Every time I cruise along in the virtual confines of my regular cyberspace travels, invariably the above question somehow manages to insert itself into my mind. Giving me pause to ponder on it. After much troubled thought, I have come to believe that how one answers that question determines largely how one views life in general and more importantly, how one views and judges the actions of men individually and collectively, including all the possible fortuitous events that happen globally.
Off the bat, the default answer to the questions appears to be in the affirmative, even conceding our fiercest faith on the “fallenness” of human nature. Man is perfectible. After all, we have been conscripted as faint but nevertheless true images of somebody larger, greater, and infinitely perfect; that much many religious beliefs will grant and hold sacrosanct.
But given the over 40,000 years history of modern man to play with, can we truly declare with one voice that man if perfectible is approaching closer to that perfectibility, or is he even trending toward that?
Unarguably, we know a lot better and more truths than our ancestors. Maybe, even wiser. We are as a species more “civilized” and discerning, and thus at our own initiatives we have consigned to history many silly default beliefs such as human sacrifices and many other gross manifestations of idolatry common and prevalent during the times of primitive man.
But are we showing a discernible and unmistakable trend toward that perfectibility which is so ingrained in our attitudes and beliefs? That maybe at times we feel them as second nature? But think just of the last century we left behind where on last tally over a 100 million people died with needless abandon in the countless wars and killings undertaken by man against his own kind.
Picture any place in the world today and try if you may to pinpoint any blessed piece of land where true peace reigns and where man is not at odds with his fellowmen. Anywhere one goes, the results are less than not encouraging even granting that at no time in history do we find more people latching on to some religion or other.
Even benign and indifferent poverty spreads unabated to all corners of the world. The most laudable human experiment that has made the US the richest and strongest nation on earth cannot even provide ready answers to help extricate itself completely from its own endemic poverty, still currently registering in double digits within its sainted shores.
So, where are we going with this?
I believe the answer is to qualify the initial question. Is man perfectible, in his life here on earth?
Since it is generally accepted that man has both immanent and transcendent existence, that revised question assumes a better fit. The nobler purpose of man is toward that transcendence that goes beyond the material or the reality which life on earth is all about. Man becomes perfectible when he focuses on the vertical plane where his transcendent destiny points him. Only then will his earthly life, however fraught with flaws and shortcomings, serving as prelude and cornerstone foundation, take on an understandable and worthy role leading to his perfectibility.
Since man cannot accomplish his perfectibility here on earth, then he simply aims for the next best thing, things that are humanly possible and doable in the context of the world of imperfectability that grips the earth to the core. Because there is no utopia on earth where perfect men and complete goodness hold sway, man should continue to aim for the stars at the behest and in compliance with the pinings of his higher nature, but in another vein, he should be ready and content to live in a world of compromises and feasibilities, a world of less than perfect, even humanly perfect, proportions..
While there are abstract and untainted standards and “absolutes” for many of the “ideals” that man has discovered over the ages, they are in reality not realistically attainable. While man can debate and devise a scenario for the most perfect government to govern diverse people, it will never come to seamless fruition. While the entire globe can collectively decide and earnestly put muscular measures in place to erase global poverty, poverty will be with us until the last day of our existence.
And this resignation to and acceptance of relative realities is nothing new. We experience it everyday in our workaday lives. When we say, for example, we have full employment, it does not mean that unemployment has been reduced to zero. The US at 4.5% unemployment is considered at full employment, because man being man, a stubborn portion of the population will not go to work even if work is available.
If one accepts these premises, one becomes very pragmatic when viewing the world and how people are realistically coping with it.
Men will learn to view and take events and actions of people based on reality-based standards whether of ethics, morality, politics, and even the waging of wars and the violence associated with them, not for the sake of simple expedience but because man’s nature is flawed and can never attain perfectibility living in this imperfect world.
Pragmatism allows people to look kindly at how events are shaping the world, and how man is interacting and playing with the cards dealt him. Not how things should or ought to be, in an abstract utopian manner.
To be continued.