It seems to me that many arguments of many issues could be solved if we agreed on some terms. If a person says there is a problem, and you propose a solution, and you don’t agree on the solution because it is not ideal, sometimes you can agree by categorizing solutions as good, better, best and perfect. Sometimes we can all agree that “good” is good enough.
Let me give an example. Problem: people should do their home teaching. Well, if Joe is not doing his home teaching at all, and he makes a change and visits two people (out of four) every month, that is good. Is it perfect? No. But it is good. So, we should all agree on that. We can break it out this way:
Problem: Joe is not doing any home teaching.
Good: Joe starts home teaching two people every month.
Better: Joe does all his home teaching every month.
Best: Joe does his home teaching because he loves all of the families he home teaches and becomes an integral, helpful part of their lives.
Perfect: Joe loves all of his home teaching families, inspires them to go to the temple, do their genealogy and serves them like the Savior would.
So many arguments, discussions and, frankly, contention could be avoided if we all agreed that “Good” is good enough for some people and that we can agree “perfect” is great but most of us are never going to get there. This does not mean you are against the “perfect” solution — it just means you recognize we all fall short of the ideal. So, two people discussing this topic on a Mormon blog are often in agreement more than they would admit — they are just using different terms and speaking different languages. One is concentrating on the “good” solution, and the other is concentrating on the “perfect” solution. The one who is concentrating on the “perfect” solution probably would settle for “good” in Joe’s case if he knew all the details. So, at the end of the day, the two people who are arguing really do agree for the most part.
Now let’s talk politics.
My good friend Bruce Nielson’s post on libertarianism really got some of my libertarian friends riled up. Frankly, I think Bruce is confused about this whole “good, better, best, perfect” concept and how it applies to libertarianism.
The vast majority of libertarians — and I speak here of the people who write at “Reason” magazine, the Cato institute, the von Mises institute, George Mason University, the Freeman — in short, nearly all libertarian intellectuals, share the concept of “good, better, best, perfect.” So, if you ask them, “how should we reform Social Security,” they may come up with the following answers:
1)Good: means test and slowly raise the retirement age.
2)Better: means test, quickly raise the retirement age and introduce partial privatization.
3)Best: Make Social Security completely voluntary, and privatize it.
4)Perfect: Get rid of federal Social Security altogether, replace it with charity and voluntary state and local retirement solutions.
So, if you asked a libertarian what he favored, he probably would say, “in a perfect world, I would favor 4), but I would settle for 1) in the short run.” He might even settle for the “better” or “best” solution at some point because he realizes “perfect” will never happen. But this does not mean he is against any of the solutions that fall short of his “prefect” ideal.
Bruce makes a dichotomy between what he calls “Standard Democracy” and “libertarianism” that I cannot accept. Libertarians in real life simply do not think the way Bruce claims they do. Bruce’s description of libertarians is exactly like saying that all Mormons favor the proposition that only “perfect” home teachers are acceptable. Well, you could find conference talks in which apostles urge us to be Christ-like home teachers and strive for perfection. But we all realize that if Joe is doing no home teaching and suddenly starts home teaching two people a month, that this is a huge improvement. It is not just good, it is great! So, no real-life Mormon is going to say that only the perfect is acceptable.
The same applies to libertarianism. Libertarians will argue with you all day long on how the perfect society should look. But they also are relatively sane human beings who would accept a “good” change as the first step toward more positive change.
I will conclude by reiterating my point that people tend to put others in categories. Mary is so judgemental because she thinks visiting teachers should be “better.” Your Elders Quorum president is so unrealistic because he asks you to try to love the families of the people you home teach. In reality, Mary would celebrate Joe the non home teacher doing any home teaching at all, as would your Elders Quorum president. So, give them a break: we are all trying to do better, but nobody, including your Heavenly Father, demands that only perfection is acceptable.