I just can't understand how idealism can be a bad thing. How it's somehow horrible for a person to be an idealist.

Being an idealist means that you think the world can be a better place, and that you're not going to just accept it how it is. That things can be nicer, safer, cleaner, or friendlier than they are now.

To me, being DMan's anti-idealism makes it sound like he wants things to stay how they are now! That believing that world peace is possible is not just unrealistic, but harmful, and that we should want war. Or that we shouldn't try and eliminate disease, poverty, homelessness, or hate, but should enjoy them being here.

If it's what the idealists are wanting that is in contention, then that's fine, I can accept that, because everyone wants something different. But if it's just the plain idea that someone believes things can be better for everyone (not just better for yourself) that you have a problem with, then I feel that person is nothing but a negative force in the world and will never do any good for anyone or anything. Just make it clear whether it's idealism, or the ideals being focused upon.

Surely it depends on your ideals?

An idealist is not hoping for what I want in an ideal world, but for what they want in an ideal world.

Hitler's ideals made him the perfact Nazi idealist, this does not come under your category of "things can be nicer, safer, cleaner, or friendlier than they are now".

Idealism is not about what will make the world better, it's about what will make the world better for the idealist, to the exclusion of all others.

Of course it can be a bad thing.

You obviously misinteprete my nodes Saige. At no point did I suggest that things should stay stagnant and we shouldn't try to change anything at all. Nor did I say that we should start war. It is beyond me how you came to those conclusions.

Idealism has often been way overextended, without regard for reason or logic, for the sake of the "benefit of the world". A prime example? Marxism. Look at the chaos it caused. Millions of lives, lost, because Marx and Engels were over-idealistic and some morons decided to corrupt their theories for their own ends.

Idealism is all good, within reason. When you start advocating a wealth cap to save the poor people (see Huey Long), or allow idiocy like political correctness (for a good example, see white pride is hateful, black pride is not), to leech into mainstream America, then something seriously wrong has occured with the initial idealism, having been warped and corrupted into something far worse.

Idealists get hurt. Plain and simple.

If you are going to be an idealist, you must be prepared to get a big-ass slap in the face every once in a while when one of your ideas falls through. However, the pain from this slap in the face will hopefully make it all the more satisfying when one of your dreams comes true, allowing you to laugh in the face of those who doubted you. As my mother likes to say (among many, many other things) "What doesn't kill you can only make you stronger." I guess I must be a very strong person indeed.

The opposite of idealism is pragmatism, that is, being practical and actually getting things done.

Idealism tends toward dogmatism - fixed ideas without regard to how things actually are. That's how idealism can be a bad thing.

Actuary X is correct, within the modern definition of idealism, where the opposite of idealism is either pragmatism or cynicism (which is another noble tradition perverted by modern usage). However, the proper opposite of idealism is materialism.

An idealist, in the classical usage, is one who puts ideas over and above the material world. The origin of this view is in Plato's ideal forms. Despite the demise of this definition in common usage, it is still more or less true of most people and groups that are commonly described as idealistic. When you consider the repercussions of this view in the material world, the excesses and downsides of excessive idealism, in either the classical or modern sense, become clear. This, I believe, is what Dman sees in idealistic groups. If idealism is taken in its pure form, it can be extremely destructive. Noble ideas are a piss-poor substitute for a full belly and a warm bed.

Materialism, on the other hand, sees the world as only a collection of physical objects. I won't belabor the downsides of pure materialism -- it's off-topic for this node and for the most part a collection of truisms. Money and things are a piss-poor substitute for such things as love, justice, and fulfillment. One of communism's worst failings is that it is consciously materialistic -- Karl Marx called his way of analyzing the world dialectical materialism. Human ideals and emotions are discounted completely in classical Marxism and, to the degree practical, in communist practice.

The sensible path is the middle one, pragmatism. Pragmatism is, when not a code-word for pure materialism, a sensible blending of the materialist and idealist conceptions of the world. This is the point to which capitalism has evolved in practice. Both idealism and materialism have an enormous amount to recommend them, and much to hate. An ad-hoc blending provides the most livable societies.


To respond, however quickly, to wharfinger:

Rational self-interest does exist often enough to be statistically significant. The problem that I believe that you are referring to is the distinction between what appears rational at the time to the person in question and what a true dis-interested observer. People will, in almost all cases, behave with what is rational self-interest according to their knowledge. It is common to be short on information, or to have incorrect information. I'm defining information here in a very broad sense, to include personal beliefs, past experience, and the whole ball of wax that makes up our brains.

The problem of incomplete and incorrect information is why rational self-interest does not save the world automagically.

themusic says that "Pragmatism, for all its intellectual history, is used today to justify much that is conservative or reactionary ideology."

Well, I'd modify that slightly: I'd say that the word "pragmatism" is invoked to justify conservative or reactionary ideology, but it's mostly just rhetoric. The problem is that "pragmatism" is misunderstood to signify not "whatever works", but rather "that which conservative/reactionary ideologues tend to advocate", or more specifically "that which at first glance seems kinda mean and heartless and self-centered".

Circular reasoning, anyone?

Sure, sometimes being mean and heartless and self-centered is "what works", but is it wise define it as "what works", to declare as an axiom that this is "what works"?

Problem number two is that "idealism" has been defined, just as blindly and axiomatically, to signify "that which liberal and/or left-wing ideologues tend to advocate". IMHO it'd be a lot clearer to define "idealism" as "that which is impractical or unrealistic, with a side-order of reductionism".

Well, if there's anything more reductive, impractical and unrealistic than a blind faith in "rational self-interest" 1, I've yet to see it. The same goes for most other free market theology (not to mention all other forms of political and religious theology); it's just one long list of simple sure-fire solutions to staggeringly complex problems. They disregard the complexities of human nature almost as blithely as Marx did. Yeah, sure, the unseen hand is going to fix the environment, put an end to the business cycle (?!), make everybody rich, and end war in our time2 3.

Right.


1 "Man is a rationalizing animal", as they say; I'll believe the "self-interest" part, but when you start claiming that people are rational often enough for it to be statistically significant, I'll just have to ask you to put down the bong. Even if it were common (which is arguable; see plonk plonk above), hell, even if it were universal, only a glassy-eyed idealist of the first water would assume that it would necessarily "save the world" or anything like that.

2 All extravagant snake oil claims guaranteed genuine, no foolin'.

3 s/unseen hand/government/g and then back again at 8-10Hz until it starts to blur, for those who are missing the point. The point is that the two sets of claims are identical.


plonk plonk: You were doing fine about rational self-interest until you hit that gaping non sequitur at the end. Why would it "save the world"? How? The fact that you like self-interest and that "rationality" has positive connotations? Are you familiar with "the tragedy of the commons"? No, the only thing that keeps us going is irrational self-interest, the conviction that we should do the right thing just because it's the damn right thing to do, even when we can be certain that the wrong thing will never come back to bite us. It's called "civilization". What's left of it.
Why, Saige! I, for one, am just shocked that you of all people would support idealism! Don't you realize that not only do idealists usually support the "infinite mind (God) but that it also eliminates your oh-so-precious stone too heavy for God to lift paradox. On top of that, idealism is based on stuff that is just as likely made-up as God (and for the same reasons): Spirit, Mind, and Free Will.

God was made because we didn't understand how weird stuff worked; spirit because we wanted to live forever, and for the same purpose as mind; mind to explain how our brains think; and Free Will so we wouldn't feel powerless.

Why make up something when there are perfectly rational explanations using physics, biology/neurobiology, mathematics, and cosmology?

Ooh, wait...I see what you're all bickering about. You mean idealism-perfection, not idealism-it's-all-mental. Never mind. ;-P

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