Romance and Reality

Humans are beings of love. Whether it’s that girl who is nothing but perfect or that culture that can’t have negatives, our love exceeds our rationality, our search for beauty surpasses our nitpicking of errors. That is, of course, if the subject of our inquiry is what we idealize already. If it is a subject introduced from reality in the very beginning, then we are critical: with rationality and nitpicking. That irony, to be realistic with opposition and romantic with our own views drives the world.

When Karl Marx wrote Das Kommunistische Manifest, I find it difficult to believe how truthfully he thought of reality. It was as if he entirely disregarded human nature – the feelings of greed and the desire for dignity among people. Indeed, The Communist Manifesto was an honest work for the yearning of equality, but little did Marx and Engels indulge in self criticism. Their critique of capitalism was biting and grim, but their critique of themselves almost nonexistent.

On the other end, Adam Smith envisioned a world that could not exist; a world of true laissez-faire with the guiding hand of the market that drove Darwinian progress. He foresaw the problem monopolies would possess, but laissez-faire was a dogma for all else. He critiqued the opposition, but never himself. His reality was limited by his love for his idea.

Let us call this a romantic obsession. A romantic love for ideas and philosophies simply for the sake of love. Like the girl who has to be perfect, the ideology simply cannot be wrong. The ideology is whole, complete, and in its totality perfectly perfect and realistically realistic. The market will guide itself – because I believe it so. Equality will exist – because it must. Idealism and love, the two intertwined drove Marx and Smith alike into ideological frenzy and romantic adore.

When Martin Luther King marched on Washington singing “We Shall Overcome!”, was he disenchanted? Did he see the apathy of white liberals, or did he ignore it? Did he understand that marching could not do everything? That racism would continue, and that his own people would fuel it? And if not him, his followers? Were they so axiomatic to non violence that Black Power was lost to them? That Stokely Carmichael, perhaps, had something to offer?

And when Malcolm X followed the footsteps of Marcus Garvey – in racial separatism and African return – did Malcolm even look at reality? Could it really be that he ignored the realities of his very same people entirely? Moving back to Africa in droves, from a country they lived in for centuries, for a country that raised them and was their only home, could it really be done? And who would go? Idealism led to nothing.

Theodore Herzl did it. He called on Jews in Europe to Zionism in a back-to-Asia campaign. It worked, it succeeded, it created one of the freest and most powerful nation in the Middle East. His idealism in the 1890s, his romantic obsession with what few thought could happen led to a new reality. In ignoring reality, the Zionists changed it.

Marx did not succeed with egalitarianism – but his words sparked countless revolutions. His ideas brought aspirations and hope to workers, laborers, proles, whatever they are that came into being…sort of. The qualifier, perhaps, was what he ignored. Adam Smith was no different. His hands off government did not succeed, and capitalism always had institutions bearing a quite visible glove. But nevertheless governments formed with his book their Bible. Capitalism and Communism both came to being, but neither came to perfection.

Martin Luther King developed the society Americans have today, never achieving his dream but slowly nearing. Malcolm never saw the separatism once visioned (“separation, not segregation”), but he inspired generations of blacks – in the United States, in Ghana, in Kenya, in France. Their idealism fashioned change, their romance created realities.

Romance shapes our thinking and clots our judgement, all the while kindling desires and resolve for change. The anarchist fights for freedom because he believes it can happen. The soldier dies for freedom because he believes it has happened. Neither is right, neither is true, but neither would fight knowing that. And neither is true until it becomes so, until the anarchist achieves liberation or enough soldiers die abroad to change society at home. Idealism is by its nature unpractical and by its nature a disregard for reality, but only so long as it doesn’t succeed. Success, too, cannot fail till kingdom come. It can only succeed….when it does.

Romantic affairs with universalism or utilitarianism, with love or class warfare are illusions.  It is the Bismarckian realist that knows the game like it’s played, that can compromise and realpolitik his way to incremental change. But the Romantic idealist that knows how he wants the game, who cannot compromise and despises realpolitik, is the one who causes revolution. The realist knows his limits, while the idealist sees not his bounds. One is critical of himself, the other is critical of the Other. We incline to the latter, but we have a fair deal of the former.

Romanticism and realism, romance and reality, drive the world. Politics and revolution work hand in hand, incrementally and massively, making the changes that the changers want to see. The trick is balancing and seeing that game for what it is while seeing what it can be, playing the spectrum and dancing with the continuum: being self critical and employing both techniques liberally but with precision. To do that, one must do the exact same thing as doing it – the logic is circular. And that’s the wonderfully idealistic part about it.

Romance and Reality, you can never have one. Choose both and use wisely. Cast your cards and roll the die…onward!



Romanticizing Suicide

“The most pleasant feeling I’ve ever had,” a suicide survivor calls what he thought would be the last few moments of his life. “There is a kind of form to it..a certain grace and beauty,” says another about jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge. “Total relief,” says another – reffering to that moment before death when you thought there was no more worries to ever be. These were three responses Dr. David Rosen got after interviewing six suicide survivors that lived the 250 foot drop off of one of the world’s largest suspension bridges in the world.

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most well known symbols of the United States, after the White House, the Statue of Liberty, and arguably a few others.  When constructed in 1937, it was the largest suspension bridge in the world. It connected Marin County to San Francisco, the largest city in the United States that had no bridge to the mainland, through the turbulent tides and dense fog that made such a feat near impossible to build. Since then, the bridge has been the main tourist attraction of California, and one of the most popular in the country.

But it is also known for a darker, more sinister reason. The Golden Gate Bridge is infamous for being the second most common suicide site in the world, with an official count of over 1,200 since its creation seventy six years ago. Of course that number is widely inaccurate, many bodies wash into the Pacific and are never found, many jumps were never witnessed, and many jumps are faked (however that works!). IN recent years the City of San Francisco has placed cameras to number the suicides and help with prevention; it turns out that on average there is one death every two weeks. Of course this number has been contested, and an independent initiative decided to film suicides too, calculating 17 suicides every three months.

But the most curious thing is why people choose this particular bridge, and why people choose to walk right off of it. Dr. Rosen sets off to find answers by asking survivors, and their answers are extraordinary.

Suicide is a liberation, for some. In the three seconds between the bridge and the water, it is sheer ecstasy. “Like a bird flying,” one survivor recollects, as (s)he plummeted toward what she thought would be death. Could there be no greater joy than to have no worries, no regrets, no future aspirations? Could there be no greater happiness then to lose attachment to desire, even for just three seconds. Indeed, the Buddha would agree.

Suicide, perhaps, is a statement to the world. The Golden Gate Bridge, traversed by 110,000 a day, is the perfect act of publicity, a final, irreversible act that teases the human dare. Another survivor, a teenager, said he jumped for the “fun”. Conversely, in the dead of night, at a bridge whose waters are so violent, when no one is around, it can be a suicide no one may ever know. Many bodies are never recovered, especially in the time this bridge was created. It can be a silent statement to the world, or a bold one, depending upon the beholder.

But this is an idealized version of such an act. It is an act of spontaneous decision making, hardly pre meditated. 95% of thwarted suicides off the bridge (by people who convinced the suicidal to not jump) do not jump again, or not for a time (few still do so). Perhaps the elegance of the fall that is also all too practical (only 1% survive) is performed by the combination of a number of emotions: one being depression, another, perhaps, being spontaneous.

Had the majority of those who decided against dropping from this bridge last minute tried again, we could say there were serious concerns with the quality of their lives and mental health. This is not too say there are not serious problems with their stability since this is not the case, but that the argument that we should not stop suicidals falls to its feet. Suicide is a decision based off of rash decision making, almost always, off of the sheer dare of the risk involved in transgressing the bounds. The argument that many fall prey too, that suicide is a person’s right we should not attempt to reason against fails in that the reasoning of a suicidal is often all too irrational.

Whatever the case may be, the powerful relief one must feel a second before death must be incredible. Yet our glamorizing of it does no good. The romance relationship the media has with suicide, that suicidals have with suicide is worrying, and we must be cautious. Indeed the relief of death must be extraordinary, but it is coming for all of us anyway: there is no need to rush.