My previous post was talking about the need to respect other people as part of the process of cooperation. This post is concerned with the related issue of compromise in the process of cooperation.
Compromise can be difficult. Compromise always requires giving up something that you want. If you got everything that you wanted, it wouldn’t be a compromise.
Sometimes compromise is inevitable: if you want to buy a cheap car, you give up power or luxury; if you want a really fast car, you can’t get the cheapest car. There’s a tradeoff which requires some compromise. Tradeoffs exist in real-world decision making. Costs get balanced against benefits. The more expensive cut of meat may be tastier, but it’s more expensive. The organic produce may be more healthful, but it costs more. Not all tradeoffs involve monetary costs. If you want to see natural beauty, you can go to Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, but they are crowded. If you want to be alone in nature, you’re forced to go somewhere less famous, and perhaps less spectacular, or less accessible. For a writer, one common tradeoff is whether to produce a bad letter on time or a good letter late — increasing the quality of a written piece takes additional time. For a researcher, one related tradeoff is whether to do more preparatory reading or to begin a project—“I need to do more reading before I start my project” is a common cry. Such compromises are frustrating, but at least they’re not really personal debates or depend on compromise with a collaborator.
Trying to make a compromise with another person while working together presents a different level of concern because there is the interpersonal emotional element that doesn’t exist in making a personal decision of whether to buy the more expensive, more luxurious item, or the lower-cost, lower quality item.
When the personal emotional element gets involved, it’s harder to make clear-minded decisions. In my post, I mentioned the idea of “reactive devaluation”—the devaluation of something because it is associated with someone who is an enemy, e.g., the example of U.S. residents being more likely to accept a nuclear reduction plan if told it was proposed by Ronald Reagan, than if told it was offered by Mikhail Gorbachev—and this is a crucial element.
Sometimes cooperation involves compromising certain principles. In academia, the writer is often forced to compromise in different ways. This is perhaps most stark for students, but it’s not as if professors don’t face compromise in their work. Students may be forced to work with material that they don’t want to use. They may be forced to deal with ideas that their professors want to deal with, even if they don’t want to do those things, and even if they those are in conflicts with their beliefs.
One of my go-to anecdotes on this kind of point is a story about a friend who earned himself an extra paper because, during his oral examination, he could not put aside a specific disagreement with one of his professors. The point on which the two disagreed was related to the work of the philosopher Donald Schon, who was important to the professor and disliked by the student. But the student’s work didn’t use Schon, so all that was really needed was for my friend to focus on the few parts of Schon’s work that generally agreed with his own work (there were some agreements, which explains why my friend was working with the professor in the first place). But my friend focused on what he disliked about Schon—which my friend did again with me in discussing his examination. The disagreement led to his writing extra paper. Writing an extra paper is hardly a disaster, but I think it was unnecessary, because I think my friend could have cherry-picked a few ideas that Schon expressed that agreed with his own work, and stayed silent about his causes of disagreement. The causes of his disagreement had led him away from Schon, but he could have certainly said “Schon shares some assumptions with the people I’m using” (who were generally in the school of American Pragmatism).
To cooperate, it is important to focus on what you’re going to get from the cooperation—the positive angle of it. You don’t want to be blind to the costs, of course, but you have to view those costs in terms of what you hope to get. If you complain excessively about the cost, it will scuttle the cooperative effort. If you focus on the benefits, then you can decide if the benefits are worth the cost.
Sometimes that cooperation might be repugnant—a politically liberal individual in the U.S. might be so disgusted with Sen. Bob Corker that they find it impossible to work with him against Donald Trump, even though Corker has shown his opposition to Trump—but that cooperation might be able to deliver something of great value. Even if that does require working with someone who holds radically different views.
For an academic, these compromises are often less difficult: compromising by discussing a disliked philosopher is rather easier, in my opinion, than trying to actually cooperate with a disliked person.
An academic does benefit from “compromising” a work by shaping the presentation of ideas to suit an audience, even if that audience wants something the author doesn’t like. A scholar may not want to limit their work in the same way the a publisher does. A scholar may not want to shape their work to sell, but may be forced to make such compromises.
It’s important to know what you want and what you need, but the ability to compromise about those desires increases the chances of reaching a cooperative outcome.