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May 9, 2017 / Congau

Dissatisfied Acceptance

The social order should always be questioned, but not necessarily challenged.

There is something wrong with any society; there has to be for the simple reason that perfection is unattainable among fallible human beings. But there is more to it than that. The rational animal is not at all rational. Self-interest makes us act contrary to our own interests and greed makes us lose what we have.

It may look like some simple adjustments in social structure and attitude would make things so much better and eager social reformers never run out of suggestions for improvement. Sometimes their advice is tried. Sometimes full-fledged revolutions have been carried out and promised a complete overhaul of the existing order. They invariably failed. Even mild reformers fail when trying to transfer their ideas from the drawing board and into physical reality. What comes out is always different from what was imagined.

Then some conclude that whatever we have is always better. The world may not be perfect, they admit, but it’s the best of all possible worlds. The present is the best that has ever been, they think, not because they are particularly happy, but because they cannot imagine things being different. Their habits have frozen their ability to do that.

These two basic attitudes, the dissatisfied reformer/revolutionary and the satisfied safe player, are not the only possibilities. The satisfied revolutionary would be a hypocrite and an opportunist and should not be taken seriously (although he can cause a lot of damage), but the fourth brand, the dissatisfied safe player is worth a look.

It is perfectly possible to recognize that society is full of irrationality and injustice without advocating any specific program for reform. You know what you have and you realize that it’s not good enough, but you are aware of the risks of change and are resigned to accept whatever you have. In personal life that attitude is a recipe for apathy and maybe also depression, but as a social attitude it keeps you safe while still refusing to submit to the powers.

Questioning the social order without actually challenging it is a way to keep your personal integrity. You can’t beat them, but you don’t have to join them.

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