A word from Isaiah Berlin…

“If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter. Lenin believed this after reading Das Kapital, and consistently taught that if a just, peaceful, happy, free, virtuous society could be created by the means he advocated, then the end justified any methods that needed to be used, literally any.

“The root conviction which underlies this is that the central questions of human life, individual or social, have one true answer which can be discovered. It can and must be implemented, and those who have found it are the leaders whose word is law. The idea that to all genuine questions there can be only one true answer is a very old philosophical notion. The great Athenian philosophers, Jews and Christians, the thinkers of the Renaissance and the Paris of Louis XIV, the French radical reformers of the eighteenth century, the revolutionaries of the nineteenth—however much they differed about what the answer was or how to discover it (and bloody wars were fought over this)—were all convinced that they knew the answer, and that only human vice and stupidity could obstruct its realization.

“This is the idea of which I spoke, and what I wish to tell you is that it is false. Not only because the solutions given by different schools of social thought differ, and none can be demonstrated by rational methods—but for an even deeper reason. The central values by which most men have lived, in a great many lands at a great many times—these values, almost if not entirely universal, are not always harmonious with each other. Some are, some are not. Men have always craved for liberty, security, equality, happiness, justice, knowledge, and so on. But complete liberty is not compatible with complete equality—if men were wholly free, the wolves would be free to eat the sheep. Perfect equality means that human liberties must be restrained so that the ablest and the most gifted are not permitted to advance beyond those who would inevitably lose if there were competition. Security, and indeed freedoms, cannot be preserved if freedom to subvert them is permitted. Indeed, not everyone seeks security or peace, otherwise some would not have sought glory in battle or in dangerous sports.

“Justice has always been a human ideal, but it is not fully compatible with mercy. Creative imagination and spontaneity, splendid in themselves, cannot be fully reconciled with the need for planning, organization, careful and responsible calculation. Knowledge, the pursuit of truth—the noblest of aims—cannot be fully reconciled with the happiness or the freedom that men desire, for even if I know that I have some incurable disease this will not make me happier or freer. I must always choose: between peace and excitement, or knowledge and blissful ignorance. And so on.

“So what is to be done to restrain the champions, sometimes very fanatical, of one or other of these values, each of whom tends to trample upon the rest, as the great tyrants of the twentieth century have trampled on the life, liberty, and human rights of millions because their eyes were fixed upon some ultimate golden future?

“I am afraid I have no dramatic answer to offer: only that if these ultimate human values by which we live are to be pursued, then compromises, trade-offs, arrangements have to be made if the worst is not to happen. So much liberty for so much equality, so much individual self-expression for so much security, so much justice for so much compassion. My point is that some values clash: the ends pursued by human beings are all generated by our common nature, but their pursuit has to be to some degree controlled—liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I repeat, may not be fully compatible with each other, nor are liberty, equality, and fraternity.

“So we must weigh and measure, bargain, compromise, and prevent the crushing of one form of life by its rivals. I know only too well that this is not a flag under which idealistic and enthusiastic young men and women may wish to march—it seems too tame, too reasonable, too bourgeois, it does not engage the generous emotions. But you must believe me, one cannot have everything one wants—not only in practice, but even in theory. The denial of this, the search for a single, overarching ideal because it is the one and only true one for humanity, invariably leads to coercion. And then to destruction, blood—eggs are broken, but the omelette is not in sight, there is only an infinite number of eggs, human lives, ready for the breaking. And in the end the passionate idealists forget the omelette, and just go on breaking eggs.”

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/oct/23/message-21st-century/

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You make a good point, but…

As intelligent humans, we like to think we’re right. Confidently interacting within the world around us is most certainly more helpful than constantly second-guessing ourselves, preserving an environment of insecurity. For many of our thoughts & decisions, we can generally navigate life without dislodging others from their chosen tack.

This may be true for the vapid elements of life, but should some audacious soul trespass on our more considered judgments, heaven help us all! If you’ve spent any time on social media or watching politico-cultural television programs, you’ll have experienced more than your share of both passionate and vacuous commentary from the self-declared morally superior side of the fence. The side on which you’re not standing (or sitting, should you find yourself atop the fence). All sides have their zealots in the fray; some of us may have even found ourselves holding the loud-speaker at one time or another.

Whether the topic be politics, society, religion, schooling, or the fashionable mother-lode: diet (more specifically, sugar) we humans have an uncanny ability to sacrifice principle in favour of a side. Entrenched opinions & emotionally-charged rhetoric too easily capture our sensibilities so that our capacity for intellectual purity is impaired.

But of course, the way we see the world makes absolute sense. And if we are completely honest, at least with ourselves, many of the beliefs we hold really are superior to others’; if this weren’t the case, no one would argue for anything, whether expressed or thought.

Joseph Joubert quipped, “The aim of an argument or discussion should not be victory, but progress.” Does there exist an approach, then, by which we can positively engage those less-enlightened than ourselves?  One that progresses society, whilst avoiding the use of verbal or virtual bombs laced with insult & self-righteousness?  I believe there is. It requires us to draw on the core human characteristics of humility, empathy, & compassion, all summed up in one word: love.

When I wish to engage in changing another’s viewpoint, instead of lobbing over a grenade laden with sanctimony, love requires me to climb the fence with an open heart & open arms; I may even come to understand why they are so seemingly erroneous. From my new vantage point, I am sure to discover previously concealed weeds within my own garden bed of thought; but should I fail to see why the other person persists with such perceived delusion, love requires me to whisper quietly… even when they should know better. Love calls me to move first, to place myself squarely in the comfort zone of others, regardless of the disquiet within my own soul. It implores that I would first understand before seeking to be understood.

Whether we are arguing an important point or championing a good cause, it is quite possible to be right, yet wrong, all at the same time. Whilst we may have loosened the grip on our opinions or escaped the lure of emotive rhetoric, it’s all too easy to unconsciously side-step into zealous moral superiority. Love requires humility, sometimes appropriately displayed by a silent mouth & an untouched keyboard… a lesson hard-learned & all too familiar to some of us.

But conviction sometimes asks us to have a voice, either for ourselves or for those who cannot be heard. When it does, may we always wrap our words in love so that those who receive them are enlarged & that the only victory won is mutual progress.

Enduring in love is the principle that when abandoned, causes untold misery, yet when pursued, brings immeasurable prosperity to all within its reach. Paul wrote it well to the Corinthians: “So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.”