|Photo by: IgorSuassuna|
Several years ago, I came to the conclusion that we were in the midst of an ideological crisis.Liberalism was clearly not working, but there did not seem to be a practical substitute.Few Americans were prepared to resurrect laissez-faire capitalism or to embrace a Judeo-Christian theocracy.
So what was the alternative?My sociological analysis convinced me that we were headed toward “social individualism.” As our society grew more affluent and complex, there were more personal decisions to make.Yet unless these were based on what was possible, they were apt to backfire.
Liberalism was grounded in a troika of fantasies.Progressives told us that social justice depended on universal love, interpersonal equality and sexual androgyny.Yet I knew these were fairytales.A sustainable social order depended upon being more realistic about the sort of creatures we are and the challenges we confront.
So when I began writing about these issues, I talked about social realism.We were social creatures so we would have to start by understanding our social nature.Love was important, but it was directed toward people we knew well, not strangers.We were also hierarchical creatures.That is, everyone wanted to be special.Lastly, there are genuine differences between men and women.
I had also come to believe that in our mass techno-commercial society, more of us would need to be professionalized.We would have to become self-motivated experts in the tasks we performed.Both on the job and at home, we would have to base our decisions on what achieved our aims.
And yet, there was nothing sexy about professionalization, or for the matter social realism.These were not inspirational concepts.Not many people were going to wake up in the morning breathlessly eager to become more professional or socially sophisticated.
Liberalism might be dying, but people crave hope.They need a goal that promises to make life better.Moreover, this goal needs to be easy to grasp.It has to intuitively provide a noble reason for living.
Then it hit me, why not call what I was after “progressive-conservatism.” The liberals had appropriated their current label from folks who today would be called libertarians.Turn about was fair play, and progressivism had a ring of inexorable improvement.
Besides, I liked the idea of calling myself a “pro-con.” A colleague, however, threw cold water on this by pointing out that conservatism continues to suggest a retrograde orientation.This sent me back to the drawing board.
It was at this point that the notion of “principled realism” dawned on me.Being in tune with reality was not enough.Our shared aspirations had to be in accord with standards that reduced interpersonal conflict.Unless we respected each other’s ambitions, we could not cooperate in saving the world.
Then when President Trump gave his speech to Islamic leaders in Saudi Arabia, my hunch was confirmed after he used this very phrase.Trump was referring to political reforms.He wanted to bring contrasting civilizations together to fight a common threat.
But why couldn’t a renewed practicality also apply to our personal lives?Why couldn’t it relate to strengthening our marriages and reducing social tensions?We have jointly been fed so many myths about gender, race and social class that might not a dose of truth prove a sovereign corrective?
Reality is a hard taskmaster, but fairytales are more dangerous.Sooner or later, they entice us to place our fate in the hands of monsters.Moral principles, too, can be demanding.They often require us to sacrifice beguiling dreams for the sake of the common good.
As I write this, I fear that I may be sounding like the college professor that I am.Nonetheless, it seems imperative to me that we as a society wake up from the angry nightmares we have conjointly created.Our unprecedented prosperity will mean nothing if we do not deal with the world as it is.
If we don’t recognize our individual and collective limitations, we will not be able to take advantage of our individual and collective opportunities.Life can be difficult, but it is much more difficult with our heads buried in the sand and our hearts dedicated to selfish pursuits.