Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Need to Compromise and "Something to Believe In," a Short Story

Here’s a belated Thanksgiving story from my “archives” and a few words about the necessity of compromise in present day America.  You’re about to read what I have to say.  Now, let’s hear what you have to say about this.

What Happens When You Can’t Compromise

For compromise to occur in any area of disagreement, differing sides must not be firmly committed to ideological purity.  They have to be willing to give in on some portion of what they want, so long as they can walk away from the bargaining table with something that they do want.  If this is not possible, then rationality gives way to violence.

The Englishmen in England and the Englishmen in the thirteen English colonies on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean could not agree on the basis for taxation in these colonies.  Neither side gave in, and as a result, the colonies revolted, resulting in the Revolutionary War and the establishment of the United States of America.

During the following century, slavery in southern states paradoxically co-existed with the freeing of slaves in northern States.  (The Dred Scott Decision complicated this issue by declaring that a southern slave freed in Wisconsin was still nonetheless a slave elsewhere.)  And meanwhile, because of the economic dependence of the southern states on slavery, numerous areas of conflict arose.  The two sides were not so far apart, however, that compromises could not be reached.  The Compromise of 1820 and the Missouri Compromise held the nation together until the extreme positions of both sides in regard to slavery, states’ rights and economic issues prevented further compromise in the late 1850’s.  And then the bloody War Between the States, the Civil War, ensued.  America has not been the same since then.

For the past two years, opposing sides in Congress have been unable to compromise on important economic and social issues relating to taxation, government spending and so-called entitlements.  In the absence of rationality, the beginnings of violence have appeared.  That is what the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations are all about.  In another age, civil insurrection or revolution would be a definite possibility in the absence of compromise. Today, instead, we have young people peacefully complaining about lack of jobs, unmanageable debt and unfair wealth distribution.  They claim to be the 99% who are not receiving the more favored treatment that the top 1% of income earners routinely get.  

The United States must find a way, other than pepper spray, to deal with these demonstrators, whose arguments are no less valid than those which led to the Revolution and the Civil War.  The House of Representatives, the Senate and the President must find a way to compromise.  Otherwise, the slippery slope that we are on can result in our country having to face certain very undesirable consequences.
Jack Lippman
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Happy Thanksgiving

Something To Believe In    (From Jack’s original short story archives)

Wang looked up in amazement at the gigantic balloons which floated down the avenue above the paraders.  Some were in the shapes of elephants and clowns and characters he recognized from the TV shows he had been watching.  And the music!  There were blaring bands from all over the country interspersed among the floats.

“But, Mom, what is this parade all about?  Who are we paying homage to?” the thirteen year old asked the middle-aged woman who held his hand tightly.  “I remember parades like this in China, but they were always in honor of the Party or the working man.  I know you have tried to explain Thanksgiving to me, but who are we thanking?  Where are the leaders we should be cheering, like we did in Tiananmen Square on May Day?

“Wang,” she answered, “We are giving thanks for having the things which make our life so happy.  You know, the food on our table, our clothes, the nice apartment we live in.  Americans give thanks in many ways, some even thank God for what they have, but Wang, God personally won’t be part of the parade.”  Max, on the boy’s other side, gave Louise a jaundiced look.

“Oh,” the boy replied.  But it was clear that he was still confused.  “You mean I won’t be seeing Jesus in the parade?  He’s the one I usually thank for that kind of stuff. That’s what Reverend Lee taught us to do.”

“No, but if you want to be thankful to him, you can, Wang.”   

When Louise and Max had gotten Wang from the Mission Adoption Society less than a month before, they had been told that the Mission people who had taught him English also converted him to Christianity, once they had gotten him out of China where proselyting was illegal.  One of the things they had agreed to was to raise the boy as a Christian.  Neither Louise nor Max really practiced any religion.  They decorated a tree at Christmastime, but had never set foot in a church in their entire lives.  Max was born Jewish, but he lacked a religious background and was totally non-observant.  Louise came from a family of atheists.  So, when they paid the $25,000 adoption fee to the Mission Society, they didn’t object to agreeing to raise the boy as a Christian.  And the Mission people didn’t really care.  As far as Louise and Max were concerned, decorating a Christmas tree and hanging up a stocking Christmas Eve would suffice for his religious upbringing.  But Wang’s constant questioning was getting to be a bother.

The parade was drawing to a close, and the level of tension was increasing.   Wang felt it and didn’t know why, but suddenly, the final float of the parade came into view.  Mounted on a sleigh pulled by eight animated reindeer, and waving to all, was Santa Claus, resplendent in his white-trimmed bright red outfit, his snow-covered beard cascading down over his chest.  A loudspeaker boomed out his cries of “Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas to All!   Ho, Ho, Ho,”


Wang’s eyes opened as wide as they could, as Santa rolled by their curbside position.  The cheers were deafening.  

“That’s Santa Claus.  I saw him on the TV yesterday.  Is he the one we thank for everything on Thanksgiving?”

This time Max answered him.  “No, Wang.  Santa may bring the gifts, but he isn’t the one who gets them for you in the first place.”

The boy looked puzzled.  “If I shouldn’t be thanking Jesus or Santa for the gifts, should I be thanking you, Mom and Pop?”

“Well, sort of,” Louise replied, but obviously, she wasn’t happy with that answer and the thirteen year old wasn’t either.

“Look,” he said.  “I know you two aren’t Christians, and until last year, I hadn’t even heard of Jesus.  So whether or not I believe in him really doesn’t matter. I can take him or leave him.  But now you’re telling me that I shouldn’t be thanking Santa either.  This is sort of like what things were like in China.  Everyone used to thank Mao for everything.  Now, that was before my time, but then they told everybody to thank someone else, and finally, just thank the Communist Party, and that’s what I did in the orphanage, but that was okay since they ran the place.  But who do I thank here in America?  I certainly have a lot to be thankful for, what with you adopting me and all.  I just don’t feel it’s enough to thank just you two for all you’ve done for me.

My God, Louise thought.  Perhaps we should have waited for an infant, not this boy with his inquiring mind.  Maybe he’ll end up being a scientist or something, she mused.  

Later that night, in bed, she turned to Max.  “Max, do you believe in some force that controls the universe, some original cause or something?”

“Like God, you mean?  No … let’s leave it at some kind of power that started it all, and forget the divinity part of it.”

“You’re more of an atheist than my Dad was, Dear,” Louise replied.  “I’m beginning to think, if only for the boy, we have to believe in something.”  Max answered, “Well, Miss Atheist, you’re not going to get me involved with Jesus or back to the smelly old shuls I remember from Brooklyn.  Let’s find something nice and non-religious to credit everything to, and give that to the kid.”  “At least then,” Louise continued, “He’ll have someone … or something … to thank on Thanksgiving.”

And so it was that Louise and Max joined an introspective philosophical group, which met in an apartment on the Upper West Side on Tuesday evenings, in the hope of learning some answers to the questions the boy was raising.  Wang eventually started accompany them to the meetings, and perhaps because of his Chinese background, quickly took to what was going on, and understood the discussions in perhaps greater depth than the adults there.   And he never again had to ask about whom to thank for the blessings which he received, but he did give great thought to whether the bounty he shared was indeed a blessing, or perhaps it should be looked at in another light.  He loved to talk about these things with Louise and Max.

Louise was very happy with the outcome.  Max turned to vodka.

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More on Self-Sufficiency 

The item on this blog's last posting dealing with self-sufficiency really said that we might be looking forward to an era of austerity in the foreseeable future.  This will definitely happen in Europe, and because of our worldwide banking ties, it could spread to our country.

Many European economies (Greece, Italy, Portugal, etc.) are struggling because of a decrease in their gross national product resulting from (among other things) their inability to sell their products or resources outside of their borders.  Traditionally, countries in such a fix devalue their currency, making their exports less expensive.  This creates jobs and the resultant consumer spending and domestic debt reduction which salaries make possible.  In Europe today, however, this is not possible.  Greece, for example, cannot by itself devalue the Euro.  They are stuck with it.  The only way, then, to make their exports less expensive is go the route of austerity, which means less money for workers and fewer benefits, making Greek exports competitive and helping their economy.  In fact, European bankers are insisting on such austerity if they are to participate in "bailing out" Greece.

In the United States, if devaluing our currency doesn't work, and the Federal Reserve's present monetary policy amounts to that, the only alternative is asking Americans to adopt more self-sufficient measures, which translate as austerity.  Our present unemployment rate, in effect, accomplishes that.  Should the present rate of unemployment become a permanent fixture in our economy, it will become an "institutional" or strategic tool to promote austerity.  If that happens, an expanded government "safety net" will be needed, funded by tax increases, to catch those whose lives are already "austere" and will have to reduce their standard of living even further.

There was no Euro in the late twenties and the thirties in Europe.  Countries could devalue their currency, as Germany did drastically during the Weimar Republic.  But it didn't work.  At that time, economies were on "the gold standard," and if currency reforms were based on fiction, rather than on the yellow metal, they failed.  The resultant austerity in Germany laid the groundwork for the success of Adolf Hitler in gaining political support.   Monetary policy is a complex matter, something about which learned economists often disagree, but it can have a great, and often not fully understood, effect on history.

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