Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Myth Of Idealism

I have been very busy of late, hence no postings for the last few weeks, but now things are back to normal...

I have never been an idealist. A favorite tactic of the upholders of the status quo is to drag out the old story of the person who was once "young and idealistic" but has now "grown up" and is now "practical and pragmatic" – ie ,who has adopted the conformist and retrograde ideology of the speaker. Another aspect, is to speak of socialists of whatever age as "left-wing idealists". It all boils down to seeing leftists as some sort of soft-hearted (and soft-headed) dreamers working for causes because of some inner need, isolated from the lives they actually live.

True, some people who come from privilege may see them selves as idealists, working out of guilt or compassion for causes which are not theirs. But in the main, most of us are driven more by a sense of enlightened self-interest rather than fuzzy idealism. This is something the reactionary cannot understand, indeed, will not understand. For the apologist of corporate power, blinded by a narrow and irrational ideology, everything happens in isolation. It does not matter if the corporate state drives masses of people into poverty, the tragic results are excused by claiming personal failure on the part of the victims. It does not matter if we destroy the environment in a quest for corporate profits, the negative consequences, such as global warming, are merely coincidental.

The socialist, the anarchist, indeed thinking people of any ideology, do not see reality in dislocated, isolated lumps, but, as it is in reality – as interconnected systems. Thus, what seems as "idealism", such as trying to preserve a forest 3000 miles away, organize a farmers coop in Africa or supporting a workers struggle in Mexico, is in fact, a form of self-interest. That forest produces oxygen for all of us, and the more poverty and oppression exists, the more likely we are to be impoverished and abused ourselves. The more sucessful others are, the more successful we might be. The old IWW slogan "an injury to one, is an injury to all" encapsulates this truth so well.

The reactionaries atomistic and false world view isn't their only (deliberate) misunderstanding giving rise to the myth of idealism. There is also their over-emphasis upon competition. Seeing the world in a dog-eat-dog "struggle for survival" mode does not make for an easier life. In most instances, it is far easier to get tasks accomplished in a cooperatively rather than everyone struggling against each other, not to mention being bullied into acting in a co-ordinated manner, seemingly the only other alternative allowed with the corporate mentality. Hence, those of us who opt for cooperation, self-management and voluntary effort are the practical ones and the "survival of the fittest" types are the practitioners of idealism, albeit a most perverse variety. (*)

(*) This is not to say that cooperation, self-management and voluntarism are always easy in a society where most are indoctrinated from birth into a short-sighted and narcissistic false individualism.


Blogger mollymew said...

Glad to see you up and running again and well put in your article. The "practicality" of anarchism is something that has to be reiterated time and again.

7:39 PM  
Blogger Graeme said...

very good post. The self interest aspect of leftism very rarely gets brought up.

1:18 AM  
Blogger Renegade Eye said...

Idealism is concepts that exist only in thought, with no basis in the material world, as religion.

It is a misunderstanding to think of idealism, as doing good things for people.

11:01 PM  
Blogger Werner said...

A good post Larry. I think most of the "old hands" of socialism and now socialist-anarchism have learned to dump the "cooler than thou" aspect of ideology. In that respect we have gradually become like normal people generally looking for practical solutions for life's problems.

6:08 PM  
Blogger Rhinoceruz said...

idealism takes humanity towards absolutism, to hope for and ideal or perfect state is to want to impose it universally; this is the path taken by religons, politics or science for instance.

1:59 PM  

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