Friday, July 30, 2010

Impure thought of the day

This rather anodyne defense of pragmatism by P.M. Carpenter triggered a memory:
No doubt, chief among internal progressive battlegrounds is the symmetrical demarcation of idealists and pragmatists. To my mind, however, the estrangement is artificial. Idealism is essentially pointless if at least the thrust of its tenets cannot be enacted, and pragmatism would of course be non-existent as a political practice if no authentic ideals were being pursued.

In short, idealism requires a pragmatic approach, otherwise it's just pretty words and metaphysical daydreaming. And human needs need help, now, not daydreams, which are better left to lofty college seminars in political philosophy, where one perhaps acquires idealism but only later learns how to do something about it.

The other night I caught a few minutes of Rep. Barney Frank in an MSNBC interview and he succinctly put it quite well: "If you're idealistic, you have a moral obligation to be pragmatic." There is not, or, let's say, there should not be, any distinction here.
It recalled to me something I heard Salman Rushdie say in 2002 in response to an audience question, at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, if I may paraphrase: "I don't like purity. I like things messy [or mixed up? dirty?]."   That always stuck with me. Now, Googling Rushdie and purity, I found the idea elaborated in a Dec. 2005 essay:

In the age of mass migration and the internet, cultural plurality is an irreversible fact; like it or dislike it, it’s where we live, and the dream of a pure monoculture is at best an unattainable, nostalgic fantasy and at worst a life-threatening menace — when ideas of purity (racial purity, religious purity, cultural purity) turn into programmes of “ethnic cleansing” or when Hindu fanatics attack the “inauthenticity” of Indian Muslim experience, or when Islamic ideologues drive young people to die in the service of “pure” faith, unadulterated by compassion or doubt. “Purity” is a slogan that leads to segregations and explosions. Let us have no more of it. A little more impurity, please; a little less cleanliness; a little more dirt. We'll all sleep easier in our beds.
 Rushdie's 'dirt' is good in politics too. Back to P.M. (and h/t to Sullivan):

And now, Barack Obama's correction of a dreadful, 30-year pseudoconservative misadventure. Step by step. Piece by piece. Half-measures by half-measures, which in time will become 60-percent measures, then 80-percent measures ...

That, quite simply, is the way it is. Indeed, that's the way it's supposed to be. If genuine conservative genius there ever was, it came in the Founders' Burkean inspiration that true and lasting progress must pass the tests of peaceful struggle and tireless debate. Achieving a national consensus is hard, but it's necessary to progress' durability; vast and overanxious progress in a consensual void only insures its unraveling.
In case anyone was wondering, I agree. Often.

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