Monday, September 24, 2012

Making the perfect the enemy of the good : . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . the common thread of error running through today's Catholic thought.

“Sometimes Frank sighed, thinking he had caught a tropic bird, all flame and jewel color, when a wren would have served him just as well. In fact, much better.” Gone With the Wind

Catholic utopianism, is the grasping for the perfect tropic bird, all flame and jewel color, when a wren serves just as well. In fact, much better. It's the error of turning the perfect into the enemy of the good, and can be found to some extent lurking in virtually all of the Catholic writings found online that speculate on some aspect of Catholic social theory. There are of course exceptions with the best and most obvious exception being the paleo-conservatives whose flagship magazine is Chronicles.

Catholic utopianism in its various manifestations removes the natural human scale limits that not only bind us, but likewise give us stability. It's an error against moderation by taking a natural good to an unnatural extreme seeing the extreme as the proper good.

It's an error that mostly exists because those who typically speculate on issues of Catholic social theory also happen to be academia types lacking practical experience in the field of discussion. In other words, those most likely to speculate on Catholic social theory lack the requisite prudence that comes by experience, as well as being in the professional habit of making broad generalizations when what is called for is knowledge of the particular in its application to the more universal art.

The error is particularly pervasive among the Catholic paleo-libertarians, distributists, agrarians and others who are predisposed to romanticist solutions. And is likewise pervasive among the hot button issue blogs where scrupulosity makes an enemy of the practical, the realistic, and the human scale.

The theocons, (including those found at my alma mater, TAC), also suffer from the error of making the perfect the enemy of the good, but do so according to their own unnatural and gnostic misconceptions.

In contrast to those who make the perfect the enemy of the good, the proof of Catholic social theory is : Does it work at a practical level? In other words, does it work for those who are not suffering from scrupulosity or some other error that makes the perfect the enemy of the good.

When ever I get into discussions with Catholic intellectual types I'm invariably struck by their disembodied notions of man. And it's not so much they mistake the problems we face, as it is that their equally disembodied solutions simply don't work, or make sense, at a practical level because men are not disembodied spirits, but flesh and blood with fallen nature. God created a world sufficient for us to live in, but it's world rough around the edges.

And because life is rough around the edges, our solutions in turn must reflect those same imperfections of life. Because when solutions do not reflect those rough edges and imperfections we in turn end up with very damaging solutions such as the separation and annulment scandal which exists because a disembodied perfection, an unobtainable level of perfection, has become the romanticist standard by which marriage contracts are judged by Catholic marriage tribunals.

Not only do the Catholic marriage tribunals make the perfect the enemy of the good, but so likewise do those in the marriage market: the romanticist notion of finding the perfect spouse is an unrealistic expectation that breeds resentment when reality doesn't measure up. Unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments. Resentments that inevitably follow when the unitive aspect of marriage is unnaturally separated from the procreative,

Not that Catholics are unique in their making the perfect the enemy of the good. Quite the opposite, because it's also a common thread running through modern american society. Which in turn is probably why it's so commonly found in Catholic thought because most Catholics online are likewise creatures of modern society.

The aphorism, "The perfect is the enemy of the good", can be seen in and takes on the characteristics of each part of modern society. It's an error of unrealistic expectation and can be most easily spotted by looking for that error.

It's likewise an error that manifests itself differently depending on circumstance. For instance, consumerism reflects the error by the insatiable desire for the next gadget, article of clothing or what not with the expectation that the next purchase will finally satisfy the yearning for an unfound happiness.

Consumerism is a market driven by the unrealistic expectation that happiness can be found in the better than currently owned material possession, when what is instead missing is not the next and better possession but satisfaction in the satisfactory that is currently possessed.

Or take the type of market the distributists yearn for: as opposed to accepting an imperfect but natural market grounded in the nobleese oblige of subsidiarity, the distributists make their utopian desire for the perfect the enemy of the good, (i.e. the enemy of the natural market men naturally gravitate toward), by their advocating instead a solution that is not only unrealistic but an unforgiving dystopia.

The distributists, and their kindred spirits the luddites and agrarian Catholics, particularly suffer from the error of Catholic utopianism because not only are they predisposed to romanticist solutions, but those attracted to these notions invariably lack any practical experience in the fields where they would impose their solutions. They lack a practical experience that is necessary in order to know the level of precision each field requires. With precision understood to mean not only how close to the ideal does the practical art needs to be, but more importantly how far from the ideal a realistic level of precision should be.

Not that practical experience is a guarantee that someone will know the required level of precision, for instance, this past Spring I read some framing plans dimensioned to the 1/16" of an inch where as good precise framing is to the 1/8". But for the most part practical experience in the field does teach that framing to the 1/16" is not only unrealistic but makes an enemy of good framing to 1/8". Prudence is knowing the required level of precision.

When I was 18 and up among the rafters framing a house, a carpenter a couple of years older than me who at a difficult angle had just nailed a board close to the mark but not dead on the line, looked over at me and said : "good enough for the girls I go out with". The comment stuck with me not only because it was humorous, but because it signified in a humorous way the concept of not making the perfect the enemy of the good.

The luddite and agrarian Catholics make their enthusiasm an enemy of farming or an enemy of construction, or an enemy of what have you, because they shun the practical experience of those who make a living in the field in preference for some aesthetic which they see as perfecting the art.

Catholic social theory speculation on the hot button issues such as torture, or modesty in dress, or capital punishment and similar are invariably arguments of the perfect against the good where those who argue from a practical good solution, a prudent solution at the required level of precision, are commonly portrayed as purveyors of either inhumane or of slatternly behavior.

The theocons, paleo-libertarians and those who argue for open borders suffer from the error of making the perfect the enemy of the good because they see natural human scale limits as an evil that should be displaced by some perceived limitless perfection.

The open border types sell out their fellow Catholic neighbors for the good of strangers while in the same breath excommunicating those same fellow Catholic neighbors when they object to being sold down the river,

Please note, as with all my other writings, this work is an unfinished work in progress.

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