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IDEAS AND IDEALS
1135. The notion of complementary opposites is the key to understanding the limitations of the real world. It is not a question of choosing, irrevocably, peace, freedom, love, tolerance, and equality. All of these ideal conceptions imply their necessary opposites. Conflict, restriction, hatred, and inequality cannot be wished away with pious incantations, however heartfelt, or with determined imaginings, no matter how fervent.
1134. Paradoxically, choosing "ideals" -- such as peace, tolerance, and equality may be counter-productive. Every virtue, carried far enough, transforms into vice.
1133. The great intellectual failure of the left is to assume that ideal conceptions represent viable alternatives in real life. It is easy to proclaim virtue by being on the side of peace, tolerance, and equality. But peace may entail self-destruction, tolerance of evil allows it to spread, and equality -- if it were actually attainable -- implies mediocrity, stasis, and the cessation of progress. Choosing -- in the real world -- usually involves determining the lesser evil.
1132. Political correctness attempts to realize -- on earth -- a heaven of equality, with saintly concomitants of benign tolerance and universal respect. The problem is that equality is not in the blueprint of natural things, and what political correctness exposes -- unintentionally -- is the gargantuan gap between the ideal and the real.
1124. Immigration: compassionate ideals are attractive -- but practical realities -- despite their cosmetic deficiencies -- often interfere.
1121. If he did not have to eat, the tiger might well lie down with the lamb.
1120. Political correctness aims for a world of equality where feelings are triumphantly unhurt; the attempt is oppressive, and ultimately must founder on the implacable truth: feelings can never be sacrosanct, and equality is not in the blueprint of natural things.
1119. Ideals are conceptual and theoretical -- they are notions of perfection; human beings are real and -- resistantly -- imperfect. That is why the attempt to implement ideals invariably involves coercion and a loss of liberty.
1118. Socialism illustrates the tyranny of the ideal: it invariably leads to dictatorship.
1117. The tyranny of the ideal becomes possible when noble intentions are considered more important than actual results.
1098. Egalitarian ideals will forever founder on the unmovable rock of hierarchic reality: some ideas are invariably better than others.
1097. The conflict between the ideal and the real worlds cannot be resolved: one is too fanciful for implementation, the other too depressing for contemplation.
1087. Thoughtless human beings have it so easy! (An irreverent addendum to #1086)
1086. To determine what is true, and what is false, to judge what improvements are achievable, and what dreams are idle or even dangerous -- these are the difficult tasks which challenge all thoughtful human beings.
1085. Mr. Dawkins has noted the "epidemic" of restrictions on open speech. The pathogen responsible is the notion of equality; the disease is called political correctness. In the ideal world, people, cultures, and religions -- even ideas except those which deny the very premise of equality -- are equal. Thus criticism becomes "unfair" and -- the ultimate in tragedy -- hurtful of feelings. The ideal world is, necessarily, a restrictive and coercive factor in the real one.
1062. It is fashionable to proclaim -- especially in the interests of compassion and tolerance -- that unequal things are equal. In this manner, stupidity is enhanced, while the reality remains unchanged.
1056. The most promising dreams are those long-cooked over a slow fire -- and well seasoned with reality.
1051. The collision between idealistic dreams and stark realities is seldom pretty. (The dreams are always found liable; reality is awarded for insult, injury, and costs.)
1049. When paradise is assumed a birthright, the earth can harbour only the aggrieved.
1028. When ideas -- whether religious or secular -- are considered too "blasphemous" to be expressed -- we know that somebody's illusion is being threatened.
1020. Socialism seeks harmonious perfection through central planning -- the successful completing of ideal round holes using the square pegs of reality. Thus it is necessarily oppressive; it is invariably revealed as a dictatorship.
1018. Socialism requires central planning -- it assumes that men are piano keys to be manipulated in the achievement of an ideal harmony. But men prefer to be composers and pianists -- not piano keys.
1015. Capitalism works because it recognizes and gives scope to the competitive instinct. Socialism doesn't work because it pretends that people want to be equal. It's the distinction -- once again -- between what works and what sounds good.
1000. All our philosophies have their roots in temperament and emotion.
998. Good ideas are unpretentious, fearless and confident; bad ideas, pretending to virtue and authority -- fear the truth, and thus claim immunity from the scrutiny of free debate.
996. The attractive theory is equality; the plain reality is hierarchy.
966. Any ideal conception -- to the extent which it is not consonant with reality -- is potentially oppressive. Thus, the utopias of religion and socialism -- the ideals of equality and infinite tolerance -- are all inherently tyrannical.
965. To escape the tyranny of reality, we flee to the ideal -- only to discover that even velvet gloves hide similar fists.
955. Those who would chase a dream should always examine the intervening terrain. Often a dream shines brightly, distracting attention from the fact that it lies on the far side of an unbridgeable gulf of nightmare.
947. The "preferred narrative" of those on the left is the world not as it is, but as it "ought" to be. Thus fascism is the obvious and necessary response to any threatening reminders of a reality that has already been rejected.
915. When confronted with the choice between an attractive dream and a workable reality, people often choose the dream. The admirers of the Canadian health care system are an excellent example.
895. Men constantly aspire to build palaces of crystal -- never fully comprehending that only crystal people can live in them.
894. Ideals are for inspiration, not implementation.
880. An ideal shimmers like sunlight on a distant, glorious peak. But any pinnacle of perfection is elusive -- it is a conjuring, a seductive shaping of mirage. The wise man knows when to stop climbing the mountain -- when the air is too austere -- too rarefied to support his only human breath.
853. Those who proclaim the equality of cultures, and cherish the notion that everyone is as good as everyone else, still expect to be recognized and admired for their superior tolerance and extraordinary compassion.
848. Primitive religions and traditional cultural beliefs do not yield easily to fine and enlightened sentiments; it is the great folly of fine and enlightened sentiments to believe that they do.
836. If only it were possible to determine the point at which an exaggeratedly optimistic view of reality -- a benign and encouraging hopefulness -- is tragically transformed into dangerous delusion!
830. We are tempted to advocate for practical idealism -- but suspect that the concept may be an oxymoronic impossibility.
829. Ideals are necessary -- but can become dangerous traps of absolutism.
802. Idealists seem to believe that tribalism is superficial – something which – if ignored -- will simply go away. But the fact is that tribalism has been an integral part of our evolutionary success. That it is instinctive and deep-rooted is shown in every aspect of society: in religion, in politics -- and in rooting for the home team.
793. Perfectionitis: a psychiatric affliction of modern western democracies. Measuring their societies against a standard of impossible perfection, they become filled with self-loathing, and eagerly embrace policies which seem likely to assure their own destruction.
792. People love to hear that unicorns gambol on the slopes of the Big Rock Candy Mountain, where the handouts grow on bushes, and the lemonade -- like the lunch -- is always free. Thus are they seduced into stupidity.
775. Every ideal conception should have a 'Plan B.'
774. No scheme of government benevolence should overlook the fact that some portion of humanity is crooked.
770. What does work is often disdained -- because it fails to support the idea of what should work.
769. Certainty -- when it is linked to grand conceptual schemes of human improvement and social virtue -- should be viewed with deepest suspicion.
743. Every totalitarian – whether dictator, socialist, climate alarmist, religious leader, or upholder of political correctness – is an idealist: he attempts to make humanity fit – through force or persuasion -- the Procrustean bed of an ideal, conceptual world. The concept is always at odds with the facts or with the realities of the human condition, and is ultimately unattainable or unsustainable.
741. "Equality," "tolerance," "faith," ‘science" and "racism" are some of the most dangerous words in the English language – because they all encompass unjustified assumptions.
"Equality" is assumed to be the natural state of things, or a state towards which things should be -- virtuously -- manoeuvered. But while equality of opportunity and treatment are worthy aims, it is inequality -- not equality -- which is at the heart of all change, all life, and all progress. "Equality" is not attainable, except -- perhaps – in stasis, finality, and death.
"Tolerance" and "faith" are assumed to be universally benign; but focus and direction are the determinants: tolerance of murder, or faith in a God who approves of human sacrifice, slavery, or cannibalism can hardly be considered virtuous.
"Science" suggests the authority of facts, and a reliability of prediction; but too often the term is applied to matters of mere hypothesis, to conclusions preliminary or premature, or to pronouncements made by those with expertise in a field labelled "scientific." Only a record of consistent predictive success gives evidence of a scientific understanding of how the world works.
"Racism" is used as a term of irrefutable opprobrium; it is often applied – not legitimately – to an irrational disapproval of race -- but illegitimately -- to simple criticisms of cultural ideas and practices.
735. Idealism-- so often the blind nursemaid to folly.
733. High ideals -- the most convenient cloak for low motives.
725. This is an age which cherishes not only hopeful illusions, but the self-esteem of those most foolishly entranced; thus, in all things, the truth becomes toxic: the destruction of fantasy is seen as a wanton, gratuitous cruelty.
723. Truth disdains alike the sanctity of religion, the myth of equality, and the ideal of cultural fraternity. Thus it is inimical to peace, order, and security -- the raison d'être of all government.
719. Whenever anyone sets out to prove that equality and brotherhood are the central truths of the human condition, they are challenged by merit, and are overcome by competition.
715. There are few things more dangerous than a bad idea pretending to be a good idea -- and claiming special status and protection on that account.
713. It is important to be able to say nasty things about bad ideas; freedom and good ideas are the worthy beneficiaries.
711. Life is a triumph of utility, but a failure of perfection.
710. Aim high -- but recognize that life itself is a failure of perfection. (Cf. #349 Nature does not aim for perfection, but rather, a high degree of utility. This fact should temper much idealistic enthusiasm.)
709. It's better to be perfectly useful than uselessly perfect.
708. We are the temporary achievement of relentless change and ceaseless striving; yet, like the flower that disdains the supportive soil and forgets its roots, we yearn for unwitherable bloom, and a quiet, unhurried garden of equality.
692. Just as the old, looking back, idealize the past, so the young, looking forward, idealize the future. Illusion is the stuff of memory -- and is at the heart of hope.
676. Illusions are necessary, but dangerous. Commitment is best hedged with caution.
660. Careful dreams begin the necessary voyage to improvement. Careless dreams disdain reality -- they end in wreckage -- a harsh testament to the perils of idealistic gullibility.
651. Gazing at the stars will not save you from the abyss at your feet.
649. The spiritual home of Left-Wingery is -- of course -- none other than the Big Rock Candy Mountain -- where the sun always shines, the handouts grow on bushes, and the bluebird, full of free lemonade, exults in perpetual song.
641. Mankind aspires to a perfection not permitted by his genetic legacy --nor by the competitive necessities of his circumstance. He is condemned to endless aspiration -- a persistent purgatory of failed ideals.
632. Some western ideals -- the belief in cultural equality and an uncritical view of tolerance as an unqualified good -- lead to a self-destructive appeasement of those who are neither egalitarian nor tolerant. Complete destruction may not ensue, but the disruption of society occasioned should result in a better appreciation of reality.
586. It's a cruel world: idealistic dreams usually end up costing as much as regular stupidity.
585. Naiveté does not come cheap.
576. Those who breathlessly praise 'cultural diversity' as an end in itself seem to forget that, in the natural world, diversity provides not only good ideas which triumph, but bad ideas which, deservedly, fail.
565. The ideal is that all human beings are equal, and should not be judged on the basis of their culturally derived ideas and attitudes. The fact is that cultural gulfs can be wide, deep, and dangerous. Pretending that there is no abyss will not repeal the law of gravity.
557. Even those philosophically committed to equality and the brotherhood of man tend to root for the home team.
555. Pie-itis: Disease affecting cognition and perception. Characterized by specific hallucinations concerning edible desserts (they are usually round, and crusted) navigating in the earth’s atmosphere.
547. In every social bestiary, the mongoose of ideal conceptions battles with the cobra of practical necessities.
528. Romanticism values the intangible over the tangible.
523. Small achievable dreams are worth considering; it's the grand, universal -- but unachievable -- conceptions that guarantee misery.
504. The source of an idea does not determine its legitimacy.
492. Ideals are often like the Sirens of mythology – a seductively attractive lure to shipwreck.
488. Idealism is absolutism. The pristine version is toxic, and often fatal; to be beneficial, it requires the dilution of balance, and the filter of common sense.
487. Idealism is a rejection of reality. The difficulty is that reality is sometimes subject to alteration, sometimes not. The most productive idealism is tentative and hopeful; the most dangerous is that infused with absolute certainty.
470. The certainty of the righteous idealist is indeed dangerous. Once you have convinced yourself that you are saving the planet, advancing multiculturalism, or ensuring gender equality in the ranks of bicycle mechanics, the pillaging of evidence, the looting of common sense, and the burning of freedoms become mere necessary means blessedly sanctified by noble ends.
469. Certainty based on evidence is a weak and sickly thing compared to the robust assurance arising from unsubstantiated beliefs and impractical ideals.
448. There are contradictions at the heart of human existence which ensure a restless dis-ease: sentient creatures can thrive only in the unreasonable expectation of their own permanence; uplifting, co-operative, egalitarian dreams are restrictively contained in a prevailing landscape of hostile competition. In short, religious and social ideals inevitably conflict with reality.
442 Ideals are theoretical; power is practical. The mixture of the two requires the same caution required when a gasoline can is opened in a match factory.
429. No man is more dangerous than the idealist with power, for he will always seek to oppress or betray the people. The strong idealist sees citizens as square pegs who must be forced, ruthlessly, into the round holes of an imagined perfect behaviour. The weak idealist sees citizens as requiring no special care or protection: their power and advantages may be ceded, easily, to others -- because he believes in the essential goodness of mankind, and the kindness of strangers. Mao Tse-tung was a strong idealist; Mr. Obama is a weak one.
425. Most men are part realist, part idealist. The ideals are usually chosen; realistic notions are generally compelled by circumstance.
408. Failures of idealism: religion, socialism, multiculturalism, the United Nations, the compulsory universal healthcare system, concerted attempts to protect ideas or people from criticism, the committed belief that equality is a "natural" state – especially the notion that equality of result is either attainable or desirable.
397. The "ideal" ideal is that which gives up something of its essence, and makes a compromise with reality.
396. Idealism is absolutism. That is why idealistic schemes for improvement, allowed their full scope, become coercive and oppressive.
68. Not all ideas are equal. In the real world, fact takes you farther than fancy.
362. The flower of absurd belief is usually rooted in the soil of fear, and fear is its chief means of propagation.
355. The steed of idealism should never be given free "reign"
-- it invariably heads directly towards the abyss.
354. Some ideas are better than others. This simple truth strikes at the heart of many popular beliefs; multiculturalism and religion come quickly to mind.
349. Nature does not aim for perfection, but rather, a high degree of utility. This fact should temper much idealistic enthusiasm.
348. Idealists have a penchant for prescribing cures worse than the disease.
346. Some ideas are better than others. The refusal to face this simple fact lies at the heart of multiculturalism.
344. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal... (The American Declaration of Independence) This, of course, is mere pious piffle, the empty puffery of platitudinous pretense. We must conclude that declarations of independence are meant to have the flavour of ceremonial occasions – in which the pomp of oratory is expected to vie with the facade of circumstance.
342. Idealism is the problem: a little bit may lead to improvement; too much invariably leads to a Procrustean bed of cruelty and oppression, or the opposite, a refusal to confront evil. Sometimes it leads to both at the same time. Oh, for a reliable -- and universal -- recipe!
336. The longevity of an absurd belief is a measure of the
reverence in which it is held.
335. Perversity may be condemned as folly, or admired as loyalty.
334. The paradox of perversity is that it is as often admired as condemned.
332. The persistence of unfounded beliefs shows the
inadequacy of facts in contention with reverence.
323. It may be pleasant to imagine every shoot in the garden a potential orchid; however, it does little to prepare for the threat of thistle, or the plague of poison ivy.
314. An idealistic view is often as dangerous as it is attractive.
308. Where harmony is the greatest good, the notes of truth and justice are often deemed discordant -- harsh voices inadmissible in the reverential choir.
302. There can be no honesty in politics: the realist must lie to get elected; the idealist, easily elected for his promises, must cede his beliefs to reality once in office.
300. The tall, impressive column of particular expertise is narrow, and of limited application; wisdom is often found in a broader vessel of general understanding.
298. Beware of politics masquerading as science.
293. To oppose a popular opinion risks isolation and opprobrium. That is why so many bad ideas live into an old age of serenity and reverence.
292. Human Rights Commissions -- with an alchemy perversely unjust -- turn whines into gold.
290. Without dreams, we would remain in a stasis of content.
289. Reasonable dreams may lead to improvement; unreasonable ones to disaster. In the early stages, it is often difficult to make the distinction.
288. The biggest dreams can cause the most damage.
287. Of all dreams, those driven by government are the most dangerous; implementation is undeterred by a sense of personal responsibility, and negative effects are felt by entire communities.
286. All dreams must defer to an underlying paradoxical principle: too much of a good thing is always a bad thing.
281. Man prefers to see himself as the agreeable culmination of a grand plan. That he might be the chance result of persistent rolls of the dice in randomly varying circumstances gives insufficient scope for smugness and self-congratulatory preening.
276. Human Rights Commissions show that the road of Bias can never lead to the city of Justice.
272. Hopefulness should never venture abroad but that it be attended by wariness as a helpful and faithful companion.
271. The construction of the crystal palace always involves some degree of enslavement of the benefiting citizens.
270. Angelic conceptions always founder on devilish details.
269. Man’s great gift is his ability to imagine better worlds; his curse is to be bound by the real one.
267. An aggressive action to remedy a social ill should always wait upon the paramount preliminary consideration: Is the cure worse than the disease?
265. Good is not achieved except through engagement with evil.
263. The socialists’ ideal is a compulsory grand scheme to construct a shimmering palace of crystal for all; that all citizens should have the freedom to construct their own dwellings is as abhorrent to them as the hodge-podge of mud, wood, brick, and glass which must invariably result.
257. Diversity and uniformity represent ends of a spectrum. The most useful light is generated somewhere in the middle.
256. "Diversity" is not an end in itself. At the end, one must conclude that some ideas are better than others.
243. Being on the side of the angels allows for many a pact with the devil. (A re-statement of # 242)
The Alexander Pope Version:
With angels some do take their public
Let noble ends approve their devil’s hands.
242. The nobler the ideal, the greater the evil which can be justified in its pursuit.
232. The United Nations is a wonderful example of the failure which occurs when idealism is unchecked by pragmatism.
199. How oft is the pursuit of an ideal found to end in a quicksand of folly! How oft is the road to stupidity paved with unreasonable kindness!
194. The pursuit of an impossible perfection can provide only a cure worse than the disease; the noble end is seen to justify all those reprehensible means needed to achieve it, but the final result is a degradation, not an improvement in circumstance.
187. If the world of the realist is depressing, that of the idealist is dangerous. Happy is that state where the balloon of hope can lift us from the Slough of Despond, without taking us above those heights where breath must perish.
185. The pursuit of impossible ideals results in the destruction of achievable goods; a coerced harmony leads to the discord of discontent.
179. A modicum of idealism can be a good thing; but too much is enough.
156. Grand schemes of improvement which ignore the primacy of self interest -- will always end badly.
154. Man is happiest when bleating with the herd; the herd is happiest when professing the pursuit of an agreeable ideal, a flattering illusion, or perceived safe haven.
152. In the vehicle of progress, the ideal is the accelerator, the practical is the brake. Finding the judicious application of each in differing terrains is fraught with difficulty: the ride will always be unsettling.
148. It is best that idealism be firmly yoked with impotence, for there are few men more dangerous than the idealist with power. What oppressions have been levied, what destructions have been wrought, what profound evils have been committed by those who would force mankind into the Procrustean bed of an imagined, ideal state!
147. Man’s idealistic reach often exceeds the reasonable capabilities of his grasp; in this disparity lie the seeds of misery.
146. The pursuit of the ideal is a blessing when it results in improvement, a curse when it requires the sacrifice of the reasonable.
122. Imagination is the fuel of man’s aspirations, and his greatest gift; it explores both the world of the possible–as in advances which are achievable because of their consonance with reality–and the world of the unreal as in fiction, superstition, and religion. A great danger arises when one is unable –or unwilling--to distinguish between these two worlds.
103. The whole-hearted pursuit of any ideal requires the sacrifice of common sense.
91. The ideal is the enemy of the possible. (Cf. Voltaire: "Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.")
87. It is a conceit of the modern liberal multicultural society that being nice to people with bad ideas and horrifying beliefs will result in harmony. On the contrary, such folly will end in the conflict which inevitably accompanies the unchecked spread of bad ideas and horrifying beliefs.
86. Many wonderful ideals–equality--religion--multiculturalism –are no more than convenient fictions. As such, they constitute a vulnerability at the heart of human affairs; for how are we to agree when to accept them as convenient, and when to deride them as fiction?
77. The war in Afghanistan suffers from the modern weakness of unconsidered idealism. To take a society from the 14th century to the twenty-first probably requires fifty years of occupation and indoctrination. To commit to less than that, to be sensible, would mean to go home after a couple of weeks.
72. It is true--but difficult to accept--that our highest ideals of peace, justice, and tolerance are not reflected in the universe at large. The most difficult task for mankind is to adjudicate the claims of the real and the ideal. The ideal of loving one’s neighbour is significantly impaired if, in fact, he is plotting to kill you.
56. If nothing else, The United Nations has a significant instructive purpose: it shows with what speed and to what extent idealism can be corrupted by reality.
55. An idea does not have to be valid to be respectable; all that is required is a sufficiency of fools.
45. Idealistic notions may temper tribal emotions; but they will never overcome them.
25. There is a constant battle, in society, between realism and idealism. Idealism often wins out, since realism is much less flattering to our self-image; but the outcome is seldom to our advantage.