LET'S MEET IN THE MIDDLE

Over nearly 20 years (!!!) I feel like the point that has come up the most here, were I to go back and tally everything up, is that compromises are often really bad. We are conditioned to believe compromise is good. Whether we are talking explicitly about politics or about life in general, compromises usually result in both parties being unhappy and neither set of goals being achieved. You get the worst of both worlds more often than you get the best.

It is taken as given by the wise people of politics that the correct solution to a problem lies between what the opposing parties want. I used a textbook that tactfully referred to this as a setup for "mixed policy outcomes," meaning we spend a great deal of money but don't actually solve the problem. We do a little bit, which is enough to cost a lot but not enough to accomplish the goal. Some problems are binary. Some questions have yes or no answers with no nuance or third way.

We are seeing the real limitations of our bias toward "meeting in the middle" to solve problems right now. Last evening I listened to the North Carolina governor – a Democrat in a state that isn't exactly super liberal, and thus a guy always trying to find solutions that please everyone – explain what K-12 school reopening will look like in the fall. It doesn't make a lot of sense. Something about Plan B but also keeping Plan C on the table. Reopening but like, keeping all these protections in place so that opening won't spread the virus.

This, of course, is the Magic Bullet everyone is looking for right now. The two opposing viewpoints are 1) shut everything down until the virus is under control, and 2) the virus is no big deal, keep everything open and go about life as pre-COVID normal. And everybody is looking for some point in between those two, and I just don't think it exists. We can't be "sort of open, but in a way that will be safe like if everything was closed." Making that work would require assumptions about human behavior that simply do not hold, or a level of enforcement that is probably neither possible nor desirable.

This is a collective action problem, and "most people" wearing masks and being smart is not enough. It doesn't work unless everybody does it. And none of this compromise stuff is going to work either. If things are open as "normal" the number of cases will continue to rise; there is political pressure as well as economic incentives to re-open, but that doesn't mean bars and universities can come up with some half-assed "plan" and that resolves things. Either Congress will get its head out of its ass, send every single person $5000 and offer payroll support to employers, and shut everything down for 60 days, or we will continue to do this kind of "we're open but stand six feet apart" routine all but indefinitely. Because it absolutely will not stop what is happening now.

I'm probably prone to overestimating the number of issues that are black-and-white, zero or one. But I have confidence that this is one of them. Either things are shut down and people are staying home, or everything might as well be open. A half-measure isn't going to resolve this.

13 thoughts on “LET'S MEET IN THE MIDDLE”

  • Ed:

    I'm in a pretty red neck of NY state. It's a pun, get it? Haha!!

    We've had 3 or 4 deaths and a total of 225 confirmed cases of infection. I have to go shopping and I go downtown by choice to see a few people from the required distance. Walmart is shithead central and Lowes is about as bad. I would like to see the cops handing out a summons to anyone who refuses to follow mandatory rules. It won't be happening any time, soon.

    There's a sad story or six on the internet about Richard Rose, III–his facebook feed encapsulates the 67 days he spent between calling Covid a hoax and belligerently refusing to mask up and his final comment, just before it killed him.

    No sympathy from me. None.

    Those are the people who want me to compromise–my health–to accomodate their butthurt sense of entitlement.

  • fuckedDOTcom says:

    With 40% of the electorate being violently, proudly ignorant and hateful, and the ruling party having gained its power by stoking and harvesting said ignorance and hate, there is essentially NO CHANCE that the right thing happens. Enjoy pariah status for the next two years, at least, even if the fascists somehow are turned out in November.

  • I prefer Ken Kesey to Saul Alinsky, but the arguably valid insight is the same, or at least similar. Either you’re on the bus or off the bus, and there’s little point in pretending there’s a middle ground on important issues, much less the notion that a middle ground even if locatable represents something valuable in and of itself.

    The recent devolution, sorry, evolution from that outlook on COVID and #BLM, is two-pronged. First, there is one correct position on important debates, and it enjoys either scientific or scientistic (same difference, these days) imprimatur. Second, not only is debate superfluous, but nonconformity is hate and violence.

  • I live in South Korea. I want to avoid pat, cultural explanations like "Asians are more responsive to authority" re: masks and distancing. That might be part of it, but I like to flip it around — why are so many Americans just great big misanthropic assholes? Wearing a mask and staying home isn't some huge imposition on MUH FREEDOMS, it's literally the least you can do right now. There is no "back to normal" until you get this fucking virus under control.

    Anyhow, South Koreans are still masking and distancing and nobody is sure what's going to happen with schools come fall. (Six weeks away natch.)

    If SK is still in deep in shit, the US is absolutely fucked at least until 2022.

  • @ wetcasements:

    South Korea is, from the outside, a mass of contradictions–oh, wait–EVERY country is a mass of contradictions to those who don't live there. Despite being cobbled together and broken into pieces, a number of times, Korea has maybe the second oldest historical record on the planet, if I'm reading things right over the last 40 or so years.

    I've never been and will likely never get to visit.

    You wanna see some really awesome, "Free Market", NON-nanny state response to the pandemic, I can only recommend places like Somalia or, lately, HERE.

  • I generally agree with this sentiment about the problems with compromise. However, I do think there is a middle road in this case, which is to devise rules so that one can operate relatively safely during this epidemic. Transmission seems to occur through the air, so it is important to wear masks, maintain distance, and be outdoors. Businesses could try to operate outdoors, or perhaps indoors with windows open and fans running. Whatever the right course of action is, as far as I can tell, the Trump administration has done nothing for 6 months. I haven't seen any evidence they have considered this strategy, despite all the talk about the need to re-open, and doubt they have the competence to do something like this in ant case.

  • There is not only one scenario. Where the problem is that two parties agree on the facts but have opposing interests, a compromise is the ideal solution. Where the problem is that two parties disagree on the facts, the party who is right about the facts is the ideal solution. Where the problem is that one party wants to do a moral wrong, that party being stopped is the ideal solution. The overall problem is that many people learn how to approach one scenario and then take that as a learning for all others.

    Prime example is right-wing populists applying zero-sum logic to situations where they and a partner could both benefit from collaborating or trading.

  • Trump just can't seem to stop throwing red meat to his base, worse, he seems to be gambling that COVID takes out more Democrats than the FOX-poisoned, and the death toll from recklessly opened schools won't look too bad until after the first week in November. Monster.

  • Good point. The classic example is, of course, slavery, where we managed to compromise for almost a century. The compromise was horrific, resolving the issue was a bloody catastrophe that still hasn't finished playing out, and one side was 100% in the wrong.

  • Glen Tomkins says:

    What is lacking in your quite correct analysis that the country is divided into the COVIDiots vs the Maskholes, is that even the maskholes in this country aren't offering the next necessary step to controlling COVID after you get its rate down in the general population by means of lockdowns. After you get rates down in the general population, you need aggressive pursuit of what are now localized outbreaks with contact tracing, testing of all the contacts, and enforced quarantine of everyone who tests positive.

    When you have that step in place, then it is reasonable to cautiously reopen schools and essential workplaces. Reopening bars, restaurants, casinos, strip joints, the NFL, etc. , everything that poses risk but offers no benefits to society, all that can wait until we have the necessities back on track.

    The COVIDiots are of course idiots. It says so right on their label. Their way will lead to ruin, even more ruin than we have seen already. But, give their point of view this, that the only plan we maskholes are offering is an obviously and massively incomplete solution, that if followed as if it were the entire solution, basically keeps the whole country shut down forever. (Just to be clear on this, coronaviruses do not generally create lasting immunity, so imagining that in 6-12 months we're going to have a vaccine that will end the problem for us is wishful thinking.) Because we dare not risk proposing, or even imagining, the measures needed for the final step in the process, we are transparently not taking the COVID seriously.

    An analogy will help here. Our side of the question of what to do about the undocumented favors some sort of nebulous "pathway to citizenship" as a general and abstract principle, because that is clearly the only outcome consistent with common sense and common decency. But we shrink from standing for amnesty, which is the concrete measure required to achieve that abstract principle. msnety doesn't poll well, so taking that last step is beyond our side.

    Countries that take that last step have to do things like defragment their health care systems so that there can be one coherent system of testing, contact tracing, and enforcement of quarantine. At least for health care involved in testing and treatment of COVID, there must be no cost to the patient, so that everyone will be able to participate in keeping us all safe. We have to end homelessness, at least in people who test positive, because you can't quarantine at home if you have no home. We even have to end inadequate housing, in the sense that people who lack the ability to establish a sick room at home with its own bathroom, need to be provided free alternative shelter. Quarantine needs to be enforced.

    Our side is not willing to even talk about all these elements of the final step. Until our side is willing to propose this rational alternative to COVIDiocy, that side of the divide is not entirely unjustified in rejecting the timid, half-way,measures we are willing to stand up for. Our side has already compromised with itself, as per usual, and the result is an ineffective mess, as per usual.

  • Just a word in defense of compromise. Most of what you say is correct in that compromise has shortcomings. It has one redeeming virtue in that it can prevent a bad situation from getting worse. Reopening to pre-COVID conditions before a vaccine is developed would result in a lot of unnecessary deaths with many consequences. How many school children, parents or grandparents, friends and neighbors can any of us afford to lose in a concentrated period of time. How many taverns can afford to lose customers in a span of weeks, many of them likely to be long time regulars without feeling the loss in terms of friendship and income. How long can a government uncompromisingly ignore a crisis without consequences.

    Imagine what might have resulted had Marie Antoinette actually provided bread to the rioters of Paris. They might have been too busy eating to think of cutting off heads.

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