What is acceptance?

(Here I can hear Heidegger chiming in something like “the word speaks to us in Latin.”)

It is best to start our investigation from its opposite, rejection.

Rejection is to deny either the existence or the legitimacy of what is rejected. The idealist rejects the argument of the economist that the optimal number of murders, rapes, thefts, and traffic accidents is greater than zero. He denies the existence of fundamentally ineradicable problems.

The economist rejects complete solutions as criteria for judging a given problem. She denies the existence of actions and choices without trade-offs, where improvement in one area does not mean taking away resources that could have been put to other uses.

The victim of a crime who sees how the sausage of justice is made, and often fails to be made, may reject the entire justice system. That is, they may deny its legitimacy, perhaps thinking simple vengeance is closer to true justice.

Acceptance is not complete acquiescence to the demands of others or to the status quo. Even the radical submission of the Amish does not mean that—they make many demands as a community, even of the larger world and its politics from which they strive to remain separate.

Let us say that we are human beings who strive for order, but also for justice, for generosity, but also for prudence. Acceptance means recognizing that there are fundamental gaps in what we can accomplish in this striving, and that those gaps are often enormous—but having a heart that is at peace, nevertheless.

The politics and the ideology of rejection are always the enterprise of a heart at war with the world. He whose heart is at war sees the cracks in our fallible human arrangements, and the ugliness that spills out of them, and thinks that ugliness must be all there is, underneath it all.

He makes demands of the world, and rejects the world even when these demands are met. For no demand that can be met can ever purify the world of all ugliness and fill in every gap and crack—or even most of them.

She whose heart is at peace extends an unconditional love and understanding to a world full of hurt and hurting. She makes demands, but her love is never predicated on having those demands met. She understands that the pursuit of justice almost always itself entails acts of injustice, but still believes that justice is what we should strive for. She understands that the compromises and trade-offs that go into maintaining order are often stained in ugliness themselves, and yet she still desires that order be maintained, even if she hopes for an order with as little ugliness as we can manage.

Acceptance is encountering the ugliness of the world without letting it stick to you. Rejection is encountering that ugliness and letting it define you.

6 thoughts on “Acceptance

  1. You seem to be saying that economists believe Pareto improvements are impossible. I assume that the word “complete” is doing some heavy lifting to avoid that, but I suggest somehow rephrasing your point.

    1. The idea of Pareto improvement itself constitutes a commitment to making certain trade offs. It means that if we can choose between one person getting five more dollars, and one person losing five dollars but another getting a thousand, we ought to choose the former outcome. That is a very serious trade-off. Pareto is no panacea. I’ll admit many economists lose sight of that fact.

  2. When I went to school, they taught me that a Pareto improvement meant making one party better off and no one worse off. Maybe they teach it differently at George Mason, but I’m pretty sure that’s the standard neoclassical definition.

    1. No, that’s correct. But there’s still an opportunity cost for going after that outcome, if there are outcomes we could have gone after in which someone was made only trivially worse off while someone else was made enormously better off. That scenario wouldn’t be a Pareto improvement, but in my opinion would be better than many possible Pareto improvements.

  3. Pingback: An Ordinary Life and the Pitfalls of Greatness - Front Porch Republic

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.