Possibly the greatest harm men self-inflict comes from a general predisposition to prematurely accept some precise vision about how some things "should be", much before they have formed an equally precise idea of what those things actually are and what can realistically be done about them.
Each age has its own brands of idealism, and while they change in form, their substance remains basically the same.
Idealism is an affliction more common among the youths.They are willing to accept any wild theory that morally condemn the real world and endorse some imaginary utopian refuge, no matter how weak such a theory is to explain the facts as they can be perceived to manifest outside their cherished fantasyland.
On the other hand, experienced, seasoned older men have often seen enough rhetorical trends and real world results to react to any fashionable slogan of the moment with adequate amounts of skepticism. Things in the real world tend to be too complicated to be ameliorated by some ideological quick fix, no matter how powerful and different the new scheme may look on theory.
And while it is not much of a problem to indulge in a little optimism or wishful thinking every once in a while, it is important to realize how these harmless attitudes of positive thinking can be easily converted into fuel to all sorts of political violence, under the perennial banner of "changing the status quo".
This may sound too tragic and distatesful, but that's only because our expectations were too high.
The problem is not with visionary thinking in itself. Of course imagination is a marvelous tool of problem solving. But imagination is not omnipotent.
And excess of confidence in pure especulation can become a real threat when the visionaries systematically underestimate the dimension of the things they wish to envision. They wish to see how a simple scheme could produce a better world for the society as whole, and they become convinced that they have created it.
But what they invariably get are pathetically ill-informed simplifications schemes whose practical application ignite chains of unintended and often undesirable consequences.
Once you realize that there's nothing you can possibly do to improve "society as whole", you will find yourself directing more attention to concrete issues, and making real, albeit small, contributions to the chunks of society that are of your concern and that you are in a position to improve, as a consequence of this shifted attitude.
The funny thing about this post is that you ultimately end up doing the same thing you condemn at the outset. That is, you make a claim as to how things should be based on an unsubstantiated understanding of how things are:
"Once you realize that there's nothing you can possibly do to improve "society as whole", you will find yourself directing more attention to concrete issues, and making real, albeit small, contributions to the chunks of society that are of your concern and that you are in a position to improve, as a consequence of this shifted attitude."
You are just as guilty as the young idealogue, just in the opposite direction. You might accept any wild theory so long as it prescribes small change due to your out of hand dismissal of any radical theory as fantasy -- regardless of how sound that theory might be.
they said we would have an unfair fun advantage
There's perhaps some of that. I haven't said I was specially annointed and therefore immune to these things. If there's something tragic about the human condition in general, it may very well manifest in our own actions. And we cannot be entirely aware of our ultimate intentions anyway.
But I read it otherwise. I read it as a small reflection on the abuse of incommesurate theoretical thinking, and the practical consequences thereof, from the perspective of those who engage in such intellectual ventures.