Celebrating Compromise

Crapgame:  Then make a DEAL!
Big Joe:  What kind of deal?
Crapgame:  A DEAL, deal! Maybe the guy’s a Republican. “Business is business,” right?   [Famous scene from 1970 movie Kelly’s Heroes]

Invictus is a decent movie – at 80 years old Clint Eastwood is still in top form.  More interesting is that Invictus, like Kelly’s Heroes, is a rare movie celebrating compromise, the key virtue of “dealism,” or economic efficiency.

The movie shows Nelson Mandela, new black leader of previously white-run South Africa, trying to unite suspicious whites with blacks eager for revenge.  Of course Mandela achieves this not by touting the advantages of peace and prosperity, but via pride in beating a common enemy: the South African rugby team wins the world cup.  The title of the movie comes from a poem that inspired Mandella in prison, a poem all about defiance, self-respect, and not a whiff of compromise.

All of which shows just how hard it is to inspire passion for compromise; sadly, no one goes to the barricades for efficiency.  The best this movie can offer is that peace and compromise can help you crush your enemies into smoldering ruins.  Whee.

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  • cvd

    If you’re trying sell people on the virtues of compromise, races relations in South Africa are probably not your best bet. Especially given the current conditions in that country.

    • You really think things would be better there now if they’d had a race war when Mandela took office?

      • Anonymous

        Not now. But check back in 15 years.

  • Constant

    “peace and compromise can help you crush your enemies into smoldering ruins.”

    I like it. I shall add this to my philosophy.

  • diogenese

    You can’t eliminate the human need for an Us/Them division — that’s one of the benefit of sports — channels that desire into a rather harmless medium. Better to have a common enemy be a sport team, then your fellow man.

    There is no visceral response for compromise — well there is definitely a a significant visceral response for any us/them conflict.

    • Jayson Virissimo

      You can’t eliminate the human need for an Us/Them division

      Perhaps not, but you can help people make changes on the margin. You could do worse then showing people this video.

  • no one goes to the barricades for efficiency. The best this movie can offer is that peace and compromise can help you crush your enemies into smoldering ruins.

    Wal-Mart did use greater efficiency to crush its retail competitors, bringing everyday low prices to the masses. It also does far more to improve my utility than Clint Eastwood movies, or any sports team.

  • Robert Koslover

    Just for the record, I’d like to note that “compromise” is not listed among the nine Principles of War. See http://www.wpi.edu/Academics/Depts/MilSci/Resources/prinwar.html

  • William H. Stoddard

    Well, you know, Marx said that the working class were naturally diverse and had no common interests, but that capitalist oppression and exploitation would unite them by giving them a common class enemy. . . .

    • Jayson Virissimo

      Why do the capitalists have a common interest in exploiting the workers and so can unite, but the workers don’t have a common interest in ending the exploitation and so can’t unite? Why the asymmetry?

      • William H. Stoddard

        That’s almost the reverse of what I understand Marx to have said. As I understand him, he definitely does think that the workers have “a common interest in ending the exploitation.” But it’s the exploitation that gives them that common interest and unites them. That is, the socialist movement and the united working class that will build a socialist society are created by . . . capitalism, the common enemy of the working class. If there were no common enemy, the workers would remain divided.

      • Jayson Virissimo

        As I understand him, he definitely does think that the workers have “a common interest in ending the exploitation.

        My point was, if that is the case, why do they seem to be stuck in a non-uniting equilibrium?

      • William H. Stoddard

        Are you talking about what Marx thought, or about how things actually worked out in the real world? If it’s the former, I don’t think that Marx thought that the workers were stuck in a non-uniting equilibrium; he seems to have expected that they would unite, rise against the capitalists, seize the means of production, and institute a socialist state. If it’s the latter, I wouldn’t look for the answer in Marxist theory, but in Mancur Olson’s “logic of collective action,” with a side helping of Robert Michels’s “iron law of oligarchy,” maybe.

  • The movie failed to impress Daryl Lorrimer.

    Timothy McVeigh was fond of the same poem.

  • Jef Allbright

    Seems to me that aiming for compromise in negotiation is like aiming for efficiency (rather than growth) in business.

    To be a valid case of an agent promoting its values, ANY suggestion of “compromise” should be met with a broadening of the context in search of a positive-sum solution.

  • Captain Oblivious

    Based on the title, I expected this post to be about our irrational desire to compromise… I was quite surprised when it seems to imply we don’t compromise often enough!

    For example (and with a strong hope that the conversation doesn’t get sidetracked on the specifics of one arbitrary example): if I think the minimum wage ought to be at least $X, and you think it should be no more than $Y (assuming Y<X), we've got a problem. We could "compromise" by setting it as (X+Y)/2 or some other intermediate point, but all we've done is ensure that no one is satisfied with the result! If I truly think it should be at least $X, how can I agree to something which sets it below $X?

    The only reason I can think of is that I have no intention of leaving it at (X+Y)/2, but rather waiting a little while so everyone will become accustomed to that as a new "floor" (replacing your $Y maximum tolerable rate), so that next year we can again "split the difference" and eventually I'll get what I want. But even then I'm a fool if I think you're not playing the same game – and, rationally speaking, I'm as likely to lose as I am to win at this, so all it does is drag out the disagreement, it doesn't really solve anything!

  • There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blast on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us.


    —Walt Kelly, June 1953