Bargaining with the devil

Friday, October 22, 2010 -- 5:00 PM
John Perry

The title of our show,  “Bargaining with the devil,” is supposed to bring to mind the issues of bargaining and compromise. These are good things, involved in virtually all cooperative and productive behavior. Everyone has to bargain. Even dictators need to bargain with other dictators and heads of state.

But there are times when we shouldn't compromise because basic principles are involved; and there are issues that we shouldn't bargain about. Or so it seems.

Still, even when you are completely right about an important principle, can't the situation you are in force you to compromise? Bernard Williams imagined the following. You are an anthropologist in some country wracked by revolution. One group or another comes in to the village in which you work and rounds up all 15 males. The leader says they will execute them all. You protest. He says, “Fine. If you will shoot the first one we will let the other ones go.” He hands you the gun. What do you do? Surely, in some sense, it is wrong to bargain with murderers about who gets murdered. And it's completely contrary to your principles to kill an innocent person. But if you don't bargain, and act contrary to your principles, 14 extra innocent men will die.

Of course ethical theories may dictate one course or the other. The utilitarian says shoot. The Kantian, I assume, says not to. But recently philosophers like Avishai Margalit have suggested that instead of focusing on theoretical ideals, a useful ethical and political theory needs to start by considering the rights and wrongs of compromise; Rawls may tell us what an ideal group of reasoners in an original position would come up with as a just society; Nozick may tell us who would own what in the extremely counterfactual situation in which we could start with legitimate cases of ownership. But in the real world people have things; nations control territories; societies are ruled by various combinations of laws and principles; and the political actor is never faced with choosing an ideal but rather with making the best out of a messy and unjust situation.

History abounds with leaders who had to compromise with evil. Churchill refused to negotiate with Hitler. But he did negotiate with Stalin, agreeing to the forced repatriation of dissident Soviet refugees among other things. Our nation was founded on compromise. Many of our founding fathers, not only those from the northern states, but some of the slave-holding Southerners as well, knew that slavery was wrong, about as wrong as a thing can be. They compromised away the life, liberty, and happiness of millions of Afro-Americans, in order to have a union.

Margalit distinguishes between compromise and “rotten compromise”. Rotten compromises are those that institute or perpetuate truly inhumane regimes, and such compromises are morally prohibited. By that standard it seems to me the founders' compromise was rotten. And by that standard, I guess, we shouldn't compromise with the Taliban. And Churchill probably shouldn't have compromised with Stalin at Yalta. And I suppose we shouldn't be negotiating with North Korea, and possibly not with Iran either. Inhumane regimes are a fact. Can there really be a moral prohibition against negotiating with them? And doesn't willingness to negotiate imply willingness to compromise?

We will have some help from Carrie Menkel–Meadow, professor of law at the University of California, Irvine. She's the author of What's Fair: Ethics For Negotiators.

Comments (10)


Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, October 23, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Even though I doubt that anyone looks at these com

Even though I doubt that anyone looks at these comments, other than the commenters, I'll take the bait nonetheless. All of the scenarios you present in your post have led us to strategies such as situational ethics (the shooting of one to save fourteen); swallowing one's pride for the good of the cause and practical negotiations, also known as playing 'possum (Churchill) and the modern cornerstone of office politics: consensus building. Bargaining is just that. It is a way of haggling to get something you want, rather than something you don't or nothing at all.
Many would say that there is no bargaining with the devil, because the devil has nothing to lose, therefore you (the bargainer) have nothing to gain. And, you won't.
I don't know of Margalit, but it sounds to me like he(?) is not so much a philosopher as an analyst or amorality. Sure, I could be wrong. Sorry. Sounds like you are covering old ground with new sod-a philosophism I heard somewhere.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, October 24, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Of, or or---get it right Heisenberg---or stay away

Of, or or---get it right Heisenberg---or stay away from philosophy, physics or anything else requiring correct spelling and grandma. (Heh,heh)

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, October 25, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

I don't think the truth should ever be compromised

I don't think the truth should ever be compromised, but then I suppose for so many still searching for the truth, One cannot compromise what One fails to grasp.
So what about a class on truth, Truth 101 anyone?
=

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, October 25, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Truth? A class? Good luck on that, Michael. Oh. Wh

Truth? A class? Good luck on that, Michael. Oh. Which truth are you grasping for?

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, October 25, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

In the proposed negotiation, it is most likely the

In the proposed negotiation, it is most likely the one holding the gun will be amused by you killing one of your own and then kill them all -- and you -- anyway.
as Heisenberg's Eyes said above:
"Many would say that there is no bargaining with the devil, because the devil has nothing to lose, therefore you (the bargainer) have nothing to gain. And, you won't."

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, October 26, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Thank you, Martina. Nice to know someone is paying

Thank you, Martina. Nice to know someone is paying attention,
H.E.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, October 26, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Looks like Martina is a product of historionic eff

Looks like Martina is a product of historionic effect. By this I mean she(assumption)has been affected by the historical changes which have altered us all.Or, get them, before they get you; a position that results from the historionicity of events, epochs and eons of suspicion, savagery, plunder, and the like. Or, Martina might simply say something like: it is just the way it is; I did not invent the rules of engagement, therefore, do not implicate me as part of the problem.
As Ken Wilber has said: and just so. All of this is part of historionic effect. It is more than economics, politics, religion, cultural intractability and the other levels of foolishness we have come to accept as our world view(s). A friend is working on the book. He may finish it. Or not. We shall see. It is hard to write a history (or theory) of everything. Most have failed and will do so. But, it should not be so hard.
We'll see. Keep thinking, Martina---it takes practice.

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, October 28, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Bargaining, compromise and consensus. We rely much

Bargaining, compromise and consensus. We rely much on these procedures and skills. I am inclined to agree with Mr. Ahles regarding truth, but there seem to be those times and circumstances where we tend to shade it, if not mangle it altogether. For example, our hesitance on telling someone they have only a short time to live. Doctor's take to heart the code: first, do no harm.
There are situations where bargaining and compromise never seem to accomplish much. The on-going bickering between Middle East combatants comes to mind. The columnist, Gwynne Dyer, commented today that there seems to be an inordinate amount of media attention on middle east affairs. This has been so for decades and Mr. Dyer wonders why. As do I. It would appear that the attention is largely unwarranted because little changes.
One wonders. Might we suppose that the more media attention those folks get, the more intractable and inflexible their respective positions become? That supposition (if we make it such) would tend to correlate with the reality of the matter. So, what, if anything, might change if the media circus came to an end? The various propaganda machines might run out of steam if their proponents were made to feel less important. Let's face it (and media folks, you are included here): news of the Middle East is not news anymore. Negotiations (bargaining, compromise, etc.) are non-negotiable. And those officials who try to broker peace end up being paid for looking foolish. What a way to earn living! At least clowns are serious about their work.
Dealing with the devil, indeed.
Peace in the Middle East. Now that would be news.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, October 29, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

The Bargaining with the Devil discussion featured

The Bargaining with the Devil discussion featured the decision to support Stalinist Russia, surely an undemocratic regime, in order to prevent a much greater evil, the victory of Nazi Germany. Fair enough. But then the discussion shifted to whether other Presidents are now or have faced similar dilemmas, that premised on your belief that US foreign policy decisions are primarly directed towards democratic ends. This is preposterous. Real politik rules. Do you think the US overthrow of the elected governments of Mossadeghh in Iran in 1954, Arbenz in Guatemal, Allende in Chile, and many others, indeed the invasion of Iraq and now support of Maliki and Karzai are basically efforts to promote democracy? Foreign policy experts, right and left, are very clear, foregin policy is to advance "national interests." So sometimes its in our interests to promote democracy, sometimes not. And the struggle among the strategists is not whether coomitment to democracy is an overriding goal, but rather how to define democracy and whether it is the best way to promote the nation's interests in the immediate situation.
I suggest you might explore the ethics of either (1) promoting ideas about which you know very little but stating them as if these were uncontrovertible, or (2) using ideas you know to be questionable and simplistic to create more appealing radio.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, November 28, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

as above mentioned that if a murderer says that yo

as above mentioned that if a murderer says that you have to kill one person to save others....that's not bloody bargaining for God's sake....that's blackmailing....that's what devil does...who said there is no bargaining with devil and he has nothing to lose?
if the persons who have sold their souls to a very low price willingly....which devil offers....that's not bargaining thats immorality....thats called evil...if no one is ready to sell his soul to a devil,then the devil is failed to accomplish his mission.he has every thing to lose

 

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