A pernicious impediment

In Opinion, Politics on March 8, 2013 by Birdmischief Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

George Carlin once said, “Inside every cynical person, there is a broken-hearted idealist.” He may or may not have said it first, but it’s his voice I always hear when I think of it. It reached into me, grabbed me, turned me inside out and left me gazing at the truth of it, and at the life I had never known was such a wreckage of thought error. I have been working to sort it out ever since. I doubt that the work will ever end, and I should be concerned if I think it has or should.

I believe that idealism has a vital place in any endeavor. Without idealism, we have no heart or soul. Without those things, we can’t create anything of value.

I don’t believe in unconditional love. I don’t think it is now or ever has been possible. There are always conditions on love, some of them more important than others. I genuinely like people and gravitate naturally towards agape. I think it’s a valuable way of cultivating tolerance, understanding and cooperation, all of which we’ll need to solve the climate crisis and our problems around governance and resources. But being taught that we must love our parents, children or life partners unconditionally is coercive and induces feelings of failure, shame and entrapment within families.

We also wind up with skewed perceptions within the greater society. Unconditional love mutates easily to unconditional loyalty, which then morphs into unconditional obedience to God, Country, Ruler, Employer. This transcends political and religious ideologies. Nobody is immune to the thought error of purism. In fact, I have yet to meet or hear of a person who doesn’t practice it in some way. I practice it, even as I rail against it. My favorite aphorism: “Purism never works.” See what I did there?

Purism has a place. It’s very useful in pursuing and maintaining clean-room technology and best practices in the food industries. It would be hard to find anyone other than a salmonella or klebsiella bacterium who would object to things like insisting that chefs and waiters wash their hands properly after using the toilet. But purism eats itself and all its participants after a certain point. It is a pernicious impediment in discussions of politics, leadership and policy. Even pragmatism can be fatally corrupted by it. As benign as it may seem on its face, purist pragmatism can lead to the very worst of acts and systems. Just think, “It’s not personal, it’s business” as another small business is forced to close or another home is taken by a bank that’s already ‘too big to fail’. Look at the grandmother or cancer-stricken kid we help throw under the bus if we ‘go along to get along’.

Unlike economics, purism does trickle down. It’s used as a tool to crush aspiration in at least 99% of the world’s population. Like creativity, it is hardwired into all of us. Unlike creativity, which is under commercial attack (a whole ‘nother post), purism is cultivated for and made freely available to us to use against each other so that we can’t unite, can’t be effective, can’t protect ourselves and – above all – can’t throw the bums out.

As we move towards the “Block” button or type our next salvo against someone with whom we are disagreeing, it is worth considering just how much we are losing by doing that. Humans need to disagree with each other, because nobody knows everything. If we all fell into lock-step, we would become shriveled and impoverished quite quickly, in mind and spirit if not immediately in body. We would lose all ability to innovate and to solve problems. Right now, we are faced with monumental issues of environmental physics and resource distribution. If we don’t find a way to listen to, learn from and expand because of different voices and opinions instead of blocking and bullying those who try to talk to us, we lose.

Historically, battles have been won by armies made of people who disagree hugely with each other, often to the point of violence. But the armies who won have typically had the greater determination to pull together and win the battle. They have not always been the bigger of two opposing forces. In the Battle of Agincourt, the English won by superior archery and great strategy, despite being outnumbered at least two to one. That wouldn’t have been possible if they hadn’t put aside their differences and kept slogging through extreme exhaustion and sickness that killed off half of them before they got to the battlefield.

“Can’t we all just get along?” is a pithy question, one I’m glad to see quoted so often. But I don’t think that Rodney King meant, “Can’t we all love each other without reservation?” ‘Getting along’ is at least as much about agreeing to disagree as it is about achieving a common goal. In King’s case, it meant, “Can’t we stop beating the crap out of each other?” We on the political Left are notorious for doing exactly that. If we stop eating each other, maybe we can stifle our purism’s inexorable maw and allow our shared idealism the role it deserves.

6 Responses to “A pernicious impediment”

  1. “Humans need to disagree with each other, because nobody knows everything. If we all fell into lock-step, we would become shriveled and impoverished quite quickly, in mind and spirit if not immediately in body. We would lose all ability to innovate and to solve problems.”

    This cognitive process is analogous to the necessity of biodiversity for survival. If we let part of the gene pool die out because they’re not functional right now, we won’t have them available when conditions change. If we refuse to listen to positions we disagree with, we lose any chance to benefit from them. The beauty of scientific method is that it is a self-correcting process; if we keep challenging, rephrasing, and testing, the truth will sift out.

    The tone of debate in many areas has deteriorated in the last few years (says the old curmudgeon), which adds to the difficulty of disagreeing; sometimes it’s hard to disagree it if that results in knee-jerk stereotyped insults.

    As always, you are a voice of reason crying in the wilderness. With more people like you, I’d be more hopeful about out political and social future.

    • Thank you, Anne! I had been thinking of the biodiversity issue when I wrote what I did, but you added meat to it and phrased it far more intelligently than I was capable of doing today. I seriously love what you said about scientific method and how it works. It irks me to see people from all political camps losing sight of this.

      I agree strongly with you about the change in tone of debate, and about its chilling effect on discourse. It’s also insidious, and something about which I must increase my vigilance.

      Thank you for your kind words. There are others out there who also want to emphasize reason and civility, so all may not be lost.


  2. From “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen:

    “Ring the bells that still can ring.
    Forget your perfect offering.
    There is a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in.”

  3. I’m looking over some old science fiction books with a view toward passing them on to my next door neighbor. To find a teenage male African-American who loves to read is such a joy! Going through “The Hugo Winners, Vols. 1 and 2,” edited by Isaac Asimov, I found one of his introductory essays about Poul Anderson and the divisiveness over the Viet Nam war in the late 60’s. I’d like to quote the last two paragraphs (p. 362).

    “To be specific, Poul knows that I am a ‘fuzzy-minded pinko’ and I know that he is a ‘narrow-minded hardhat’ (not that either of us would ever use such terms), but we love each other anyway, and our relations with each other in these last couple of years have not suffered at all.

    May I point out that to disagree without rancor and to engage in rational argument without emotional disintegration is a faculty that need not be confined to the science fiction world. It would be great if that large world outside could boast of it as well.”

    He was a very wise man. I still remember a TV Guide article he wrote about Star Trek, expressing his delight that Spock showed that “being smart is sexy.”

  4. Please note a good present for you.

Leave a Reply to Anne Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Rcooley123's Blog

Rick Cooley's Blog


Just another site

The Coder Chick

SWE Building Businesses

Hawai'i Five-0 Examiner

The hit show seen through a pair of permanent slash goggles.

The Contemplative Mammoth

ice age ecology, early career academia, and diversity in STEM

Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors

Advice on Writing, Publishing, and Book Promotion

AZModerate Rants

Snark is always an option

Whole Thinking

TM pending

%d bloggers like this: