Idealism vs. The Idealist

My following editorial appeared in the Op-Ed section of the Daily Herald on Monday, January 25, 2021. I remain perplexed by the human pattern of embracing “all or nothing” which we see manifest itself in the struggles between ideological extremes. To me, there is little difference between those on the right who vandalized the Capital in DC and those on the left who vandalized the DNC headquarters in Portland, Oregon. When do we learn that we are all here together, that life is finite and that we must make the most of this precious time to leave our world a better place than when we arrived? Most of us make erroneous assumptions or believe propagated misinformation, so where does one find the truth? Only by keeping a healthy skepticism near our hearts and minds can we discover that truth and improve our environment. It takes all of us to make the difference.

Idealism vs The Idealist

At first glance the words “idealism” and “idealist” seem almost synonymous, yet I believe they are polar opposites in meaning and substance. As humans, we all have ideals, concepts, and goals we strive towards. Sometimes it could be as simple as cooking a nice dinner for our family, or it could be as lofty as brokering peace in the Middle East. These are both goals, ideals to work towards though we may not achieve either of them during any given timeframe. In one instance the chicken we make for dinner might come out dry and tasteless, so our dinner would be considered a failure. We could also work towards bringing Palestinians and Israelis together for a peaceful coexistence, though that too could prove to be elusive. Even so, we have an “idea” of the possible and through trial and error, we create as much of a better world as we can within the context of those ideals.

An idealist, on the other hand, might see a potential for perfection and wholeheartedly believes the world they envision can and perhaps must be realized. The idealist has little room for compromise. Many of them believe that any deviation from the ultimate goal of their version of a Utopian society will send their aspirations skidding off course, resulting in failure.

For instance, take the left leaning person who believes in the Marxist construct where we have a completely homogeneous society, where there are rules and regulations created to make certain we all toe the line with little or no variability or nuance in the precepts set forth. Or, the right leaning person who believes in complete autonomy, where we all rely on a perceived better nature to self-regulate ourselves and where rules and empathy are only for the weak. Both of these people will not allow themselves to vary a single degree off course for the result will manifest itself in perceived failure. Though these examples may seem like extremes, I am personally familiar with friends and neighbors who espouse these philosophies, philosophies embodied in the writings of authors such as Ayn Rand and Karl Marx, both offering their idealist’s point of view.

In the end, I see viability in portions of each person’s argument, though I cannot bring myself to fully support either point of view. As an example, someone I have known for many years would post on Facebook. She has very strong, liberal views on a number of different subjects and I, for the most part, agreed with her the vast majority of the time. On occasion I would take issue with a minor point and when I did, I was labeled as the enemy, denigrated by her equally vociferous friends and told I was stupid for my views. On the other hand, I will sometimes disagree with a proponent of the right-wing on Facebook with the hope of making some rational headway on a point. I should know better, for when I do write those comments, I am usually blasted with some quite nasty name calling verbiage.

Over the past 20 years, both in our private lives and in government leadership, the word compromise has become equated with weakness and is generally looked down on by the constituents of most members of congress. “Don’t Give In,” we hear from some very vocal voters who tell their elected officials to follow their mantra when engaging the perceived enemy. This attitude holds forth despite the fact that our legislative process has, at times, ground to a halt because many legislators fear the potential consequences of compromising across the aisle. We have seen this stonewalling over and over to the point where most citizens of this country see congress as completely dysfunctional.

But there are bits of light and hope. In the House of Representatives there is a little-known caucus called Problem Solvers, made up of 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans. The goal of this caucus is to move forward in ways that can benefit the vast majority of the American people. Compromise is the key word in crafting their legislation since compromise has been the cornerstone of the legislative process since the founding of this nation. In order for this group to function, all members must find the strength and courage crucial in allowing this country to reach towards a better future. These members are pragmatic, and though they hold high ideals, they are by no means idealists.

On a local community level, we should all take a lesson from this group. We must begin to communicate with each other about who we are and what allows us to embrace that brighter future. As a Democrat I do not want to defund the police and I know that my conservative neighbor does not want to see people go hungry. This is where we begin to find the common ground that will allow us all to eventually compromise and find the path that leads to the achievement of greater ideals and eventually a better world.