Among the things antithetical to pragmatism is seeking perfection. I should know. From vehicles to furniture to books to fill-in-the-blank, I have always tried to maintain the appearance of just-like-new. I blame this partially on my mother, who led by example when it came to taking care of things, even when they weren’t expensive. But she also wanted everything in life to be perfect — in that they match her expectations for behavior, decorum, values and beliefs. That would not be me. I’m too pragmatic.
My expectations — which include expecting to be disappointed on a regular basis — are that problems, issues and concerns be solved or at least mitigated in ways that work. I don’t expect perfection. Indeed, I expect that much of what works is actually more like works in progress. That’s okay, because even if things could be better than they are, they are already better than they were as a result of ongoing imperfect efforts. When (not if) my expectations are disappointed, it’s almost invariably because those who favor ideals over practicality are in the way. My harsh criticisms of conservatives are that even when they recognize what the issues might be, they invariably concoct solutions that are ideological but not functional.
For example, it’s widely recognized across the political spectrum that health care costs as a percentage of gross domestic product are unsustainable even as they continue to rise. At the same time, tens of millions of individuals and families do not have health care insurance, and even those with it can still face insurmountable costs for serious health care issues. As a result of being the only industrialized country without national health care — which most successfully addresses all of the issues, the U.S. has the world’s most expensive, but not most effective, health care. The only politically feasible alternative, the Affordable Care Act, is a hybrid that retains a market-based heath care system and thus was doomed to be riddled with shortcomings and problems. But it’s better than nothing. Nothing, by the way, is the alternative offered by conservatives.
Another example, one that conservatives actually correctly identify, is that the most stable, economically viable setting for raising children is a family with two parents. The data support this. The solutions from conservatives, however, are ideologically obtuse. They fund programs to promote marriage — but only between a man and a woman — and abstinence for those who are single. The data consistently demonstrate the utter failure of these “solutions.” At the same time, conservatives are against sex education and universal family planning (contraception), which would significantly reduce unplanned pregnancies among single women. True to form, conservatives are also against abortion. So, no working solutions, only ideological purity.
Perfection is an unlikely goal, whereas imperfection is a likely result. The former is black and white, the latter is grey. The former is about control, the latter is about variability and randomness. The former is about adherence to principles, the latter is about compromise. These contrasting differences, by the way, explain why conservatives find it so easy to stay on message — the message is simplistic. Complexity, subtlety and nuance are absent. Thus a phrase is more than adequate to convey a fundamental conservative principle irregardless of how meaningless and even intellectually dishonest that message is. It reduces everything to imaginary perfection.
I was fairly young when I realized that while objects and things might exhibit the perfection of newness, people never could. Even the most flawless exterior contains an individual with imperfections — although which characteristics are imperfect is in the eye of the beholder. And perfection is transient. What seems perfect now might seem flawed later on. Some become resigned to how things are but wish they were better, whereas others are actually happy because things are good enough often enough…not a concept widely appreciated.
Perfection is one of those ephemeral qualities that is rare and rarely lasts long. The perfect moment, the perfect gift, the perfect color…all exceptional. Imperfection is easy to come by in so many ways. Imperfection is what makes perfection unique. The rest of the time, what’s good enough is actually good enough. And if it needs to work better, that might be possible. Pragmatism is the search for truth, and the truth is that idealistic perfectionism might seem a loftier goal, but it’s really the least likely to make things better because it starts out with unrealistic expectations on the basis of unrealistic assumptions. Believing them does not make them true.