that only ends when there is substantial unanimity about what would be best for the group as a whole. Individual needs, wants, and opinions are voiced and considered, but do not determine our votes. A motion carries when maybe 95% agree on what is best for us all as a unit and still only after hearing minority opinions.

This process is based on win-win thinking whereas the dictatorship of the majority, familiar to us all, is based on win-lose thinking. A group conscience isn’t always easy. It isn’t efficient except that it ensures as much unity as possible moving forward and is surprisingly satisfying to all participants. I’ve been in 12-step groups that do group conscience in this way and I’ve been in groups that call themselves “12-step” that use the old dictatorship of the majority and I’ve seen the difference.

There are, likewise, two kinds of compromise. In one there is a quid-pro-quo. I get something and you get something and we each give something we consider lesser in the process. It is an exchange that neither side likes but is willing to live with. And it is mutual bribery and extortion.

But there is another compromise that happens with an extended dialogue. It often ends up with a much more satisfying outcome that neither side considered before. What we compromise here are our won’ts and our shoulds, our narrow and exclusionary religious beliefs, our attachments to narrow perspectives or agendas, and our egos, our hopes of being absolutely right and eventually vindicated.

This, however, requires trust, not only in others and their honesty and integrity, but in our own ability to survive self-revelation, to be discerning enough to spot deception, and to be open and honest when it has often been the case that our role models and significant others haven’t been honest with themselves, let alone with each other or with us.

This process requires a belief in the brotherhood of the group and a dedication to its welfare, whether that group is a family, a group of addicts, a school district, a city, a state, a nation or all mankind.

When we look at someone like Nelson Mandela, for instance, who stood up not only for his own rights but for the rights of those who opposed and imprisoned him for decades, we see this process in action.

When we see “to the victors go the spoils”, the brutal colonialism of the past, Westward expansion, the world wars, mutually assured destruction, red states and blue states and our unilateral invasion of Iraq (supported by 73% of us), we see a seedier sort of governance with short-sighted goals and ambitions.

Our founders weren’t united in wanting a Bill of Rights, but we got one and, for the times, it was a step forward against instituting another dictatorship of the majority or, as we have evolved, dictatorship of the wealthiest, the sneakiest or the luckiest political party.

Today, we’ve fallen behind by progressive yardsticks. We added “under God” to our pledge of allegiance, imposing a majority belief on several minorities. We elected a number of liars and cheaters on both sides of the aisle who consistently used the government and their power within it to force the rest of us to subsidize their interests and the interests of their political mentors and backers. We created a horrendously wasteful, dishonest, and heartless health care system and a military-government bureaucracy that should be embarrassing to us. We allow special interests unlimited access into our homes to turn us against each other and lose what little trust remains.

In the autobiographies of several generals, I found that the Army couldn’t close seven unneeded military bases because they were in districts with congressmen with enough clout to stop the closures. These men and women didn’t care that it wasn’t in the nation’s or the Army’s best interest . Their backers, their voters, and they, themselves, wanted to keep the boondoggle and its personal benefits.

That’s the nature of politics in the US today: what’s in it for me? A country united only by their selfishness and shortsightedness.

Even voters themselves are urged to vote in their selfish interests rather that ponder what will benefit the country as a “United” group of “States.”

We’ve become crows fighting for more than our share rather than cooperating. We’ve fractured into Special Interest Groups and ideologues, fixed on our own short-term objectives and oblivious to or at least heedless of the needs of others and the lasting prosperity of us all.

And this is within the United States! Our attitude towards other nations, cultures, values, and religious traditions has been outrageous! I recently talked to a kind and intelligent man who insisted, even now, that if we had just been united and steadfast in our opposition to the unification of Vietnam, we would have won in this brutal struggle to maintain colonialism in Southeast Asia, to prop up dictatorship and despotism against the ordinary people of this poor country that rebuffed a number of invaders both before and after us. According to him, killing 3 million people (three times the number killed in our own Civil War), dropping more bombs than everyone dropped in all of World War II, and spending more than two decades doing it wasn’t enough. We should have stayed the course. We should have been more brutal, more steadfast, and more destructive. Furthermore, he seemed oblivious to the fact that, as soon as we left, Vietnam was fighting Communists to the north and west of her. Nor does he notice that as soon as we left Vietnam, the taxes, conscription, and ruined lives ceased whereas winning the Second World War and fighting North Korea to a standstill has cost us 75 years of something like 100,000 occupational troops in Germany, Japan and Korea, a gigantic ongoing tax burden, while being defeated by the Vietnamese people left us immediately freed and unencumbered. The threat we fought so hard against wasn’t even a little bit real!

Our minds are not clear and our objectives short-sighted, mean-spirited, and counter-productive in the long run. Our major religious groups teach us that only we are to be blessed; only by keeping to our narrow and exclusionary path do we merit grace or good fortune. They insist on demonizing other religious groups like Communists and Muslims with half-truths like “radical Islamic terrorist.”

Of course, we’re not the only ones. We’re not unique or even the worst of the lot. But we have been blessed to have seen only small attacks and small invasions and, by luck or geography, our wealthy citizens avoided the carpet bombing experienced in England, Germany, Japan, China, and Vietnam as well as the brutal ground wars in Italy, France, and Korea during the last century. We won’t be so lucky next time and it is clear to me that fancying ourselves the “greatest nation on the face of the earth” carries with it a set of responsibilities along with its perquisites.

I find it reprehensible that the “war on terror” is creating terror both abroad and at home. We’ve convinced ourselves that if we bully the Third World long enough and hard enough, they will bow down to us and do what we want, even if it isn’t in their own interests. If we win, we get to decide what’s best for the world — or, more accurately, donate our taxes to line the pockets of our profiteers rather than risk our own jobs and pensions. That’s our mindset. And it hasn’t worked for the vast majority of us for quite a while now. Yet we still do it. We still believe it.

We still believe North Korea must not have nuclear weapons even when we invented them, used them on civilians, dispersed them over the face of the globe, and maintain far more than our fair share of them including a bunch just 200 miles off North Korea’s shoreline. We still believe our military is “fighting for freedom” while freedoms are being lost both here and abroad. And we still believe that military violence overseas is noble and effective despite decades of clear and unambiguous evidence to the contrary. We need a new set of philosophies which have tolerance for other views, and room for win-win thinking.

Effective compromise requires honesty and humility; qualities sadly lacking in the average citizen of the United States. No wonder we are bickering among ourselves and with everyone else.

©David N. Dodson, March, 2018

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