Gnomicon 61

Every form of addiction is bad,
no matter whether the narcotic be
alcohol, morphine or idealism.

Carl Jung (26 July 1875 – 6 June 1961)

I think the comments of the great Swiss psychiatrist were on to some kind of archetypal truth here, especially as applied to the final element of his terrible triad.

Addiction … is it …

some kind of neurobiochemical deficit?
a psychological-psychiatric imbalance?
mere intellectual laziness?
simply moral turpitude?
or some unholy combinatorial permutation of the above?

I can’t imagine anybody objecting to the notion that an addiction to morphine or alcohol is a debilitating, a bad thing.  But idealism?  Aren’t we all always being told – starting with those tedious graduation speeches from grammar school, from high school, from college, from graduate school – never to let go of our ideals but to let them anchor us as we move on to the next stage of life — or whatever.  How can they, then, be ‘bad’?

It must surely be a function of what precisely a given interlocutor has in mind when using the term ‘ideal’ as it applies to ‘idealism’ – and short of asking, how could we know?  Consider the lexical semantics of ‘ideal’ as one unit within a larger domain of signification.  Look at a few examples:

In an   ideal   world we are all equal.
A Platonic   ideal   has no ontological status.
This lovely lady’s   ideal   is a man with wash-board abdomen.
Some people consider the   ideal   of freedom worth dying for at any time.

Yes, there is a kind of common semantic denominator in these usages, but it would be erroneous to claim that the word ‘ideal’ (or its concomitant ‘idealism’) has the identical meaning in each of the four sample statements.  Context is important.  What, for instance, would the lexical flavor of ‘ideal’ be in the final sentence if instead of being followed by “of freedom” it were followed by “of slavery”?  Would ‘ideal’ – the very same unchanged word ‘ideal’ – then speak to something good or something bad?  That would be a different kind of “ideal”-ism … like the idealism that Jung talks about.

Wrap yourself in any obsession or compulsion masquerading as an idealism of however putatively noble a nature – medical, legal, political, religious – and you’re probably in very ‘bad’ trouble with your world and, worst of all, yourself.

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