Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Perfect / Good

The phrase that you hear in arguments, "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," popped into my head. And I thought of an extension or a corollary to this. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but also don't let worries about letting the perfect be the enemy of the good stop you from pushing for three things instead of two, or four things instead of three, or only killing ten false-positive human beings in your war instead of a hundred.

In the Tim Noah/Mark Schmitt bloggingheads about Ted Kennedy, they were talking about Kennedy's approach. They were saying that he went for incremental progressive policies in bits and pieces, and after a while of doing that, you get a lot done. So I was thinking about how this saying might have been wielded on Kennedy. A big part of this blog is about the question of disingenuousness or bad faith. So I wonder how often the subtle suggestion that it's OK to stop short of pushing harder is wielded in bad faith by someone who actually has vested interests against whatever it is getting done. Like let's say, pushing for single payer. Or even pushing for a public option. I think there is the possibility of good and bad outcomes in either eventuality. Kennedy didn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good and he got a lot accomplished over time. However, if the person telling you not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good has a top hat and a curly moustache and a nametag reading "insurance lobbyist," it might also be good to consider ignoring them.

I think it's important to take a look at how people take language as a bundle, and it obviates the need to finely consider the elements of the bundle. People are often scanning around for stories and contexts to help them make sense out of the world. If there's a new anti-terror bill working through Congress in 2020 AD, and it ratifies preemptive rape and preemptive murder of most anyone, and activists fight and fight for three straight days and finally get the murder provision stripped out, and then someone speaks up and says "I'm horrified that we're still legalizing rape" and is told in response, "yes, but let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good," it would be awful to accept that contextualization and feel some relief. But probably also human, if you're at a complete loss, horrified, and looking around for some help, and the person saying those words is a progressive elder statesman - or a bigwig of the Dems or the GOP or whoever - who you admire. I have felt this way about commentary on the killing of Awlaki, the killing of Qadaffi, and recently on the new NDAA - it doesn't go as far as my satirical example, but it's bad enough - and even listening to Jon Stewart talk about bin Laden being killed. You do do a double take and say "well, if xy person thinks it's actually okay, maybe I'm wrong."

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