You cannot save the world

…but you might be able to change some part of it. To survive as an idealist in the modern world, it’s necessary to make this subtle but important change. ‘To save the world’ is such an inspiring notion, but too many idealists are crushed by the burden of such an unrealistic standard.

The modern world is a vast, intricate machine with a life of its own. Trade routes are its arteries, and money and information are its lifeblood. No one person built the Machine – it’s the aggregated actions of billions of people. Collectively, we are the Machine. No one person, no matter how powerful or important, can stop or control it now. For example, President Bush slowed the progress of US stem cell research by restricting federal funding because he disapproved of the destruction of human embryos; however, he could not stop research completely. This is because there are other funding sources, including private entities and states. Even if he had the power to stop all research in the US, scientists would just move to another country and continue their research. In a battle of ‘Man vs. Machine,’ Machine invariably wins.

The best an individual can hope is to change a small part of the Machine that they care most about. Just talk to veterans of non-profit or NGO work. Many may have been young idealists with lofty goals in the beginning, but in the end, it’s about helping the people you can.

This is not a matter of ‘watering down’ or ‘selling out;’ it’s a matter of survival. Ideals are such beautiful and delicate things – they are irretrievably lost once shattered and are often replaced by bitterness. David Hume and Friedrich Nietzsche became prominent critics of religion after they lost their Christian faith. Idealists often see the world as black and white, but one must learn to be flexible in order to preserve one’s ideals because reality is gray.

A great deal of patience is also required to change the world. Big changes are the sums of millions of small individual changes, and it often takes time for momentum to build up. It may not be glamorous as Man vs. Machine, but at least in battle of ‘People vs. Machine,’ people win – no matter how long it takes.

With a realistic standard and patience, go forth and do good.

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