Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Idealism vs. Pragmatism

     My AP Human Geography teacher told us that there was a population crisis in India, and there were way more people than the country could handle. This, of course, we knew already. Then, she told us something that made me stop and think. She said that the population crisis was actually getting much worse in parts of the country because it is now illegal to have to use ultrasound clinics to determine the gender of a baby or to have a fetus aborted; people used to learn the gender of the baby and, if it were a girl, have it aborted because of the prevalent gender biases in rural India.
     Now, of course it is honorable of the Indian government to try to expunge this gender discrimination, but, pragmatically speaking (and I hope this doesn't sound too cold), can the government really afford to be idealistic? I mean, I realize that I'm saying "Let the female fetuses be aborted," but, when their high population is the thing keeping them from socioeconomic development, can they afford to enact policies which exacerbate that situation?

     I have a friend who's accused me of being idealistic in this blog, of focusing more on principles and beliefs than what will actually work or being practical. The question I ask today, on his and my own behalf, is: is there room for idealism and strong, uncompromising principles in a world where pragmatism may solve more problems? My answer is, there must be, or we have failed as a species.

     Population crises seem a good field for the relevant thought experiments. Consider this: if the Indian government were to enact a policy where 50% of the men and 50% of the women of India, evenly distributed across the age spectrum, were randomly chosen and executed, it could solve their population crisis, spark one of the biggest technological resurgences and periods of innovation in recent history as resources suddenly become sufficient to care for everyone and scientific experimentation and advancement become viable, and bring India to the helm of the world almost overnight. I don't say this satirically, and it shouldn't be viewed as such. Actually consider this, and realize what it would mean for the world. What if the resulting period of progress led directly to the cure for AIDS and cancer? Would it be worth it then? Surely that would cure more people than we had killed, at least in the long run. (Of course, there could be arguments that ethics doesn't work that way. Here's a great webcomic to illustrate.)
     Now, you probably couldn't make yourself seriously consider that, and rightfully so. It's barbaric. (If you could, I extend a sincere congratulations. You have managed to be so open-minded as to make even me uncomfortable.) This coming from the guy who argued with his AP World History class that A Modest Proposal was a good idea which, in those circumstances, should have been enacted. (Another essay for another time. This does not conflict with my views here. I was later proved wrong, not because of any ethical dilemmas, but because my teacher pointed out that it relied on Malthusian theory, which is inaccurate.)
     I propose this: that uncompromising principles and idealism to the point of stupidity are the only thing that make us human, empathetic creatures and indeed, have often succeeded in greater change than pragmatism. If Gandhi hadn't had a blind belief in the power of nonviolent protest, even through being put in jail and having attempts made on his life, where would India be today?

     David Fincher's Se7en has an interesting viewpoint on the topic: that idealism and uncompromising principles in a disparate society may be misplaced, but they are the only thing which make existence worthwhile, because they are the only thing that give us hope of a better world, one where biases and crime and horror have been eradicated. I leave you with the final line of the movie: "Ernest Hemingway once wrote, 'The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.' I agree with the second part."

The father of India, a blind idealist

- Adarsh Nednur

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