by Akim Reinhardt
The perfect, so the saying goes, is the enemy of the good. Don’t deny yourself real progress by refusing to compromise. Be realistic. Pragmatic. Patient. Don’t waste resources and energy on lofty but ultimately unobtainable goals, no matter how noble they might be; that will only lead to frustration, and worse, hold us all back from the smaller victories we can actually achieve.
It seems like sound logic. But there’s a catch. Political progress based on compromise requires good faith. The political center must hold and be strong enough to induce opposing sides to negotiate. As you make small incremental gains, the loyal opposition must be counted upon to accept its small incremental defeats, and vice versa. Without that, there can be no compromise.
But in modern America, the center has crumbled. And when the center does not hold, to compromise is to be compromised. Democratic norms and institutions are under attack from right wing authoritarianism. We are on the precipice. And we have reached the moment when people who say things like “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” are the dangerously misguided citizens putting our nation at risk. Self-proclaimed realists and pragmatists, who would bargain in good faith with the far right wing, will obliviously deal away the republic, one piece at a time. Read more »
by Akim Reinhardt
I’m currently at work on a book about the decline of community in America. I won’t go into much detail here, but the basic premise is that, barring a few possible exceptions, there are no longer any actual communities in the United States. At least, not the kinds that humans have lived in for thousands of years, which are small enough for everyone to more or less know everyone else, where members have very real mutual obligations and responsibilities to each other, and people are expected to follow rules or face the consequences.
One of the fun things about the project has been that people tend to have a strong reaction to my claim that most Americans don’t live in real communities anymore. Typically they either agree knowingly or strongly deny it, and I’ve been fortunate to have many wonderful conversations as a result. But for argument’s sake, let’s just accept the premise for a moment. Because if we do, it can offer some very interesting insights into the nature of the Occupy movement that is currently sweeping across America and indeed much of the world.
One of the critiques that has been made of the Occupy movement, sometimes genuinely and thoughtfully but sometimes with mocking enmity, is that it still hasn’t put forth a clear set of demands. It’s the notion that this movement doesn’t have a strong leadership and/or is unfocused, and because of that it stands more as a generalized complaint than a productive program. That while it might be cathartic and sympathetic amid the current economic crisis, the Occupy movement doesn’t have a plan of attack for actually changing anything.
While I disagree with that accusation for the most part, there is an element of truth in it. However, to the extent that it holds water, the issue isn’t that the people involved don’t know what they want to do. Rather, many of them know exactly what they want. But they are nevertheless going through the careful steps of trying to assemble democratic communities before issuing any specific demands. And as we’re constantly being reminded these days, democracy is messy and inefficient, which is one of the many reasons why the founders created a republic instead.
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