Sunday, May 12, 2013

Keystone realism: The penny drops

I was once very upset, as an overly idealistic undergraduate student, to be forced to learn in one of my courses on foreign policy, that old foreign affairs truism "Nations have Interests."

(Yes, I did take courses on foreign policy as part of my biology undergraduate degree. And you should too.)

But I learned it. And it stuck.

It even became a partial personality trait, particularly when I was taught a slightly different version of the same notion while working as a mental health aide in state-sponsored group homes for troubled and abandoned children (which is one of the many ways I worked my way through my BA and MS degrees).

We were taught, essentially, "don't expect mentally ill people to be nice to you. They can't be because they're sick, and if you don't keep an eye on them, they'll hurt you or someone else."

One general result of this trait is that I don't walk around expecting bad people to be nice to me, either on an individual or national level, or good people to be good all the time.

Humans remain scandalously corrupt animals, even when trying our best to be good.

You could call this ennui. Cynicism. There are lots of similar pejoratives. You can even argue that it's a self-crippling personal trait for an environmentalist, since it destroys activist enthusiasm. I might even agree with you.

But the usual academic moniker is "realism," and one benefit of using realism is that you get to be able to predict what will happen more accurately. You don't have to use it all the time, and you shouldn't. Too much realism is like too much of anything. Moderation in all things. A little is good for you. A lot makes you unpleasant to be around.

Anyway. My point: This was predictable:

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