Only idealists have the moral courage to deal with the world as it is and strive for the better world of their dreams.
“One evening a cousin of Sasha, a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified . . . . My frivolity would only hurt the Cause. . . . I told him to mind his own business, I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown in my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal . . . for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. ‘I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to be beautiful, radiant things.’ Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world—prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own closest comrades I would live my beautiful ideal.”
—Emma Goldman, Living My Life (1931)
Ideologues put on colored glasses of some sort that force the world to appear the way they want it to appear (e.g., rose-colored glasses to make everything seem lovely, dark sunglasses to make everything seem bleak, etc.). Realists accept the world as it happens to be at the moment, and refuse to acknowledge any alternatives. Only idealists have the moral courage to deal with the world as it is and strive for the better world of their dreams. They are more existentially torn than realists and ideologues. But they’re also more honest, more humane, and more sane.
People who live by heuristics and interdicts (people like your grandparents) are sometimes mistaken for ideologues. As such, it’s important to note the key difference between these two human types. People who live by heuristics and interdicts do so for the sake of convenience, the way I might follow the directions to your party that my friend Jean-Louis scrawled onto a napkin at Else’s. If that map brings me to the edge of a cliff, I’m not going to jump off the cliff. People who live by heuristics and interdicts never mistake a map of the world for the world. Alas, the same cannot be said of ideologues. They jump off the cliff every time.
You can’t see the blood when you’re looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. And we need to see the blood. So I’d never advocate rose-colored glasses. That being said, the opposite extreme seems equally unwise. For instance, I’ve met people on the far left (progressives like Chris Hedges) and the far right (fundamentalists like David Wilkerson) who seem to believe that there’s something inherently wrong with being in a good mood, who seem to think that smiling is a sign of moral depravity.
Look, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of good reasons to be pissed off. But being perpetually pissed off does not, in and of itself, make you a good person. Likewise, being in a good mood does not, in and of itself, make you a bad person. It’s what we do that matters, at the end of the day, not how serious or sullen or cynical we are. Regardless, this puritanical approach to activism is decidedly unwise for purely pragmatic reasons, as it invariably leads to burnout, depression, and despair.
There’s nothing inherently wrong or sinful about enjoying life, appreciating beauty, and feeling joy. Besides, how can you save a world you don’t really love? And why would anyone else want to embrace your worldview when it seems to be making you so miserable?
—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2015)