Have you said or written any of these things, or anything like them?
- “The GOP isn’t perfect.”
- “America isn’t perfect.”
- “Trump isn’t perfect.”
If so, I have a question for you…no, let me rephrase that: I have a demand for you:
Or shut up.
Take your time. Show your work – all of it. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation will count. I’ll be waiting.
“Utopia is not one of the options.” – David Bergland
David Bergland, the Libertarian Party’s 1984 nominee for the presidency, made the above observation many times. I was present at two of those times. It was an important reminder of a fact that people generally – i.e., not just libertarians – are inclined to forget:
You automatically fail.
The late philosopher Robert Nozick, in his masterwork Anarchy, State, and Utopia, reminds us of another, equally important fact:
Mine is not yours, and vice-versa.
Finally, we have this pithy rephrasing from the late, great Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, catcher, slugger, and aphorist extraordinaire:
It wouldn’t be.
That should be enough large font for the moment. Each of those statements expresses a single, profound and immutable truth.
First, nothing men make or maintain under the veil of time can be “perfect.” This is beyond all dispute, for men are not perfect. “Perfect” really means “finished; incapable of further improvement.” From that it “should” be “obvious” that we are designed to be imperfect – and I’m not talking about sin here. Our design makes us what Loren Lomasky calls “project pursuers:” individuals engaged by our very natures in choosing goals and finding ways to pursue them.
Second, even if Smith has an attainable definition for “perfection,” it’s highly unlikely that Jones would share it in all particulars. Visions of any ideal – pick your favorite – will vary from person to person. The metrics we use for what will satisfy such a vision are vague enough to guarantee that, especially if one factors in the amount of effort required: 1) to attain the ideal; and 2) to maintain it.
Third, when dealing with visions of utopia – i.e., “perfect” societies – we are albatrossed with human nature. If men are imperfect – and we are – we will inevitably screw up. We’ll make mistakes of perception, conception, reasoning, and execution. Worse, what some will deem masterstrokes are exactly what others will call our worst errors. Worst yet, we have the Law of Unintended Consequences to reckon with. What seemed a terrific idea at the time could well prove unutterably shortsighted and stupid in retrospect. Time offers no guarantees.
As regards politics and public policy, the proper attitude is to seek improvements – and not just “improvements” in isolation, but coupled to a sober assessment of their costs and other consequences. Granted that any improvement may bring to light other possible improvements. Nevertheless it is mandatory that we take one step at a time, wait a little while to see what emerges, and assess what we’ve done in recognition of the consequences and how they varied from our expectations.
Perfectionists and utopians never agree to this. They want their vision of heaven on Earth and they want it now. It’s what makes them intolerable.
“Stamp out racism!” they cry. But racism is inherent in the human desire to be among “one’s own:” others like oneself. It cannot be eradicated. Indeed, there are good arguments for why a residual degree of racism is beneficial rather than detrimental to society.
“Equality!” they screech. But no two human beings have ever been equal. Choose whatever representatives you like; one will be taller, stronger, heavier, wider, better looking, brighter, more articulate, more knowledgeable, more diligent, more patient, more insightful, more creative, more loving, more merciful, or more just than the other. The only approachable equality is equality before the law — and that ideal is one for which we can strive eternally without being perfectly certain that we’ve achieved it.
“Respect everyone!” rises the call. But some are not respectable. I could go in to detail, but I hardly think it necessary. Still, consider: could you respect an able-bodied individual who refuses to support himself? Who disdains all methods for earning a living except for one – and that one only if offered him under conditions he alone may specify?
If the above doesn’t do away with your inclination to say “Well, XXX isn’t perfect,” thus opening an avenue of attack against XXX (and you) for your enemies to exploit, I’m afraid you’re beyond my powers. Have you tried Hare Krishna?