In The Real World

We live in the real world whether we like it or not

I am forgiving of those who are young and idealistic, not just from having been there and done that, but because I expect the combination of life experience and expanding wisdom will temper idealism with reality. But this doesn’t always happen, which was reconfirmed in a recent online discussion in which someone asserted that real capitalism doesn’t exist in today’s world. I pointed out that while the theory of capitalism was never functional, the application of it (with numerous permutations) is obvious in developed economies around the world. Human nature is why real world capitalism is different than idealized theory.

His response was that as an economics major at university, he only discovered what capitalism really was from reading Ayn Rand’s Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Well, there was the problem. Despite the passage of a few decades, he hadn’t given up on her use of moral philosophy to defend capitalism vigorously through “objectivism.” Ayn Rand is an author whose appeal is mostly with those who are young, inexperienced, immature and idealistic. Her idealism is very much like conservative ideology in that it exists in a fact-free vacuum. So, reading Ayn Rand to understand life is really to not understand it at all.

I see a similar disconnection when the topic of socialism is the focus. Invariably, some individuals will define socialism using the concepts of Karl Marx from the 19th century, an outdated collection of theories regarding government ownership of production and worker collectivized participation and reward. Reality in the world of the 21st century is modern societies that are a combination of democracy with capitalism and socialism — socialism being governance for the greater good. Those who cite Marx turn out to be conservatives, who by definition — in the U.S. — hold socialism in disdain. They believe socialistic governance since 1912 has undermined American values and principles.

What is puzzling to me is the persistence in some individuals of youthful idealism (liberal or conservative) despite experience and observation that contradict it in the years that follow. After all, increased perceptional wisdom is the reward for discovering the differences between what “should be” and what is as one experiences life. I can’t imagine not discovering and learning during the duration of my own lifetime. I have no illusions about living in the real world, an attribute I find common among life-long pragmatists. It doesn’t mean I’m unendingly pessimistic but it does mean I’m not cluelessly optimistic either.

If there’s anything I don’t abide, it’s willful ignorance, and I find it in abundance with idealists and ideologists. This is the purposeful result of sealing out any information that doesn’t align with their world view…a world of mythology, sacred traditions and exceptionalism that simply denies what is obvious to anyone paying attention. This is how it’s possible for conservative candidates, for example, to simultaneously insult women while trying to woo their vote. They believe — because they want to — that the party base will be pleased while women will not perceive conservative ideological principles as insults.

A parallel denial is human activity and climate change. The science is overwhelming; the denying is the only option for those who are convinced that admitting it to be true would open up more costs to business and more government regulation. That the costs of climate change are going to be huge despite this denial, and that business is largely committed to working to reduce global warming — which is already having negative effects on it around the globe, seems utterly lost on committed idealists and ideologists. They seem to believe that if they don’t believe, it won’t come true. But in the real world, it’s already true.

Now, I readily understand that denial is the only alternative to accepting reality, and that being idealistically and ideologically pure seems the last defense against a world that keeps failing to perceive and embrace the tenets of this purity, but these are roads to nowhere but governance dysfunction, political gridlock and continuing failure to address multiple critical issues that will only become worse over time. This is frustratingly obvious to those who see what isn’t getting done in sensible and reasonable ways, but these same individuals are often also part of the problem by not demanding moderate candidates and then voting for them.

We live in the real world whether we like it or not. Not liking it doesn’t change anything except feed the delusion that denial is better than giving in. It isn’t better. All it really does is allow what isn’t working to get worse, which should be as obviously foolish to intelligent humans as it really is. When the next generations ask how this came to be, denial will hardly be acceptable to those who will suffer the most from it in the future.