Against Surrender

I’ve been pushing my writing too far back into my bedtime, and that makes things hard because I want to continue through my series of reflections on Jordan Peterson’s Beyond Order but I also don’t want to miss things as I go through.

Although I think I’m still coherent enough to communicate my thoughts, I don’t think there’s enough time left in the day to touch on that, so instead I’m going to write down something that has been on my mind recently.

I hate compromise.

This is probably not healthy in some ways. I’m above average on neurosis and conscientiousness, so this isn’t a giant surprise. And when you are unaware of your own psychological tendencies, you walk a dangerous path.

I loathe making decisions with a high cost because of this preference. Even though I’m not much of a Trekkie, I think of Kirk’s Kobayashi Maru incident in Star Trek where he hacks the simulation to give himself a win during an impossible scenario.

It’s the sort of thing I would do, were I competent enough to do so.

There’s a danger to that because I prefer safe and comfortable things instead of the dangers that would accompany a grand endeavor. I think of this a lot with my writing.

Of course, I am honestly working on getting my work revised to a point where I would feel comfortable contacting agents or self-publishing, whichever seems appropriate in the moment.

But I also feel vulnerable, but not in a way that’s easy to explain.

Nemo Me Impune Lacessit

One block I have about sharing my writing, which I understand is ironic because I am a prolific writer who will share deeply personal things, is that I often feel like my past self is fighting me.

I’m very live-and-let-live in my outlook. A lot of that has been deliberate. I cultivated an easygoing nature in myself because I knew I could be a righteous terror if I made things bigger issues than they had to be.

I’ve also changed my mind fairly often about a number of things. For instance, while I still consider Tolstoy a heretic due to some of his beliefs, I’ve let him talk me into absolute pacifism (which I never would have when I first read his essays before heading off to college) to the point where I call myself a Tolstoyan.

Because I’ve changed so much, I always wonder if I’ll change again. I look at certain trends in my life and notice the commonalities, but also the extreme differences between my understandings.

Once I write and publish something, it lasts forever. Putting something up in a blog doesn’t feel as permanent. In the worst case, I delete the post. It still exists, of course, because nothing on the internet goes away.

But I can retract it, make a point that it is not myself.

You can do the same thing with a book, if you try hard enough, but you need to enter a state of war against it. You can’t just click a button and stop having it proliferate in your name.

Or, rather, perhaps it could be said that other people would perpetuate the thing I wrote, and which we both attribute to my name until I stop attributing it to my name.

I wouldn’t say I’m haunted by my past, of course. I’ve certainly argued for things I now disagree with, but I don’t think I was ever disingenuous or lying to myself so much as coming out of ignorance.

And you really don’t come away from ignorance without making mistakes.

But the problem is that it’s one thing to be an ordinary person, and another thing to be a person defined by your writing.

I’m not sure I want to take that step, but I also feel like I should use my talents to their fullest. One measure of your talents is seeing how far you can take them. Maybe I’ll go somewhere, maybe not, but at least I won’t have the regret of not trying.

But I have strayed from the topic.

The Sin of Compromise

I think there’s a reason we use the word “compromised” as an adjective to describe moral failures.

And it’s this:

All that is not right action is error.

Now, I’m fine with compromise on adiaphora. I don’t care where I eat, so long as I don’t have to engage in immoral practices to eat. I don’t care where I live, so long as I can be in a community of people who tolerate me. Budgets and the colors of flags are beneath me, at least when their presence isn’t accompanied by other streaks of immorality.

But you never compromise on values.

My pet peeve is agreeing to disagree.

That doesn’t exist, technically speaking.

All you have said is: “I reserve the right to maintain my view of reality.”

And often, agreeing to disagree is not merely maintaining one’s own view of reality, but also keeping the notion that one may enforce that view upon others.

If something rises to the point of moral considerations, there is no room for compromise.

The options are:

  1. Disagreement leads to condemnation.
  2. Disagreement leads to at least one party abandoning values.

As someone who espouses a laissez-faire position in my daily life, I see no room for laxity in other matters.

Some of this might be that as a pacifist one of my fundamental goals is to forestall and frustrate violence.

That requires a careful approach, and there is little room for niceties. You don’t get to let things degenerate and then fix them with a war or a threat. You need to manage them closely, and you need to make your case clearly.

And you cannot concede moral equivalence where there is none.

I see this a lot with, for instance, my opposition of the Communist regime in China.

But of course I oppose the Communist Party. They adhere to the ideology that killed my forebears (or, at least, nominally profess to while adopting something no less evil).

What surprises me and, if I may be so bold, sickens me is when I see people who try to point fingers elsewhere when the crimes of a genocidal regime are called to attention.

Barring the fact that all moral error is moral error and rank-ordering errors is a less important task than responding to them, the flaw in this strategy is this:

The highest form of moral compromise follows deflections.

It is a way to make nice that which is abhorrent. It is a shiny coat of paint on death camp walls.

But a deflection is nothing more than an agreement to leave a moral error untouched and uncondemned.

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