Sunday, June 25, 2000

The Pragmatist

Last weekend, I went to see a collection of photographs by Glen E. Friedman. He took a number of photographs of skateboarding, hardcore, and rap scenes, and the amazing thing (as mentioned several places in the exhibit), is that he started taking these pictures early -- before these scenes hit the mainstream radar. OK, interesting enough.

But one thing that interested me was the political message underneath the photographs. Friedman seems to feel that each group of people was comprised of idealists; indeed his latest book is entitled "The Idealist". Flipping through a copy of that book, I was treated to an idolization of the idealist over the pragmatist. There, as other places in the exhibit, Ronald Reagan was specifically mentioned as the enemy of the idealist.

Later that evening, I went hope and watched CNN's Cold War documentary on the '80s and "Star Wars" (SDI). One of the things that struck me was how passionately Reagan believed in a missle defense system, and how he risked various arms control agreements that he was interested in, just for the sake of preserving SDI. In fact, the agreements were only signed after the Soviets realized that SDI would never be built as conceived.

So maybe Reagan wasn't a pragmatist (is that what people call idealists they don't agree with?). And I doubt everybody Friedman photographed was really an idealist; in the preface to one of his books, someone noted that the idealism of the skateboarders sounds more like "adolescent dickishness" in retrospect.

But what of this dichotomy between idealism and pragmatism in general? Is it real or is it false? To me, idealism and pragmatism are two balancing forces that need to exist in harmony. If you're an unrelenting pacifist, you may see your entire town slaughtered because you refused to compromise. If you believe that your example will achieve the cause of pacifism, that's one thing. But if you're trying to prevent violence from occuring, well, you lost. Similarly, the pure pragmatist is willing to do anything to achieve...what goals?

In my view, we have a responsibility to be idealists when we choose our goals -- world peace, freedom, etc. But then we have to be pragmatists when trying to figure out how to realize them.

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