Monday, May 08, 2006

The Trap of Idealism

Beware of ideaology.: Any system of ideas with an abstraction at its center--an abstraction which assigns you a role or duties--is an ideology. An ideology provides those who accept it with a false consciousness, a necessary component of which is other-directedness. This leads those who accept the ideology to behave as 'objects' rather than 'subjects,' to allow themselves to be used rather than to act to attain their own desires. The various ideologies are all structured around different abstractions, yet all serve the interests of a dominant (or aspiring dominant) class by giving individuals (though the term hardly seems appropriate--'members of the herd' is perhaps more accurate) a sense of purpose in sacrifice, suffering, and submission.

I couldn't have said it better myself. (I did try.) Abstraction is a great thing to have floating around in one's thoughts. And that's where abstractions belong.

There's nothing wrong with being idealistic. One should have ideals, and ideally, strive towards them. But being idealistic is not the same as being ideal. Therein lies the catch.

Regarding oneself as an abstraction ties in with this problem of idealism. An abstraction can be perfect, because it does not have to be human. It is great to have high goals. It is not great to berate oneself so badly for not reaching them that one is rendered incapable of achieving any goals at all.

This problem reaches a peak when one starts to feel that one is expected to be perfect. When one blames problems on not being perfect. "If only I were the perfect mother/ son/ employee/ driver/ shopper, I wouldn't be having these problems." Perhaps so. But any system predicated on someone being perfect is doomed to fail anyway.

The enduring trap of idealism lies in its expectations. Ideally, everyone should behave. But it is not ideal to have no mechanisms to encourage people to behave, or penalities for when they do not. This is where idealism reveals its limitations. Yes, it would be ideal if teenagers didn't get emotionally and physically involved in relationships before they know how to handle them. Yes, it would be ideal if people married their true love early in life and never had to divorce. Yes, it would be ideal if people conducted their lives in such a way that they didn't have to wrestle with moral dilemmas.

But they don't, and they never will.

Ideals are for striving towards. It is foolish to have no fallback plan for when we fail to reach them.

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