The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Irresponsibility

Preaching to the choir is all very well and good ... unless you want to effect real change.

Then, idealism crashes into reality:
  • If the existence of law suffices: why do we still have crime?
  • If the acknowledgement of a common morality suffices: why do we still have immorality?
  • If sermonising suffices: why do we still have sin?
In fact, an argument can even be made that the law creates the crime -- not that the action termed illegal might or might not have happened because of the law, but that the existence of the law gives every incentive for those who are going to commit illegal acts anyway -- who see no alternative but to commit such acts -- to abandon such societal structures altogether. To suggest that the solution is as simple as explaining to those who don't sing along with the choir that they should, is to assume a position of knowledgeable superiority over the other's ignorance -- to assume that they would -- must! -- choose according to the values we preach if only they are correctly informed.

The world does not work like that. People don't work like that. To teach young people that things should work that way counts, perhaps, among the most irresponsible attitudes I have ever seen. An abstract idealism which cares nothing for individual hopes and needs and fears invariably breaks down on the here-and-now individual human scale: for precisely the same reasons that Ayn Rand was able to make the abstract shadow of collectivism such a terrifying spectre. No matter how valid and valuable and perhaps even essential to the continued existence of humankind a particular idealistic goal might be, this hidden arrogance of moral superiority cannot but become the unyielding rock against which idealists will be dashed again and again.

Thus, idealists burn out.

Preaching to the choir is reassuring: but the choir already sings the song one wishes -- needs -- to teach to the world. True change (assuming that such change is what is truly wanted, rather than the illusion of desired change, or a deliberate sustaining of a secure position foundationed in what, on the surface, seems to be a desire for change) requires reaching the ones who don't want to be reached: which requires a willingness to consider -- fairly -- why that other path might have been chosen in the first place.

Moral superiority does not -- cannot -- allow for that kind of bridge-building. The entire basis for moral superiority is that there is nothing on the other side solid enough to which to bother building a bridge. The choir has no reason to believe otherwise ... and thus its members have no psychological tools to cope, when others don't do as expected, in the face of what had hitherto been believed to be implacable, moral, rational, logic.

This is why idealists cannot succeed, not while remaining absolute and abstracted idealists.

And this is why so many idealists despair.

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