Sunday, May 27, 2007

Reflections On Some Folly

A friend of mine is one of those liberals to whom the word "foolish" might be applied. She is so focused on the world of ideas, she trips over the world she lives in. That's to say, her principles get in the way of her feet.

So, for instance, she loves humanity, but doesn't love very many flesh and blood people. She hates the powerful people she's read about who oppress the Latin American poor, but adamantly defends a real life friend of her's who is a cruel bully.

Another friend of mine is one of those conservatives to whom the word "foolish" might be applied. He also is so focused on the world of ideas, he trips over the world he lives in.

So, for instance, he is so opposed to public charity in principle, he even opposed Federal assistance to Katrina victims. Because the Bible tells him the Jews are God's chosen people, he cannot see the injustice of Israel's settlements on the West Bank.

Ideas are more like maps than anything else. Just like maps, their truth value is in whether they are sure guides. But some people are more in love with the maps they make than they are with the terrain the maps are supposed to be guides to. They are like undisciplined cartographers who would sooner have an especially attractive map that's wrong than they would have a plain but useful map that's accurate.


decrepitoldfool said...

A friend of mine makes a big point out of saying "I'm not an environmentalist". But he just moved to within bicycling distance of work ("The house was a great deal!") and traded his guzzler in on a Prius ("I like all the gadgets!") His wife wants to drive the Prius to her job on days when he bikes.

If only there were more of that kind of anti-environmentalist ;-)

Schwinn said...

Someone used the cartographer metaphor before you. Baudrillard, or perhaps someone else...?

Loren said...

S.I Hayakawa used the map metaphot in his famous Language in Thought and Action.

I was fond of it when I first started teaching, perhaps because I had taught map reading in the Army and understood the tenous relationship between maps and reality.

Students were less enthusiastic, but I think it still provides a vital distinction between our ideas and reality.