Thursday, October 27, 2005

Do or do not. There is no try. >link<

What is more important? (A) Improving the world or (B) being seen as one of the people who is improving the world?

The link above is to an excellent column by Thomas Sowell a few days ago...posted at Real Clear Politics...that discusses how many liberals have lost track of the importance of results and are solely focused on the importance of how they feel.

Many crusades of the political left have been misunderstood by people who do not understand that these crusades are about establishing the identity and the superiority of the crusaders.

T.S. Eliot understood this more than half a century ago when he wrote: "Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm -- but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves."

I remember a discussion I had with a very liberal co-worker ten years ago about some social issue. We agreed that there was probably little that government could do to solve this problem, but she felt that "We have to try SOMETHING." Even if her proposed solution would have no effect, my co-worker felt that making an effort, no matter how pointless, was better than doing nothing at all.

My co-worker was wrong, of course. Our society and our government do not have endless resources. If we spend too much time, effort, and money on failed causes, that will leave us with less to spend on causes where we CAN make a difference.

Not every problem has a solution. Not every solution is pretty. Therein lies the danger. The activist who is really just trying to feel better about himself/herself will eagerly waste resources on insolvable problems. That same activist will avoid ugly solutions... what's the point of trying to solve a problem if you can't feel good about the end result?

When economist Roy Harrod asked one of his friends whether she thought that disarming Britain would cause Hitler to disarm, her reply was: "Oh, Roy, have you lost all your idealism?"

In other words, it was not really about which policy would produce what results. It was about personal identification with lofty goals and kindred souls.

The ostensible goal of peace was window-dressing. Ultimately it was not a question whether arming or disarming Britain was more likely to deter Hitler. It was a question of which policy would best establish the moral superiority of the anointed and solidify their identification with one another.

Thus, for too many people on the left, WHAT you accomplish is less important than HOW YOU FEEL about what you are doing. Not a good formula for actually saving the world.


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