On Idealism and Realism for Human Progress


John Wright


We value highly that which we perceive to be essential and in limited supply, e.g., time. We ignore that which we perceive to be essential and in great supply, e.g., air. We destroy that which we perceive as harmful, useless or in too great supply, e.g., flies. Our actions reflect our values and our values reflect our wants or needs. These related and obvious truths apply to everything. We make continuous value judgments from birth to death during all waking hours. We act on those issues that rise to the top of our personal list with various results.

We experience difficulty when our perception of our individual value is not shared or appreciated by those immediately around us. Children will fight over candy and adults over money. We experience societal difficulty when our perceptions of desirable community behavior are not shared by one or more families in our proximity. We call the police if our neighbors regularly party late and loud into the night.

We experience broader societal difficulty when our tribe competes with other tribes for land, jobs, etc. We shun, disparage and undercut, as we believe necessary, to promote our wellbeing at the expense of others who are different from us, for we do not value them if they appear to block our way to our goals. This behavior may be blatantly obvious or intentionally disguised. We may even delude ourselves into believing that the means we use to engage in socially accepted competition for security and wealth are somehow exempt from negative moral judgment.

These behaviors and values reflect our natural or inherent inclinations, for we lack any fundamental reason to value others as much or more than ourselves. I do not taste the ice cream that you eat. My coat does not keep you warm on a cold day. If my perception is that your actions do not benefit me then I do not directly value them or the time you devote to them.

The only relevant thought that keeps us from routinely killing each other is the realization that we are all in approximately the same situation, such that none of us could live long unless we chose to tolerate each other. We also may believe that we need others to help us accomplish our personal goals. These truths are, of course, the practical basis for the golden rule. It applies in personal contact situations in a very easily understood way. It applies to individuals who do not occupy our immediate surroundings in that we do not perceive that they will directly harm us, for we expect, perhaps foolishly, that they will maintain their distance.

The development of societies and civilizations has added a most interesting factor to that environment. We have become mutually dependent on each other for goods and services, not to mention goodwill. This is true when viewed from the perspective of a small village and when viewed from the perspective of global commerce. Only the hermit is free from mutual dependency human interactions, and then only to the extent that the hermit lives from the land in an area unused by other people. All others, essentially all of us, are mutually dependent, either directly or indirectly.

We thus proceed to the consideration of subordination of free will in an environment of mutual dependency. Why subordination? The answers are compelling and simple. We lack a common viewpoint regarding fair play and we lack equal abilities to provide for our needs. Sometimes the reasons are cultural, sometimes environmental, sometimes genetic, and almost always a function of state of economic wellbeing at the local and national level. The result is that we feel compelled to compete to survive and our competition for survival overwhelms the attempt to apply an inner sense of the golden rule, regardless of our recognition of the ideal. This then means we form organizations designed to protect us from each other. Whether we consider governments, trade organizations, professions, churches, a small nucleus of friends or various types of "clubs" for common cause, all serve the function of monitoring and, as necessary, by some definition, controlling or limiting our personal competitive behaviors and those of other groups. We thus have subordination of individual free will to force peaceful interaction within the group. We also minimize general application of the golden rule across all other peoples in deference to supporting group goals.

Let us reduce the above thoughts even further. Put simply, disjoint people do not operate to the common good. This means that any proposed society of freedom from control must be preceded by a fundamental change to the value structure of the individuals within that society. Given global considerations, it means the entire population of the world must be aligned to operate to the common good. That certainly appears to be wildly optimistic as a goal.

It will not be accomplished by any traditional measures, re education or politics. Churches try and fail dismally in every generation. Governments become increasingly control oriented through the law enforcement agencies and the law creation agencies, the legislatures. The simple citizen, remaining simple in knowledge, simply reacts with little conceptual grasp of the reality of mutual dependency and the need, up to the present, for very large and powerful control systems. There is no effective societal activity up to this time in history that works to both train and align individuals towards mutual success, including our educational institutions at all levels.

Thus, if one were to propose a significant change to our societies to obsolete our control systems, it would have to be of the form that uniformly produces highly capable individuals in a "fair" living environment, imbued with highly developed egalitarian values. Is that a reasonable or realistic expectation? If we dial in the earlier considerations of the bases for our values and our behavior, we cannot help but scoff at such idealistic thoughts.

Idealism is something we are taught as children to employ in the presence of our support group, whether that is family, close friends or our immediate co-workers. Idealism is not something we are taught in school regarding the larger sphere of competing groups or tribes. We delude ourselves within the practice of our religions by asserting that we believe our idealism includes those other groups. Well, it does, until we find ourselves forced to make contact and share resources. Then, it fails, for resources and space are limited. So is our magnanimous idealism when we sense a decline in our quality of life from unexpected and unwelcome changes.

One might propose any of a variety of palliatives to limit both the local and global negative aspects of our competitiveness. Population controls, fairly applied, could reduce the competition for available land and other fixed quantity or environmentally high cost resources. Global government and global trade organizations could, if properly empowered, eliminate war and force fair commerce practices. Our educational programs for children could be enriched to include inculcating of societal values that lead to cooperation and peace. Of course, some of these measures have already been attempted, and with a limited amount of success, but somehow we retain almost all of our competitive behaviors, and we do not confine them to sports.

Put succinctly, we have lacked the means to address competitive behaviors successfully and the bases for why they have been essential to our survival. Our best, well-intentioned efforts have always routinely failed. This is due to the simple fact that we have been forced to use the tools available instead of the tools required for success. We have pretended in every generation to have solutions, when in fact we have only repeated applications of the same sad techniques tried since early human history.

For example, if you lived in Hispanola in the year 1400, your concept of global life would be that confined to the island your people occupied. You would have no concept of people living anywhere else, for your people from the land of your ancestors in South America did not visit for trade or any other purpose. Thus, global trade for you would consist only of trade across your island. Given that small environment, you would think that it would be easy to organize and to assure uniform success within your "world." Yet, you would have most of the same types of problems facing the larger world today, for your different families and tribes would still differentiate from each other on some basis and then compete, whether for food or social position.

Some of our historians write about the advanced egalitarian attitudes in some tribal cultures that existed in the past. These were the tribes who communicated tradition and values verbally and not through writings. This would appear to negate the conclusion in the above paragraph. They fail to mention that the resources available to those cultures always vastly exceeded the needs and were relatively easy to obtain by the individual or the family. Moreover, the extremely simple existence of those people resulted from stasis; that is, they did not grow or develop new ideas or technology from generation to generation. They failed to write. Once we consider the tribes that grew in size, such that they had to interface with other tribes or struggle to obtain food, we discover that all the competitiveness mentioned earlier was universally true.

Today, our apparently modern global trade (World Trade Organization) and governing (United Nations) efforts are readily seen as both essential and of limited effectiveness. We simply have modern travel, which ensured that we would expand the size of the competitiveness problem geographically. Let us not waste time looking at the small positive aspects, e.g., we get to eat pineapples everywhere. Culturally, we do not appreciate our differences. We do compete for survival and then dominance for our respective tribes.

Liberal writers, like Howard Zinn, have pointed their fingers accusingly at leaders of all nations who have engaged in globally competitive behaviors through war or the threat of war. That these behaviors have resulted, regardless of the form of governments found in any of those countries, means that we are, once again, looking in the wrong places to try to understand and improve our life experiences. The most we can say for the accusers is that they are right to call the leaders liars for preaching one set of values internally and practicing a different set, both internally and externally. Such accusatory behavior yields little in the way of useful results. Such societal improvements as we do see from liberal efforts, e.g., unions, civil rights, war protests, etc., is simply crushed later as the competing power structure, specifically the wealthy, evolve their methods of control. An altogether new approach is required.

The prime requisite is to understand and accept the truth of our basic nature. It is only through clear vision and candor that we can hope to start learning better methods to overcome our chronic societal problems. We must stop expecting traditional human methods to solve our competitiveness problems. They never did, they aren't at the present time, and they never will, for we are and have been guilty, like the alchemists, of attempting to transmute people into something they are not, through well-intended but myopic education and laws.

Control systems essential to limit our problems consume resources far beyond their value. They are routinely used as weapons to compete, to the detriment of individuals internal and external to our countries. More to the point, as long as our perspective tells us that better control systems are the answer, we will not look to the true causative factors that need to be changed. We are, as it were, stuck at an evolutionary point (and we have been so for many thousands of years in our most "advanced" cultures) and we are mired in our perceptions of how to improve our existence.

Enter genetic engineering. What does it have to offer Humanity? Oh, just about anything you might imagine, good or bad. One fact is more important than any other, however, and that is we will be changed at the most fundamental levels. Our perceptions of reality today will become as dusty and boring as yesterday's cold toast. That realization should simultaneously frighten you and stimulate you to move ahead with a magnificent purpose. It allows for applied idealism to become a dominant fact of life, and it also allows for utter disaster if we misuse the new tools. What will we do?

If you are perceptive, you will understand that the decisions of our leaders in government and business will determine early on what we will do and when we will do it. It thus becomes very important to understand the psychology of our leaders and learn from that our likely, pending experiences with applied genetic engineering. Refer to the Destiny article "The Psychology of Leadership" for more information on that topic.