Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Vision is Vital

In talking with a friend last week, in thinking about the difference in various peoples' approaches to the cultural degradation of the day, in reading some comments that various people have made recently, and in writing my previous blog, I have been struck with the necessity of having a vision. Holding up an ideal, both as an individual and as a society, is a necessary prerequisite to effecting positive change. In many ways, a visionary is an artist whose medium is the world. Rather than expressing himself through music, painting, drawing, or writing, the visionary seeks to use the world as his medium and to shape it to match his artistic vision. Such a man has a clear model for how the world should be, and sets himself upon the task of changing the world to match his vision. The flipside of such a truth is that the man or society without a vision is powerless to make substantial positive change of any sort. Instead, without vision, entropy prevails.

This is a theme has been presented in various ways throughout time. One of my favorite illustrations of the necessity of direction is concisely conveyed in the brilliant writings of Lewis Carroll. From Alice in Wonderland:

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where--" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"--so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."
From the pages of Scripture:
Where there is no vision, the people perish. - Proverbs 29:18
From a recent post by Talleyrand:
Want to know the single. easiest way to figure out if a culture is dying?

Answer this question: Does the culture as a whole have a united vision of the future?

If the answer is no, the culture is doomed.
I could cite numerous other examples of this theme from various pages of ancient tomes and literary masterpieces. The point is quite simple. Given that we live an entropic world, where things naturally trend towards worse states of being, and where decay and degradation is the natural direction of things, intervention is necessary either for the betterment of things or even to maintain the status quo. If you wish to keep your lawn looking nice, you must be sure to water it regularly and cut it habitually. If you wish your house to be clean, you must put effort into it by occasionally tidying up, vacuuming, scrubbing, and dusting. To simply leave things alone is the ensure atrophy. Maintenance requires effort.

Improvement requires even more effort. In order to better anything, one must not only be willing to put effort into its betterment, but must also have a clear and fixed vision of what sort of betterment ought to be pursued. If I say that I wish to improve society, my statement is quite vacuous unless I can explain how I wish to improve society. Any vision that is worth its salt must be fixed, attainable, desirable, conceivable and actionable. I must be able to conceptualize the desired end of my aims. I must be able to take practical steps towards the realization of my vision. I must desire the attainment of my vision enough to put my heart into my efforts. If a vision is desirable but not practical it is mere idealism. If a vision is attainable but not desirable, it is too weak. If a vision is desirable but not conceivable or attainable, then it is impractical. If a vision is not fixed, then it will be as elusive as the horizon. All five element are necessary in a vision.

Yet our society has no such vision. We are a divided nation with various goals, none of which hold enough sway to inspire or unite our generation. We have a national leader who, despite his use of mimetic language, is much like Alice; though he knows what programs he wishes to support, he has no true conception of where America should go and no comprehension of how to lead us there. Our lack of societal vision stems from the lack of vision at the familial and personal levels. Individually, we have embraced resignation and apathy. As a majority of people no longer hold a vision for how the world should be, they no longer seek to mold it to fit their image. We lack strong leaders. We lack inspirational visionaries. The individualism and relativism of today leave us all wandering aimlessly in various directions, rather than united in pursuit of a common goal. For many, they have accepted the decline of Western civilization as inevitable and seek to take advantage of the moral and societal collaspe ensuing all around us. For others, they lack the self-efficacy or motivation to strive for change, even though they desire it.

If there is to be societal redemption, it will come through individuals and communities that hold a strong vision and are firmly committed to making their vision a reality. Neither individuals nor societies are beyond redemption. Cynics, skeptics and passive pessimists, for all their ranting, do not lift a finger to solve the problems of the day. Indeed, the social inertia they add compounds the problem. Contrarily, men and women who tirelessly work to remake the world according to their vision are the ones who write history and leave their mark on the canvas of time. In fact, many of those who have made a difference in the world testify to the very necessity of a visionary mindset.

To accomplish great things, we must dream as well as act.
Anatole France (1844 - 1924)

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858 - 1919)

There is nothing like dream to create the future. Utopia to-day, flesh and blood tomorrow.
Victor Hugo (1802 - 1885)

The person who makes a success of living is the one who see his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication.
Cecil B. DeMille (1881 - 1959)

History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.
Sir Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965)

One person with a belief is equal to a force of 99 who have only interests.
John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873)

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world. You impoverish yourself if you forget this errand.
Woodrow Wilson (1856 - 1924)

The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.
Thucydides (471 BC - 400 BC)
The future belongs to those who seize it. They seize it who want it the most and who pursue their vision most passionately. If there is any desire in the citizens of a nation to reach for utopia or to make a nation a more perfect place, they must have vision, both as individuals and collectively. When our nation was birthed, it had precisely such a vision, which is what inspired the preamble of our United States Constitution. Additionally, if there is any desire in the members of a society to attain betterment, they must expend their efforts to make it so. We truly must dream, as well as act, if we wish to make a difference.


  1. Funny,I have been thinking about this a lot recently.

    The problem is that there isn't a coherent vision of the future in the movement and there needs to be one, the conservatives look backward, the liberals look in the air.

    I look forward to reading what you come up with.

    One word of warning though, many visionaries end up playing another role: martyr.

  2. It seems that many of us have been thinking of this. This is natural for men in our community, since our heroes and myths, the basis for our visions, have been under deliberate attack. See my latest post analyzing the role of mythic story. A people without a mythic coherence are not a people, just a collection of individuals.

  3. Nice. Some inspiring quotes.

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