Idealism and Realism

One of the biggest differences between the time I grew up in—the dreaded 1960s—and today is the level of idealism. I was particularly impressed by Martin Luther King and his supporters. They were willing to accept beatings, jail, and even death to accomplish their end, which was an end that was good for everybody. I also admired Pete Seeger. People like King and Seeger presented a consistent vision of us all being in this together, and they really inspired me in my teenage years. (I was more a fan of Bob Dylan than of Pete Seeger, but I see now that while he fooled around with idealism at times, Dylan was in it for his own glory.) The hippie commune movement emerged from that same idealism. When I say ideals, I mean universal ideals that go beyond any individual culture and its desires. Some people consider Ronald Reagan an idealist—an absolutely crazy notion. A real ideal is the refusal to opt for violence as a solution to anything, refusing to allow people to starve to death, cheerful renunciation of the pursuit of wealth, and the willingness to see one’s nation as simply one among many nations—no better than any other. There must be justice. For complicated reasons, not all of which are obvious, this kind of idealism has waned. Some say that the old ideals were unrealistic. But it seems to me that, realistically speaking, we either recover those ideals or we do ourselves in. It feels like we’re getting nearer and nearer that point.

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