The end of World War I was the penultimate exercise of forced compromise as the Allies held Germany’s feet to the fire for their aggression. The result was a Germany that printed money to pay reparations which led to extraordinary inflation and eventually the rise of Adolf Hitler. This wasn’t compromise after all, it was punishment.

There have been unequal situations where a victor in a conflict hasn’t dictated injurious terms. The U.S. well understood that to re-build Germany and Japan was far more important than extracting revenge. There was continued personal animosity and there continue to be issues to do with WWII, but for the most part, there was a certain grace to the American position after the war.

Having the upper hand has always been considered to be a good thing. And it is, but fairness is a concept that reveals itself over time. Killing the men and enslaving the women is a tribal concept that works less well in today’s world where electronic devices can record and remember brutality. Long memories and revenge are ably assisted in such a way.

Grace is ultimately what is given in a fair compromise. Negotiations should not be designed to prove a point. The point is most likely made before negotiations commence. What needs to come out of negotiation is what the future will look like and how viable it will be to sustain. Compromises may seem onerous at the time they are made, but they may be worth the burden.

The Japanese and American experts on atomic energy differ on how safe it is to be within a certain radius of the Fukushima Daichi power plant which is currently in crisis. One might want to say that it is better to be safe than sorry, but if you live within fifty miles of the plant, you might be loathe to give up your home on some American’s estimate rather than believe in your own government. It is a thorny issue.

Expertise is a thorny issue. Who is an expert? In academe, there are degrees. The decorative arts have become a source of study in the last thirty years for universities in which higher academic degrees are being offered. Social and cultural history are more than relevant to history after all. But does a degree in, for example, the English decorative arts between 1750-1770 make one an expert in the field of English furniture?

Interior designers, architects, decorators and of course, people with higher degrees in the decorative arts all work within the field in some form or another. I would not question their expertise in the slightest. However, when it comes to understanding a piece of English furniture from the value of the color, the condition, the rarity and the quality, no one knows this better than a dealer. By definition, dealers steep themselves in the finer points of furniture. No one else has the time or the inclination.

The thorny issue is then one of interpretation. Any expert in the field can have an opinion, but whose is the most relevant? For a buyer of English antique furniture, it should always be the dealer. No other experts (auctioneers included) spend the time to know furniture better. For the person putting his money down to buy the piece, that person should know just what he is spending his money on. If I were living within a fifty mile radius of Fukushima, I would certainly want to know who to trust.

The very real consequences of both action and inaction are tragically on full view in one of the most culturally advanced nations in the world, Japan. I don’t know Japanese society, but it appears to be a socially conservative society that is less concerned with social issues than personal responsibility. Every action has consequence, in other words, and it is best to understand its ramifications before committing to the action.

The inaction is revealed by the inadequate preparation for the tragedy engendered by this unimaginably severe earthquake. To assess fault for the unimaginable is ridiculous, but that is the point. No one ever imagined flying a plane into a building either. Clearly, there is no blame for this inaction, but there should be an understanding that no preparation for any tragedy will ever truly be sufficient.

The action that the Japanese have taken since has been, by all accounts, absolutely heroic. The social fabric of Japan allows for a broad view of itself in such horror–that the individual is less important than society so each person must do their part. I think the Japanese might almost be unique in this regard, the one example that might rival it being the British during WWII. Maybe it has something to do with living on an island.

The glassworks at Biot in the south of France near Antibes were most interesting for the little museum that appended the glassworks. They have an annual summer exhibition which I visited when I was there and it was the first place I came across the work of Colin Reid, the English glass artist. Glass is an amazing material and I fell for Reid’s impression of vegetables in glass. They reminded me of the work of Grinling Gibbons, the 17th-18th century wood carver.

Gibbons was allegedly discovered by John Evelyn, the diarist, who introduced Gibbons to King Charles II. Little came of the interview, but Gibbons work was so extraordinary, he was taken up by many owners of English country houses where he carved swags that festooned doors and fireplaces. I once attended a ball at Petworth House, the home of the Earl of Egremont, which has some of Gibbons’ work. There are also lots of Turners there. I didn’t dance much.

One reason I so like the practical arts is that it is all right in front of you. There is no searching for meaning, even if it is there, because the composition has to be successful. Abstract art, which I greatly admire, swerves away from craft often and it dismays me, because the essence of an artist is in his ability, his craft as it were, to evoke that which is in his mind’s eye. The practical arts do not allow for good enough–ever. What you see is what you get. Life should be so simple.

On reading the “Science” section of the NY Times this morning, I came across an interesting article about vaccination. Basically, it was about the misinformation surrounding vaccination, a subject that is becoming yet another hot topic in the 21st century panoply of social issues. It is a topic that doesn’t really have an answer as undoubtedly, there have been cases where vaccinations have been harmful. However, on a percentage basis, it is likely that such cases represent a very small number.

Having said the word percentages, however, I need to say that if I were a parent of a child adversely affected by a vaccination, I would not nearly be so sanguine. In the 18th century when inoculation, the precursor of vaccination, began to be adopted by the west, helped in great part by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who saw inoculation in Turkish culture and decided to have it done to her children, there were rabid protests about the procedure. Lady Mary was subject to great abuse for her temerity.

The social issues that often dominate American politics will never be resolved. In fact, more and more will arise as time goes on. It would be simplistic to suggest that one side is right or wrong. They are competing views on how America should be. What I find so interesting is that there is no middle ground. There is no negotiation and no compromise. Can we live like this or will the American Tahrir Square, or worse, a Libya moment, pop up somewhere to shame us all? Our future awaits.

Do I really believe that there could be a revolt in this country on the level of Libya’s current tumult because of social issues? My answer is that you never know. The inflexibility of an agenda is a two edged sword. It can be a firm road map to the future that allows someone to take a principled non violent stand for what they believe in or it can be the path to glory for a self styled martyr.

There is an historical continuum, particularly when it comes to religion, of violence surrounding the supremacy of a group. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes to deny Protestants protection in France and Cromwell’s determination to eliminate all but the most elemental Protestantism are but a few such instances. Did the violence ever work?

Social issues are a ticking time bomb. Cultural populism, Newt Gingrich for example descrying the lack of faith in America, are extremely dangerous cards to play. George Orwell knew this and anyone who doesn’t should read his book, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. Yes, unfortunately, I do believe that social issues can lead to tremendous upheaval. And as for negotiation and compromise, I think social issues preclude such terminology. What a pity!

In a sense, negotiation and  compromise are always limited in effectiveness because one side will always assume superiority. The truth is that time is a leveler and will ultimately negate any advantage. That is the long view. The short view may seem different, but it isn’t. Advantage is always temporary.

If Pope Clement VII had compromised with Henry VIII over his divorce, there may never have been a Church of England. The lack of compromise, principled or otherwise, created a schism. Was Clement correct to deny the divorce? What would he have said of our society where divorce is so common? Would he have relented? After all, Henry needed a legitimate heir.

So what do principle or compromise have to do with each other? It is hard to figure. In essence, compromise is a sense of reality of the future, rightly or wrongly. Principle, on the other hand, demonstrates a belief, even a kind of faith. Sometimes that faith is reality based and sometimes it isn’t. When it isn’t, it causes problems and when it is, it can be the fount of revolution. The trouble is in determining which is which.