Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Evolution, Not Revolution

Revolution is not an option. Revolutions are pretty universally disastrous. One has to start from where one is currently and encourage people to move in the right direction.

Aristotle argued that virtue aims at "to kalon." To kalon can be translated as "the good" or "the beautiful." You aim at the good, understanding that you cannot (and should not) actually hit what you're aiming at (since you are aiming high) so that you can in fact hit the target. Gravity always drags you down. That's why you have to aim high.Also, one should be grounded in reality -- another true drag on the arrow. After all, one misses the mark if one aims too high as well. One has to be balanced between the ideal and the real -- a golden mean that helps you hit the mark.

The purpose of ideals is to provide the good/beautiful at which one should aim. Knowing what the best is helps one to achieve realistic goals.

One purpose of literature -- literature at its best -- is to provide beautiful models. Coincidentally, preachy works are typically unbeautiful. At the same time, one shouldn't mistake the use of long speeches in epics, for example, for being "preachy." Indeed, epics are very often the exemplary form for showing realizable ideals. They are always about establishing a polis, a new way of coexisting. We need more beautiful epics.

So if you run into someone whose ideals seem "unrealistic," I would argue that they need to be at least somewhat unrealistic, otherwise they won't ever actually hit the mark. They'll fall short. At the same time, those ideals must be rooted in reality, otherwise you will miss the mark as well. There must be both. There must be a golden mean in order to achieve virtue.

And that golden mean also means revolution is not an option. There must be balance between the reality of the now and the future into which you are trying to push. Tragic art is always about those people who push ahead, into the future, just a little too far without having made their blaze in the right place. The tragedy takes place when the person is punished for going out too far ahead. They are often perceived as gadflies, social misfits, troublemakers. Of course, society then follows the trailblazer into the future he already discovered. And that's when the tragic figure turns into the tragic hero.

Evolution, not revolution -- this means understanding that you must deal with tradition, whatever that tradition may be. You have to understand there are path dependencies, flow channels that cannot be abruptly changed. You may cause a disastrous flood if you try. Marxism, for example, was a disaster everywhere people tried to implement it in a revolutionary form; the U.S. took an evolutionary approach, adopting practically every aspect of the 10 Goals (9 of the 10), and while I don't think the society that was created as a result is anyone's ideal, it wasn't the mass-murderous disaster we saw in the places where it was implemented in a revolutionary fashion.

The path out of the policial-economic-social situation we find ourselves in will be via the pathways already established. Small evolutionary changes, understanding the pathways taken, and the pathways we can take. The ideal is a guide star, but we have to work our way toward it starting from the known, blazing the trail along the way.
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