Thursday, February 4, 2010

Perfection is the enemy of the good

A friend of mine was telling me about Thomas Sowell's book, "A Conflict of Visions" and we were discussing some of the differences between liberals and conservatives. One stark contrast is that liberals believe in an idealized version of the world while conservatives do not.

I encountered a recent example of this while discussing the Haitian earthquake with another friend (who happens to be liberal). The topic of discussion centered on the U.S. stopping flights from Haiti. Here was my friend's reaction:
Does the fact that there are costs at all to treat critically injured people strike anyone else as morally wrong?

In Cost Dispute, U.S. Halts Airlift of Haiti Quake Victims
The difference between my friend and I is that I accept the fact that there are costs, i.e. limitations on the help people can or are willing to provide. Whether you like it or not, doctors, nurses, hospitals, etc., will only help so much out of the goodness of their heart and when their altruism runs out, other motivation is necessary.

But what my friend really hates (whether he realizes it or not) is that people are not as altruistic as he would like them to be. And while he would claim that he wants to change the world, in actuality he wants to change the people who inhabit it.
...But some things, like care for critically injured people, should not fall under the rubric of financial costs because they should simply be accepted and done irrespectively. Therefore, their financial cost should not be a factor.
What my friend is expressing is a value judgement. What's missing from his assessment is WHO should not consider the financial cost? Should the person being asked to pay for or perform the service have no say in whether they must help Haitians? My friend sees pain and admirably wants to stop it, but his idealized version of the world, where everyone thinks and acts as he would like them to act, does not exist. Only in his mind does this world exist.

This explains why my friend and I have very divergent views over the Haitian situation. I see the massive amounts of aid our country has given in the wake of this tragedy and I am proud of all the good we have accomplished. He sees the same thing and laments that we haven't done enough. To him, there should be no suffering; people should do what needs to be done irrespective of the costs; reality should live up to his ideal.

My friend worries me and I wonder: what would he be willing to do, in order to force his ideal vision onto an unwilling reality?


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