In defense of Idealism
16 October 2013
A friend of mine once said to me, when I was much younger than I am now, "your problem is that you're an idealist." This puzzled me for a long time. There is a sense in our society that idealism is immature or youthful, a stage an individual has to go through before they begin to engage with the "real world", a world full of pragmatic compromises and other people's denuded self-interest.
And perhaps we're right to be skeptical about idealism. The twentieth century saw some of the worst atrocities in history committed by people who were working towards what they would have considered an ideal society and would even have, at least in some cases, considered themselves idealists. Certainly, the barbarity of the twentieth century forces us to abandon the Enlightenment belief that human beings are perfectible and moving towards perfection; in fact, it forces us to recognise that the ideal of a perfect human being or a perfect society is incoherent.
Nevertheless, I would argue that idealism is still a force for good in our society, both on an individual and a corporate basis, because it is fundamentally unselfish. Whatever an individual or a group's motives are for pursuing a particular ideal, they are still working for something greater or better than their own self-interest, which makes idealism a vital and necessary form of resistance to that state of hard-eyed, grasping pragmatism that passes for our idea of maturity.
For more information on Mark Boulos and the exhibition, please visit the project page.