A billboard in congress

October 24, 2016

I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts, and the Tim Ferriss Show is one of my favorites. Tim interviews high-performing individuals, and he often asks his guests a few reoccurring questions. Here’s one: “If you could have a billboard anywhere in the world, where would you put it and what would it say?”

I’ve wondered what I would say, to this and many other questions. It probably depends on what I’m thinking about at the time. If it’s art and writing, my answer would be different. But if it’s politics that I’m thinking of, here’s what I would say.

I would put a billboard in the United States Capitol Building, though in truth I’d like to put one in every legislative and executive chamber in the world. Still, I’m American, so Capitol Hill would be my first choice. Here’s what it would say:

Nobody lives forever.

and

If you leave having never compromised, you’ve probably done something wrong.

The first is true in the literal sense, but also politically. I understand why politicians act in their own self-interest, and take positions solely to get themselves reelected, but I have to question the wisdom. Just as we won’t escape this life alive, no politician’s political life can continue indefinitely. It’s wiser, I think, to pick the causes you care most about most deeply and expend all of your political capital trying to move the needle, while doing the best you can everywhere else.

Political capital is meant to be spent. What’s the damn point of having it if you don’t use it?

As for the latter, I have a lot of problems with politicians who would rather die on a hill of their principles rather than get shit done. Perfect truly is the enemy of good, and doing nothing is often worse than accepting an imperfect compromise. This has limits, of course—if anyone tries to get you to compromise on your principles that slavery is evil, they’re trying to sell you something you should never buy.

Most political considerations are not so cut and dry. It’s better to do something, or to purposefully do nothing because that’s the best option, rather than to stonewall out of principle. For that’s a choice as well, and it’s one made more to make you feel good than it is to make the world a better place.

Maybe it wouldn’t help. Maybe our current system is beyond saving, though I don’t think so. Yet at the very least, I can’t help but think a legislature laboring under those words would be a little wiser than the one without.

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By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

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