the benefit of doubt
“Perfect is the enemy of good”~Voltaire
What the fuck am I doing here? We all wonder this from time to time and we receive a cacophony of answers from various sources: wait for heaven, god will sort it all out; or save the whales (and maybe even the bees); or annex a neighbouring civilisation etc. All this well meaning advice amounts to essentially saying that we should all be a good boys and girls or whatever.
That’s not very specific though. Can we get a clearer definition on that please? Semi-successful wrestler and serial philosopher, Plato gave us the idea of (and prepare yourself because this nomenclature may shock you…) platonic ideas. Somewhere out there is a perfect non-material world. Everything in the one we’re living in is merely made up of imperfect instantiations of those etheral templates. For example, there is an ideal chair from which all other chairness eminates. Fine, maybe (and that’s a big maybe) the idea of a perfect chair does exist somwhere but what about the perfect human?
Jesus Christ, notwithstanding it’s difficult to imagine in real terms what a perfect person would be like. Just because there are so many different options compared to every other thing in the known universe. A tree grows into a tree but a human could be anything (including a tree going by today’s standards of personal identification). As we’ve alluded to being a good guy let alone perfect, could entail anything from being god’s humble servant to committing mass genocide, sometimes both depending on the ideology in question. And so THE question remains: what to do, what to do?
Collectively we’re going through a meaning crises. The old institutions (the church) and even the new ones (politics) are collapsing all around us. Just as a quick aside, famed musician, Sinichi Suzuki, once made the startling observation that Japanese children grow up to speak Japanese. You’re a product of your culture to a large degree. But what happens when you’re culture is on life support? I’d venture to say that an existential crisis of biblical proportions is on the way. Should be fun.
So regardless of the accuracy of his ontology, Plato was onto something all along: Imperfection is about the best that you can hope to expect in this world. It’s a messy old business, life. Our cultural ruins are demonstrative of the shaky (im)moral ground on which we stand. wouldn’t it be nice to be able to say ah yes I know exactly what to do. In a perfect world we could proceed with confidence, in this one we have to make do with uncertainty.
Collectively we need to rebuild from the ground up. Not necessarily dispensing with everything that’s come before but drawing upon the past where it might appropriately complement our current social context. And let us begin here with this . When you’re not sure of what to do then what’s left but to trust in your own intuitive knowing. Nothing less than a kierkegaardian leap of faith is required for this to work (that was the old nugget that might be useful right there). You don’t know for sure but you act in (almost) full confidence anyway.
Besides, imagine how boring life would be if we had all the answers. Alan Watts said something along the lines of a loving god would never give us a complete instruction manual for how to live because that would undermine the entire process. Not knowing is half the fun. Figuring it out is a major part of the human experience. I like how Andrew Huberman puts it (and I especially like it because it inverts how I’ve come to understand what enlightenment means. An example of how sometimes we need to cast a new light on ancient wisdom): Seeking is the reward.
So we’re not perfect. We don’t know for sure what we’re doing (same as it ever was). Yet we’re called upon to act as if we do know anyway (otherwise nothing new or interesting would ever happen). The world we’ve built is falling apart because that’s the nature of things in this world. And consequently as imperfect people we’re the one’s who’ll have to put humpty dumpty together again. That’s the game that we’re playing if we’ve got the gumption to jump into the arena. All it requires is a leap of faith.