One thing working with one’s hands gives us is a perspective on perfection: there ain’t any in this life. You can work longer or with greater skill at something – laying a brick, painting a picture, sewing a skirt – but you will never get it perfect. What you can do is keep improving, learning more skills and (as important) more patience.
For an adult or even a sane child, that is enough. What is frustrating is working hard and not seeing any improvement. To expect improvement shows a hopeful yet rational grip on reality; to expect perfection is to live in constant frustration in an unreal, irrational world.
I’ve written about the difference between a flat and a rich moral universe. The ultimate morally flat universe is nihilism in its various manifestations: it supports only a homogeneous 2-dimensional world of actions in which one might move around on the plane, but where no act is morally any higher or lower than any other act.
Slightly more interesting and much more common is the moral landscape of power dynamics: either you are oppressed, in which case everything you do that can be construed to have resisted oppression is good, and anything you might do as a victim of oppression is presumptively excused. Or you are an oppressor, wherein suicide of one sort or another (you may keep your body for the time being, but your intellect and integrity must die!) is the only possible morally good act you can perform. Everything else you do, no matter how apparently innocent, is an act of oppression and thus eeeevil.
In such a world, there are nothing but failures and perfect solutions, meaning there are nothing but failures. People who are oppressed can’t make small improvements in their lot over time – as long as they remain oppressed, they are objectively miserable no matter how happy their little improvements may seem to make them. The only success allowed is movement toward the day they shall be free from oppression, which mostly means getting more miserable – because happy people don’t usually have revolutions.
So, in yet another Orwellian moment, Misery is Happiness; Failure is Success. No really: as some wit once said, Marx’s call to revolution sounds a lot less convincing when all you have to lose is your suburban home, a couple of cars, a snowmobile, 4 weeks vacation, health care and all the rest of your stuff. Better you be destitute and miserable, as that is closer to Paradise. (1)
The lack of perfect solutions is used as a criticism: since there is STILL injustice in the world, every effort made by every man, woman and child, has FAILED. Everything that has created a better life for several billion people is not good enough. The world *should* be perfect! We may think the small and shrinking percentage of people worldwide in true poverty is a good thing, that the growing number of people who are not insecure for their persons, who have food, clothing and shelter, is a good thing – but they are not good enough! In fact, insofar as they delay the true freedom only to be had via revolution, they are eeeevil.
On the other hand, if all one hopes for is improvement, one can realistically hope to achieve something. This happy state requires a rich moral universe, where our choices and actions are judged within a moral framework with room for nuance – with room for improvement, one might say. In such a world, it is possible for such subtle shades as it being wrong that I murdered somebody richer than me, or right that I paid him for that snowmobile. My faithfulness or unfaithfulness to my spouse is not washed out to meaninglessness by my presumed membership in one or the other of the oppressed/oppressor pair, but has – at it most certainly appears to have – real, concrete, *moral* consequences.
The richest, most detailed and thus most lovely and terrifying moral universe ever described can be seen in Dante, or in the Catechism. That is a Universe without perfection in this life, but of improvement within it. Within it can be lived a life of meaningfulness, a life standing against the blandly evil and tasteless flat moral universes being pushed upon us more every day.
- The devil parodies in Marxism the voluntary surrender of goods in this life for greater goods in the next.