To believe something is to think it’s true, right? What other kind of believer could there be? The other kind believes something’s true but will consider new evidence or perspectives. True believers cling adamantly to an idea regardless of evidence. When this goes beyond core values to making every issue a moral absolute, any concession is a compromise with the devil.
Since the late Middle Ages, compromise (from Latin for a mutual promise) has meant settling differences by mutual concessions. The negative meaning is more recent, as in a compromised reputation or immune system. I wonder how much of today’s polarization is because we’ve glorified the second meaning and disparaged the first.
So here we go again, hurtling toward another government shutdown. Yawn. True believers disdain settling differences or getting to yes. Sound bites, memes, and the nature of charisma favor fiery rhetoric over nuance. What a joy it was to hear UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tell the General Assembly last week, “Politics is compromise. Diplomacy is compromise. Effective leadership is compromise.” Do you suppose any true believers were listening?
Image: Satan (dragon, left) gives scepter to the beast of the sea. Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, detail from Apocalypse Tapestry, Angers, France, 1377-82.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.