Achievable Good Is Better Than Impossible Perfect

You’ve probably heard the joke about why a ham sandwich is better than eternal happiness:

  • Nothing is better than eternal happiness.
  • And a ham sandwich is better than nothing.

A ham sandwich isn’t perfect, but it’s better than having no food at all.

Do you want to live in a perfect society? Find a perfect spouse? Have a perfect job?

You can’t. They don’t exist, at least not on earth.

If you insist on “perfection or nothing,” then you’ll probably end up with nothing. Not even a ham sandwich.

The worst problem with “perfect” goals isn’t that they’re unattainable. It’s that they lead us to reject good but imperfect goals that we can actually achieve.

Human societies are imperfect because human beings are imperfect. That’s not going to change.

Attempts to create a perfect society usually cause more of the evils they’re trying to eliminate, such as the terror and mass slaughter of the French, Russian, and Chinese revolutions.

No matter how good a society is, it will have things that some people dislike. Some things will be real problems that should be fixed. Others will be minor problems or subjective judgments that should be left alone. There are always costs and benefits.

The French philosopher Voltaire said it well:

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

Check out my new book Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help or Hurt Social Peace. BlueInk called it “a multidisciplinary analysis for the communication breakdown in these divisive times.”

About N.S. Palmer

N.S. Palmer is an American mathematician.
This entry was posted in Philosophy, Political Science, Society and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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