The first hints of autumn in the air sharpen up the political season from muggy to crisp. How nice when it will be over and we’ll be able to enjoy a lull before the turmoil of political life begins to build like social magma under a non-dormant volcano. The title above comes from the image of a community band inviting people to join with whatever instruments they played. A man arrived with his stained red bellows and was admitted. Musically he made little contribution, but he did no harm. What stranger bedfellow in the band than he with the stained red bellows? (I’m too ashamed to defend that one, so let’s move on.)

In upper north shore politics, a hot local issue remains the “county” community center stretching to cover over a hundred miles of shore. Usually associated locally with a lunatic left-wing fringe, I’m a bit moxed being well to the right on the “center” issue, though I ’spect those on the right are no less moxified by this than am I. But think. Though liberals are accused of wanton tax-spend ways and conservatives accused of the social conscience of a flea, neither group is its stereotype. In their own lives, conservatives know not all runs on profit margin and bottom line, the same as liberals recognize program spending can’t be let to run wild without risk. A society, like a family, can be driven to ruin being run like a machine or allowed to speed undisciplined. Left and Right are perspectives. We each have both. At any given time, one or the other point of view might dominate, but that doesn’t mean the other is discounted or useless. We should know left and right together make the best team, as do two hands.

Both sides face tough issues. Many conservatives are on board with “starve the beast.” (I personally don’t see “beast” as an apt description for one of the planet’s few excellent governments.) I’d ask, are we really better served with a starved, ill-functioning government? What is the limit there? Many liberals track with social service and safety nets. The basics in education, in health, and for the elderly are huge responsibilities easily put at risk for all if not tightly managed. An effective nation is somewhat like a good family, where there is sufficient nurturing and compassion along with a household run well to meet basic needs. In nation or family, there is compromise to accommodate immediate versus long-range aims. Give-and-take accommodation is perfectly acceptable. That sort of accommodation or compromise is very often essential to form a workable program.

I suspect a great many of us are OK with accommodation and compromise. We’re fine with a gal playing the stained red bellows in the community band. I doubt, though, we’d feel the same if the bellows were an oil drum, or anything else that would clash rather than blend it. Liberal though I am, I’d agree the person wailing on an oil drum with a sledge should be denied. He or she can still smash steel, but not in community band where doing so disrupts the whole. Even if the steel drum banger agreed not to sledge any steel, they could perform antics that could be equally disruptive or distracting enough to rule them out.

Compromise and accommodation come to mind following the recent killing of a U.S. ambassador in Libya. There is a point of view saying it is a reasonable reaction for us to accommodate and compromise by banning religious insult. Does the benefit of peace outweigh the loss of freedom of speech? I put the question that way because while we might personally uphold ideas of religious respect, I wonder how you’d frame laws (essentially blasphemy rules) that would have to apply to all beliefs. In our national situation with many belief systems, we’d be up to our appetites with complications trying to protect this, that, and the other from real or imagined libel or slander. It would also bother me quite particularly that doing any such thing for a “good” reason involves far too much governmental involvement in personal beliefs. If asked, I’d say the risk to separation of church and state is too great and the value of that separation too important to be set aside by yielding to the coercive tactic of mob riot and murder.

I doubt we’d end up any better than those nations currently enforcing governmental protection of religion. It is primarily Islamic countries that do so, and in those places there is no separation of church from state as we have. If peace is to be had from that model, I think the price far too high and destructive to our way of life. I say so because those countries have failed to avoid the pitfall that makes church/state separation of such value to us. They fall victim not only to one religion being legally dominant, but to one sect within that religion holding rule with the claim that the views of one sect are an insult to the other. It is almost inevitable that when these protections are installed and freedom of speech is limited accordingly, the only result you can expect is orthodoxy repressing the contrary. It’s not good for society. Nations that have done this and advocate our following a similar pattern to settle “insult to religion” are also nations embedded in limiting citizenship and property ownership, along with civil, gender, and political rights to select forms.

We can be sympathetic all we wish and desire peaceful compromise, but acceding to insult or blasphemy regulation always favors the group claiming the most insult. It becomes a truly uneven contest in which the most strident objections are carried to the top, where they effectively silence others. Remember the stained red bellows playing in the band? No harm. Insult-to-religion legislation installs the guy with the oil drum and sledge hammer as conductor of your community band. Agreeing to noisy dictatorship is not compromise.