Time Heals All Wounds.. And Then Kills the Patient
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Thu Apr 10 03:55:46 2008
Ideals and Reality

Returning to an old question in political philosophy: Does the world need idealists? Phrase: "The idealists are the most dangerous, because they really believe what they're saying". I've long believed that idealists are actually the best among those who operate in the sphere of politics/political philosophy, as they actually adhere to their values and value conclusions (as limited by human nature, of course) while pragmatists don't really stand for much. I've heard from people who have gone into politics that one either makes sacrifices in integrity constantly in order to focus on improving the public good in a few regions (trading a vote on this for a vote on that) while accepting funding that binds one from acting well in other areas in order to stay afloat in the funding game, or one sticks by one's principles and either remains obscure enough not to be elected or receives no cooperation. This may just be a sickness of our political system though. I've come to understand the criticism laid at idealists though - that they would fetishise their systems enough that they would allow them to cause great harm to a society that may not be mouldable towards their idea of the good. Any society, government, or revolution is paid for with the blood of the people, both initially and in the long term. This change can be explicit (as in wars) or more hidden (like those who die of exposure to the elements or starvation because we fail to feed them). Taking this into perspective, when is one system "worth it", compared to another? Some political philosophers take the position that once a system is in place, it is never worth replacing it because the cost of revolution and risk of revolution not going in the intended direction are both too high. I operate in a variant of the Marxist tradition - that should the opportunity for Communist revolution come about, it is worth pursuing, but should it be possible to reach it through more peaceful, gradual means, I would prefer that route. Backing up a bit, there is a danger in not adapting theory to real-world events - Mao wrote about this in the early stages of the Chinese revolution, emphasising that Soviet communism was an ill fit for Chinese culture and that "Socialism with Chinese characteristics" would need be discovered. If we are to blame Mao for the failures during the later days of Chinese Communism (which was ended by Deng Xiaopeng), we might say that in later times he became disconnected enough to fall prey to the faults he criticised in youth, although I don't think that's likely. I believe there is a lot to the criticism when applied to people who would not adapt theory to practice, but details about when, how, and how much to do so are difficult.

It still remains an interesting question - would the world be better off without political idealists ever operating in the political sphere? (assume whatever notion of "better off" one chooses)..

Lightly related, sometimes it's really interesting to see heated debates between various groups or perspectives one dislikes - one has the interesting sensation for feeling empathy for positions one might not initially be inclined to like when one is only comparing them to one's own position. This sensation is one of my favourite in philosophy - it is one of the things that leads, I think, most directly to a broader perspective (brief aside: Illinois' State Representative Monique Davis appears to dislike broad exposure to different perspectives). In this case, Bill O'Reilly squares off against Ron Paul.

As mentioned before, I strongly dislike Ron Paul as a politician (and have been thinking of funding the competitor for his House seat in the hopes of knocking him out of politics entirely), but he conducts himself very well in this interview and certainly seems more knowledgable than O'Reilly. I'm pleased to see that Ron Paul's analysis of the situation in Iran is fundamentally correct. O'Reilly is primarily effective because he effectively prevents broad discussion of topics and funnels them into very narrow points that he won't allow people time to dissect. O'Reilly is incorrect on a number of interesting points:

That said, I believe that nation-building is essential for the good of the world, and that it is both dangerous to our natonal interest and to the progress of enlightenment liberalism not to do so - I think Ron Paul's stance on foreign policy is not one that should be encouraged. Still, it's interesting to be liking Ron Paul for a moment. (I still shall daydream of asking him "Should interracial marriage be a per-state issue?" should I ever get the chance)

It's interesting to move slowly through the debate to examine how the conversation is controlled and when each speaker is under stress and/or not making their best points - with Ron, the only easily spotted points of that are around 04:02 and 03:10 (the latter of which he backed off where he should not have). The topics visited would've been better handled without the tight time constraints - O'Reilly uses that (plus the demand for a "direct answer") to prevent an adequate understanding of most points (see especially 02:35-02:45, where RP brought up some essential history that is never discussed in American politics).

Perhaps also interesting: