Watching the news, we see an alarming number of instances that give the impression that the world is largely a brutish, difficult and unfair place. We see innocent women, children and brave soldiers killed because powerhungry world leaders go to war for selfish, fabricated reasons. We see governments ignoring the dismal economic and health conditions of their people while spending billions of dollars on purchasing missiles and F-16s. We see dictators mercilessly slaughtering their own people outside their homes just to avoid a demotion of power.
How a person reacts to these stories says a lot about their character and their worldview. The reaction of some will start with sadness and astonishment, followed by a call to action and "awareness" to correct these wrongs in the pursuit of an ideal utopia. For others, their reaction will start and end with sadness, but astonishment will never register because for them this is how the world has worked for years and will continue to work.
The former group is usually known as idealists, while the latter is known as realists. There has been endless debate between the two groups. Many realists see idealists as fake activist hippies who have no knowledge of how the world actually works. Many idealists see realists as sad selfish pessimists who are negatively impacting the world through their non-action.
These are two very different worldviews, but as I depart WSU and go into the real world, I do so with the idea that, in order for the world to work efficiently, both sides need each other.
Personally, I have always believed that even attempting to make the world a better place is better than sitting still, so it can be said that I lean more toward idealism. But in my experience as a political science major at WSU, my sympathies with the realist stance have increased.
Powerful leaders have been acting immorally for centuries. It has been the nature of governments and individuals to be self-serving, and if in the pursuit of self-preservation they have to behave immorally, they will do so without hesitation. As far as I know, this has generally been the case and it will continue to be the case.
For an idealist to ignore these truths is careless and can even be dangerous. In many countries around the world, including sometimes in the U.S., trying to change the status quo will result in torture, imprisonment and death. Dying for a cause that you believe in sounds very commendable, but there is a good chance that death will not be the catalyst for any revolution or social change, and will simply leave you dead and your family in tears.
The first step in changing the world is realizing that you probably cannot change the world. By knowing the sometimes dark and depressing truths of the world, idealists will be more efficient in their pursuit to make the world better. Realizing the brutal reality of the world will help in knowing when to pick fights, and how to win the fights picked, so as not to waste precious resources. Related to that is also knowing when to end fights, because trying to achieve perfection is a task that has proved simply impossible.
But notice that I am not advocating idealists to stop fighting for a better tomorrow. It is true that successfully instituting true positive change is an enormous task that requires great sacrifice, a large amount of time and money and especially lots of luck. But it can be done if done carefully and correctly. Even if we cannot leave the world in a better condition than we found it, we should at least clean up after ourselves so we can give those who follow us a chance to try.
Sitting at home while letting the world go down the drain because it is pointless to even try should not be an option for anyone. I have had the pleasure of being around many people from the Middle East, and the people of those countries have gotten the short end of the stick for quite some time, so for many of them expressing discontent is as far as their activism goes.
Even with the recent uprisings against tyrannical dictators in countries like Egypt and Libya that were a result of great sacrifice, and definitely a lot of luck, there are many who look at history and see that whatever anyone does, in this current geopolitical climate the Middle East will not become the free and prosperous region that the protestors fought for.
They may be right, idealists will not win every battle, but exerting pressure on the tyranny in the world helps to make sure it does not get worse. The world did not always have the notion of inalienable human rights, but now when those rights are taken away from people, those people stand up and fight for those rights. The world may not become a perfect place, but oppressors now have limits, and by continuing to exert pressure over time on the oppressors, more limits can be placed. It is important to realize that the consequences of not trying are going to be much greater than the consequences of trying and failing.
Everyone can learn from each other, and in the case of idealist and realists, it is important they do so. Idealists need realists to make sure they do not fly too high, and realists need idealists to make sure they get off the ground.