By Will Baker
I feel fortunate to have been born into one of those moments in history, that is, a suitable time and place, where it was possible for me to develop a sense of idealism as a significant part of my make-up. And as I look back to the path Ive taken I am forced to consider the use of the word fortunate.
It seems to me that, in a way we sometimes view idealism as a sort of "sin" that our children can be forgiven of. As they grow older sometimes this first concerns then annoys us. Our earlier sense of pride in our childs idealism gives way to a fear that he might be taken advantage of and then as the young woman or man grows into adulthood, if the idealism remains intact we begin to wonder about our childs prospects for success in life.
I have a dear friend with whom I argue constantly. One of our running matters of contention concerns the viability, as a practical mindset, of idealism as opposed to pragmatism. She attempts to carry the day for the pragmatists, and even though my idealism is somewhat eroded by my journey through time and space I still carry enough of the stuff to attempt to bear the idealists banner. Most of our arguments along these lines invariably end with my pragmatist friend driving an empirical spike into our arguments coffin by saying something similar to, "practical considerations would suggest your argument is weak." Of course, my friend is correct. But as I invariably retort, that does not make my position wrong, just by pragmatic standards perhaps a bit foolish.
As I pen these lines some folks I know are discussing the nature of conscience: what it is, where it comes from etc. Anyway, I think about how even though children are forgiven their idealism, adults are oftentimes ridiculed for wearing rose colored glasses. It seems to me that some of us, for various reasons subscribe to idealistic principles which pretty much stick with us for life. And furthermore, given the evident, and to me somewhat curious social bias against idealism, ironically the results idealists achieve are sometimes not what a reasonable person would characterize as being beneficial to them. As my argumentative friend would quickly point out, more idealists than pragmatists have been burned at the stake. Anyway, it seems to me that the reason why this is so might have something to do with conscience.
The novelist Tom Clancy writes that there are five main motivators for [modern/developed] human behavior: money, ideology, conscience and ego (MICE). It seems to me that Clancy is attempting to re-write Maslows Hierarchy of Needs for a modern (read: developed) age. For, absent one important exception, satisfying ones need for money can, in one fell-swoop satisfy all of Maslows Deficiency Needs (food, shelter, etc.)-- except for, what Maslow referred to as the Need to Belong. As an aside, an argument could be made that modern man seems to be somewhat alienating himself therefore, at least according to Maslow, perhaps having money doesnt guarantee that the door to actualization will necessarily be open. But given the importance that the modern individual places on having money one would think that it does. Any way, back to conscience as a motivator; to state the thing simply, it seems to me that this is precisely what motivates most idealists.
When I consider Clancys MICE I see two categories of motivators being represented: For example, Money is a lower level motivator, and Conscience is a higher level one. I wonder if there is a relationship between these classes of motivators and the satisfaction of Maslows lower and higher level needs. As an interesting aside and perhaps as a subject for another day, I believe that there may be (but then as behavior motivators Id have to debate what to do with Clancys Ideology and Ego). Anyway, back to Maslow. He argued that Actualization and Transcendence were so-called Growth Needs that could not be addressed unless and until all Deficiency Needs have been met (food, shelter, sense of belonging, etc.). It seems to me that when one is motivated out of a sense of conscience, what I have previously described (in The Phenomenon of Existence essays) as Existential Empathy would have to play a role. That is why I view conscience as a potential motivator for satisfying Maslows Growth needs (read: Actualization and Transcendence).
But as it relates to Idealism what does this mean? Well, I suppose that there is idealism and there is idealism. I believe the idealism that parents might fear in their children is what some might refer to as misguided idealism. But misguided according to whose view? Who exactly is the arbiter? According to Rousseau the judge could be society, but according to Nietzsche, it would be the individual.
To be sure Idealism can be a pain in the ass (for society and the idealist). At the very least it sometimes gets in the way, and when the idealist invariably has to compromise, the sense of loss to Self can be profound. And as history has shown, at its worse, the idealist oftentimes finds himself quite dead. This being said it seems to me idealists sometimes serve important societal functions-- as touchstones and agents of change, but as we discussed above, sometimes at a great personal cost.
As simple as it sounds, for the idealist, as with others, perhaps its all about balance and choosing ones battles. It seems to me that the benefits of leading a balanced life are self-evident and as a tenet of military science the tactical advantage often goes to the side who has wisely chosen the terrain.
As regards idealism--Kant's ...What ought to be, I have to wonder what Martin Luther Kings mother would have to say about it all. At any rate heres to idealists all, young and old. Shine on you crazy diamonds.