Pragmatists and Idealist’s Fantasy
Idealist are good at generating codes of conduct, rules of
engagement and visions of the future when the good and true will prevail. The
problem, of course, is that ideal human conduct is rare and when it does occur,
it is temporary. Pragmatists focus on what actually happens and develop
strategies to fix what is broken. As of 2008, world problems proliferated with a
feverish pitch. Everywhere you look, there are big problems that promise to get
worse rather than better. A list of these problems discouraged even the most
optimistic of citizens.
If you take a God’s eye view of the planet, you have to notice one basic fact – that most humans
generate problems on a daily basis and a smaller number try to catch up with
solutions. You can supply AIDs drugs to the sick and poor in Africa, but the
recovering patients suffer from malnutrition, water shortages and other
diseases. Their social infrastructures are gone. If they survive their immediate
adversities, warriors from neighboring tribes may arrive one day and kill them
with machetes or automatic rifles, bought from US or Chinese weapon suppliers.
Even polite societies that have enjoyed periods of
affluence and stability, a series of increasingly severe problems accumulate and
undermine social order. In the US, an incompetent congress, an ineffective administration, a failing economy, an aging infrastructure
that needs reconstruction, destructive weather events and many layers of
conflict within the society are serious problems with no obvious remedy. We have
briefly considered the cumulative effects of resource depletion, habitat
destruction, climate change and changing patterns of disease; these descriptions
point to problems that do not have easy solutions.
A pragmatic approach to an overwhelming set of problems is to establish priorities and focus on
achievable goals. Within every effective pragmatist is the hope that incremental
problem solving will in the end produce a rational, enduring social order. There
is also the hope that young, smart, well-informed people will join an enlarging
group of problem solvers, hard at work every day in every country on the planet.
One useful device is the idealist’s fantasy of a better human world that is
quite different from the one we are used to. For example George W. Bush, when
president of the US, bristled with innate tendencies and little understanding of
human nature; he insisted that a good way to introduce democracy to Iraq was to
destroy the infrastructure of the country, kill Iraqi citizens impose
military rule, imprison and torture anyone who objected.
In an idealist’s counterfactual world no-one would believe that military invasion was a
tool of democratic reform. Any man or woman qualified to be the President of the
country would be nice and smart with a deep understanding of human nature and an
aversion for killing. The President would love his neighbors, even people who were hostile. He would know that two wrongs do not
make a right.
In my counterfactual world, there are only defensive military organizations and no
adventitious killing. Nations are respectful, generous and tolerant of each
others’ differences. Disputes are resolved by negotiation, grooming,
gift-giving, music, dance, sports and shared celebrations. There are no
“terrorists” since all humans would have constructive ways of expressing and
remedying their grievances. The United Nations would be reorganized and would
flourish as a forum of cooperation with a mandate to intervene when any state
failed to protect the lives and rights of its citizens.
If, by a remarkable feat of genetic engineering, belligerence behaviors were
mostly eliminated from the human brain, atavistic, belligerent leaders might
emerge from time to time. They would be given the opportunity to duel in public
displays of their skill and courage as warriors. They would not be seen as
heroes but as irrational pugilists, atavistic misfits that need to do battle in
ceremonial combat without harming others.
If Bush disliked Hussein, he would challenge him to a duel. Let the best man
win. You would save a hundred thousand lives and a trillion US dollars spent on
destroying Iraq’s infrastructure and killing innocent people. The domestic
economy of the US would flourish with constructive, humanitarian enterprises and
would not miss the vanishing munitions industry.