A common call in modern life, especially when discussing politics, is for compromise. We are encouraged to find the middle ground between two positions. Either end of the spectrum is never as “correct” as some point in the middle of the debate according to conventional wisdom.
But there are times when everything “in the middle” is wrong. Let’s take slavery as an example. The constitutional framers struggled mightily with some form of compromise when developing a representational government in the face of a highly populated underclass of slaves. They wondered, “Should slaves be counted in the census?” One of the most famous compromises in American political history led to the “three-fifths” rule, which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person to establish congressional districts throughout the thirteen newly-formed states.
Stepping back, was this compromise really the right answer? More importantly, were politicians of the time even asking the right question? There were vocal opponents to slavery as an institution in the room, but they were considered extremists. They were labeled “unreasonable” and “unwilling to have a civil conversation” about the issue of the day. Rather than the debating the merits of two-fifths versus three-fifths, they called for a complete end to slavery.
240 years later, with the generous gift of hindsight, we can clearly see who was right... and it was not the moderates.
It is with this in mind that we have to take the far ends of any debate seriously. We need to be aware of “three fifths” style compromises in our communities. A strategy to improve your neighborhood school or fund a downtown revitalization project might be voiced by those called “extremists.” Don’t be fooled, though. History might simply call them right.
*Thanks, Jakob Dylan, for your catchy chorus in the song One Headlight by The Wallflowers.