The Lowered Expectations Dating Service

Utopian schemes try to create a perfect society. They usually cause more suffering than they cure. It’s a bad bargain.

Moreover, people seldom agree on what a perfect society would be like. No matter how good it is or in how many ways, somebody will still think it’s awful and unjust.

And no matter how good people’s lives are, they always feel that things could be better. Taken in moderation, that feeling is helpful. It motivates us to improve ourselves and our societies. But taken to extremes, it’s destructive, leading to despair, anger, and anarchy.

So I’m inclined to accept a certain amount of imperfection in life: as Voltaire advised, “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”

But am I accepting imperfection too easily? Have I needlessly signed up for “The Lowered Expectations Dating Service”?

I don’t think so, but mainly because the question has no clear answer.

We, our lives, and our societies are inevitably imperfect. Therefore — at least, short of Heaven or the Messianic era — our choice is never between perfect and imperfect. It’s always between various imperfect situations. We have to choose which imperfections we can tolerate and which we feel are intolerable.

I’ve seen enough of life by now to be pretty sure that:

  • Some people always oppress some other people. The only things that change are the people, the reasons, and the details. As economist John Kenneth Galbraith said, “Under capitalism, man exploits man; under Communism, it’s just the opposite.”
  • Some people always think they have it bad and society is unfair. In some ways, they probably do and it probably is. Welcome to real life. You can still get hot chocolate and fluffy bunnies to relieve stress, but you’ll have to pay for them.
  • Order is usually better than chaos, but it depends. Life is dynamic, so too much order is as bad as no order at all. Where do you draw the line? Like I said, it depends — on the people, the situation, and what’s reasonably possible.

Check out my book Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help or Hurt Social Peace. Kirkus Reviews called it an “impressively nuanced analysis.”

About N.S. Palmer

N.S. Palmer is an American mathematician.
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