Realism and Idealism

In Uncategorized on November 10, 2010 at 12:00 pm

“Realism” versus “idealism” is a common contrast, and one that I think is pretty intuitive to most people: we know each one when we see it (although, regrettably, “Realism” also denotes a specific set of assumptions in international relations). But what is this contrast getting at? I think it gets at the different possible responses to the pervasiveness of pain in the world, and I think viewing realism and idealism in this way can help clarify the appropriate balance between them.

I think realism can mean not shying away from suffering: the ability to take a clear look at a difficult situation and choose the best alternative, even when that alternative is far from perfect. But I think realism (and “Realism”) can be an inappropriate cover for a process of becoming inured to suffering: nurturing a false sense of comfort with, or distance from, others’ pain.

Conversely, “idealism” can mean an inability to adjust to the perceived gap between what is and what should be, and hence demanding quick fixes that end up widening that gap. This is basically another kind of selfishness: demanding a world with which you feel comfortable. But “idealism” can also simply mean a commitment to help others. In this sense, it’s the only truly “realistic” perspective: the alternative is to cultivate insenstivity to others’ experience, which is the most fundamental error a human can commit, and the basis for most of the other ones.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: