The first humans to fashion blades out of flint were no doubt painfully aware of a potent fundamental truth about technology: it cuts both ways. Language, our most generally useful technology, is not exempt from this fundamental truth. Language is our number one go-to tool when faced with any social problem. Less obvious, perhaps, is the degree to which language is responsible for generating the problem in the first place.
But that is subject matter for another post. Here I just want to follow up on a recent conversion I had about the language of compromise.
Compromise, the very idea of compromise, is a product of civilization. Compromise makes no sense outside of hierarchical power structures. And the more oppressive and comprehensive the power structure, the more prevalent is the need for compromise. The early users of flint blades never had any use for compromise. For the prisoners of corporate industrial society, compromise is how we live.
“Wait. But isn’t compromise a good thing? Aren’t we taught as very young children to get along with each other and help each other—to cooperate? Isn’t our ability to cooperate part of what makes us social animals?”
Yes. Cooperation is clearly a defining feature of our species. But compromise is not the same as cooperation. Cooperation means that we are pursuing the same goal. Compromise means that at least one of us has abandoned our original goal and replaced it with something else. This is not a subtle difference, and yet those in power intentionally conflate the two terms. If you don’t go along with the corporate agenda, if you are unwilling to sacrifice your goals on the corporate alter, if you are unwilling to compromise, you are being uncooperative.
Compromise is a tool for manipulation and control. Compromise is how we are kept subservient and submissive. It is to the advantage of those in power that we choose compromise over cooperation—even better if we think of compromise as a means of cooperation.
Let me be clear: it is not.
Compromise is not a form of cooperation. Compromise is a form of obeisance. Compromise is a compliance-inducing soporific. Cooperation is a weapon of liberation.