What’s Wrong with the World: Chapter 2 – An Unpractical Man

41dudouehll-_sl_300_The world is in trouble. Everyone points out flaws, issues, and problems. Where did these situations come from and what can we do? There is a deeper problem under all the others. Let us take a journey to see What is Wrong with the World.

Problem discussed: People do not realize that idealism is considering everything in its practice essence.

We like to say that we are a society in progress. Social activism is rampant on social media – trying to make the world a better place. Science studies people and things to progress our knowledge of them. The only issue is that in order to progress there needs to be something to progress to. A person progressing out of the wilderness needs to know not only how to survive but also how to navigate into civilization. Just wandering around in a circle is not progress even though there is movement. Chesterton saw this is his day: that ideals move society not mere progress.

There is a popular philosophical joke intended to typify the endless and useless arguments of philosophers; I mean the joke about which came first, the chicken or the egg? I am not sure that properly understood, it is so futile an inquiry after all. I am not concerned here to enter on those deep metaphysical and theological differences of which the chicken and egg debate is a frivolous, but a very felicitous, type. The evolutionary materialists are appropriately enough represented in the vision of all things coming from an egg, a dim and monstrous oval germ that had laid itself by accident. That other supernatural school of thought (to which I personally adhere) would be not unworthily typified in the fancy that this round world of ours is but an egg brooded upon by a sacred unbegotten bird; the mystic dove of the prophets. But it is to much humbler functions that I here call the awful power of such a distinction. Whether or no the living bird is at the beginning of our mental chain, it is absolutely necessary that it should be at the end of our mental chain. The bird is the thing to be aimed at–not with a gun, but a life-bestowing wand. What is essential to our right thinking is this: that the egg and the bird must not be thought of as equal cosmic occurrences recurring alternatively forever. They must not become a mere egg and bird pattern, like the egg and dart pattern. One is a means and the other an end; they are in different mental worlds. Leaving the complications of the human breakfast-table out of account, in an elemental sense, the egg only exists to produce the chicken. But the chicken does not exist only in order to produce another egg. He may also exist to amuse himself, to praise God, and even to suggest ideas to a French dramatist. Being a conscious life, he is, or may be, valuable in himself. Now our modern politics are full of a noisy forgetfulness; forgetfulness that the production of this happy and conscious life is after all the aim of all complexities and compromises. We talk of nothing but useful men and working institutions; that is, we only think of the chickens as things that will lay more eggs. Instead of seeking to breed our ideal bird, the eagle of Zeus or the Swan of Avon, or whatever we happen to want, we talk entirely in terms of the process and the embryo. The process itself, divorced from its divine object, becomes doubtful and even morbid; poison enters the embryo of everything; and our politics are rotten eggs. Idealism is only considering everything in its practical essence.

We very often and sometimes all the time confuse what idealism is. We think it is people tilting at windmills but in reality only the ‘practical’ people are blinded to do such crazy things. A  person striving toward an ideal knows why they fight (even if the ideal is faulty) but a person without ideals only knows how things work for them. Engineers are idealists because they have ideas and create them. An artist is an idealist because they have ideas and create them. A practical person who has no ideals cannot create anything new.

There has arisen in our time a most singular fancy: the fancy that when things go very wrong we need a practical man. It would be far truer to say, that when things go very wrong we need an unpractical man. Certainly, at least, we need a theorist. A practical man means a man accustomed to mere daily practice, to the way things commonly work. When things will not work, you must have the thinker, the man who has some doctrine about why they work at all. It is wrong to fiddle while Rome is burning; but it is quite right to study the theory of hydraulics while Rome is burning.

All being said when we only look back we do not move forward. If we only judge actions post consequence then we cannot pick the good future choice. We can see what may be probable in an aggregate but that cannot be choosing victory it is only choosing who will not lose. It’s like looking at sports statistics to pick a bracket – but there are always upsets.

“Efficiency,” of course, is futile for the same reason that strong men, will-power and the superman are futile. That is, it is futile because it only deals with actions after they have been performed. It has no philosophy for incidents before they happen; therefore it has no power of choice. An act can only be successful or unsuccessful when it is over; if it is to begin, it must be, in the abstract, right or wrong. There is no such thing as backing a winner; for he cannot be a winner when he is backed. There is no such thing as fighting on the winning side; one fights to find out which is the winning side. If any operation has occurred, that operation was efficient.

[…]

A man who thinks much about success must be the drowsiest sentimentalist; for he must be always looking back. If he only likes victory he must always come late for the battle. For the man of action there is nothing but idealism.

It is ideals that move things forward, not the mangling of policies that just shuffle power around. Martin Luther King Jr. did more for civil rights than any practical politician because he fully and rightly believed that all people are created equal. William Wilberforce ended slavery in England because he fully and rightly believed slavery was a horrid evil. The politicians of his day just wanted to be practical.

 If our statesmen were visionaries something practical might be done. If we ask for something in the abstract we might get something in the concrete. As it is, it is not only impossible to get what one wants, but it is impossible to get any part of it, because nobody can mark it out plainly like a map. That clear and even hard quality that there was in the old bargaining has wholly vanished. We forget that the word “compromise” contains, among other things, the rigid and ringing word “promise.” Moderation is not vague; it is as definite as perfection. The middle point is as fixed as the extreme point.  If I am made to walk the plank by a pirate, it is vain for me to offer, as a common-sense compromise, to walk along the plank for a reasonable distance. It is exactly about the reasonable distance that the pirate and I differ. There is an exquisite mathematical split second at which the plank tips up. My common-sense ends just before that instant; the pirate’s common-sense begins just beyond it. But the point itself is as hard as any geometrical diagram; as abstract as any theological dogma.

Thoughts:

In this crazy election year, we have politicians promising the moon but then to being clear as to why. We have people yelling for progress but then not having a direction. We live constantly looking over our shoulder to make sure we did not trip. C.S. Lewis remarked

‘We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world it’s pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We’re on the wrong road. And if that is so we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on’

We are much like this Simpsons parody now:

Progress has become our idol, but all idols are dim and dirty reflections of what should be. We need the bight sun of ideals not the idols of mere movement in circles called progress.

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s