Saturday, May 4, 2019

Idealism versus Pragmatism

Is idealism a good thing?  Is it a survival skill?

I mentioned before about invention brokers - these are con artists to prey upon other people's naivete.  In every family, there is an "inventor" who tinkers in the garage, and sometimes these men (and they are usually men) come up with what they think is a great idea for a product, and decide that this is it - their ship has come in.    All they need to do is get a Patent and make millions.

And there are plenty of "InventCo" type organizations - some which advertise on the radio and television - that will help relieve you of your money, but likely get you a bogus Patent, if one at all.  There are also lawyers - well-known by name in the Patent community - who do the same thing.  They hire people for cheap and crank out worthless "picture claim" Patents for these inventors, and then charge them a lot of money.   Somewhere along the way, they decided that it was more expedient to go over to the dark side of the force.

There are other attorneys who do good quality for - for a price.    No one is in the lawyering business just to be altruistic.   We all have bills to pay.   Quality law work generates quality billings, which is why lawyers practice quality law.   Others just cut to the chase and rip-off clients.  I noted before about a friend of mine who was an immigration attorney.  He told me heart-wrenching stories of immigrants ripped off by shady attorneys.  Their husband or brother was about to be deported and there was nothing that could be done to prevent it.  But an abogado promised them they would get Carlos out of ICE jail if they paid him $5000.   Carlos is deported, of course, and the lawyer is $5000 richer - and his client is safely out of the country where he can't file a bar complaint.  Meanwhile, the family lauds the crooked attorney for "fighting the good fight" for them, even though it was a lost cause from the get-go - and the lawyer knew this and took the money anyway.

And maybe that is how that gets started.   I know in my practice it was tempting.  People knock on your door and beg you to take their money.   And if you have payroll and a mortgage payment to make, maybe you take the money.  And soon it becomes a habit, and pretty soon, you are making a boatload of money and doing little real work.   I never went down that road - others did.   And it is hard to judge them, for they were putting pragmatism over altruism, and our world seems to reward pragmatists and punished altruists.   And in fact, altruism can, in reality, be awfully evil.

I mentioned before about Cervantes and how his book Don Quixote - later made into the musical The Man of La Mancha is wholly misunderstood, particularly by Americans.  Fighting for a "lost cause" seems romantic and all, until you realize that is the same phrase many racist Southerners use to describe the Civil War.  The fight to preserve slavery was, in their minds, a noble cause, even if the war was fruitless, pointless, and needlessly killed millions of people.   Gee, isn't altruism romantic?

It is this same theory of selflessness that fuels suicide bombings and terrorism.    The people running these terrorist organizations rarely strap the suicide vests on themselves.  But they persuade others - often impressionable young people - to do so, often arguing that they are fighting for a "noble cause" and that God himself will smile down upon them, even as they are blown into small bits.

Yea, altruism can be very, very evil.  And the way that these folks recruit idealists isn't very hard to figure out.   Find a young man or woman, in their late teens or early 20's - at an age when mental illnesses set in, and also young people struggle with their identity, including sexual identity.   It is like shooting fish in a barrel, really.   You set up a religion that castigates all your natural urges as unholy, and then you tell a young man or woman that if they blow themselves up in the name of the "cause" they will go to heaven and be heroes to their parents (who are often paid handsomely).  If not, they will be beaten to death and bring shame on their family.   Either way you die - not a hard choice to make which one is better.

But even in those instances where altruism isn't totally evil, pragmatism seems to win out - a greater evil, if you will.   We may decry check-cashing stores and payday loan places as immoral, but the folks running them make an awful lot of money trafficking in human misery.  And this money allows them to pay lobbyists and donate to political campaigns.  And the campaigns they donate to use altruism to convince people to vote against their own self-interests.   So you pay off a Republican candidate to scotch any new regulations from the Consumer Protection Bureau.   And the candidate gets elected by appealing to the very same voters who are screwed by the payday loan place - and other noxious financial deals.

How do you get people to vote against their own self-interest?   Easy.  The same way you get a 21-year-old to strap on a suicide vest.    You sell them on the idealism that if they vote for you, you will enact all these social reforms like abolishing gay marriage, abortion, and Sharia law.   Funny thing that last bit, because what they want to enact is Baptist Sharia Law, in a manner of speaking.

So you vote for - and even pass - nonsense laws about abortion that won't survive a trip to the Supreme Court.   Or you argue that your opponents kill and eat babies (this is not far off what the GOP is actually pushing these days).  In the meantime, you pragmatically rob the country blind - slashing your taxes, ratcheting up the deficit and national debt, so that fat government contracts go to you or your friends.   Yes, altruism is evil, but pragmatism can be even more so.   And yet, idealism often is the gateway to pragmatic evil.