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Is "perfect" really the enemy of the "good"

A common indictment made against those who argue for an idealistic approach to a case/controversy/policy/business opportunity is that to hold out for a “perfect” solution is often a strategic mistake. The proponents of the “good”, or the go slow-ers, argue that an approach which might actually accomplish something, the “perfect”, is just too hard, or may result in noting at all. They continue that getting something passed, no matter how facile, should be the goal.

While there are certainly sometimes when something is better than nothing, the price one, or all of us can pay for this unyielding fealty to such a modus operandi is hypocrisy at best and at worst it can perpetuate social ills and mask anti social behavior.

The recent revelation of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s true racist beliefs (despite his hacks’ assertions to the contrary – “it doesn’t accurately reflect his beliefs”) besides being the obvious is also emblematic of the high price paid for succumbing to the “good” rather than insisting on the “perfect”.

In this case the NAACP, “the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization” has awarded (not once but count ’em, three times, with one being “withdrawn” ) a man widely known in LA has having racist views, and in fact paying civil damages for racist acts. This apparently because, well, Sterling’s money, which was mostly likely strategically utilized to sanitize his real racism, and was simply too good to ignore. So the NAACP enabled a racist while giving him the cherished imprimatur of credibility from a civil rights organization.

The notion that to have idealistic goals: to strive for a world where climate change is not a threat to the planet; or one where religious “tolerance” can never justify murder; or one where education is truly about the best interest of kids; or one where people are truly judged by the content of their character; is exactly what inspired the founders of our country. The “perfect” was the very foundation of what Jefferson, Adams and Madison foresaw in the United States. The republicanism they created gave a moral, even utopian significance to their revolution. See Gordon Wood's Empire of Liberty

The State of Israel was also created by individuals who, as they escaped the anti-Semitism and oppression all across Europe, came with the intention of developing a place where fairness and equality prevailed, a place which combined collective determination with enlightenment. See Ari Shavit's My Promised Land

The imperfections of the U.S. and Israel (i.e., slavery, occupation) and others created with utopian ideals should not be misconstrued as a justification for aiming lower. The fact that these two remarkable civilizations have not fully achieved their noble goals is evidence only of the tenuousness of human nature and not a fault of their aspirations.

When policy makers shoot low and are ok with half loaf solutions they often not only serving no real purpose at all but may actually contribute to the underlying problem intended to be addressed. When private and NGO organizations help to green wash politicians or sanctify billionaire bigots they often contribute to the obfuscation which is exactly what is desired by the recipients and other real opponents.

It is a tried and true strategy learned from high price image consultants that the powerful need to sanitize and burnish their “brand”. Whether Andrew Carnegie or John D. Rockefeller last century or Lance Armstrong this one, the bigger and more egregious their actions the more laundering their brand needs. Organizations like the NAACP only act as co-conspirators when they in fact compromise their own brands in order to achieve that ever elusive acceptance they think they achieve by association with the rich and powerful.

As we mature and realize that there are many things we thought were easily discernible as black and white yet are actually quite grey, we also realize that in fact some things are in fact moral imperatives. A racist billionaire who actually owes much of his fortune to the same “blacks” he so derides should be an easy one. Too bad when Sterling money was offered to the NAACP those who argued that even though they know he is a racist the organization shouldn’t let the “perfect” be the enemy of the “good” prevailed.

Perhaps if those who knew reacted appropriately during all Sterlings' years of racist words and acts, the incredibly high octane reaction now - to what are condemnable, but in relation to his actual acts not particularly notable words- would not have been necessary. How "good" do the NAACP (and all the others who were bought off they feel now?

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