Perfection is that to which we aspire in many of the phenomena in our lives, whether they be objects, activities, processes, interactions, relationships or atmospheres. It is that which makes something flawless and complete. It is that which makes something seem totally right for the situation. For eternity in some situations and for precisely the moment in others. But there are all kinds of obstacles to perfection, which is why we aspire to and maybe sometimes come close to, but seldom totally capture it. Even in engineering, where machine parts and machine processes have to be created within the parameters of very precise measurements, it is sometimes hard to get these measurements exactly right. In most cases, the deviations in measurements in engineering and science aren’t that important, particularly if they are very small. But, in other cases, when they are important, deviations can lead to the wrong results in experiments or to problems in functioning in machines.
It is much easier to even approach perfection, when dealing with situations that require objective measurements. But in those situations that deal with how we experience something subjectively, perfection can be something that is much more difficult to pin down. What makes for a perfect job or a perfect spouse. What if a spouse has traits that make her or him perfect or almost perfect in one kind of life situation, but not so perfect in another. A person who is great in verbal conversation and thus as a companion, but not so great as a lover. What about a job that fits one’s interests and is challenging, but that is so demanding that it is very stressful and ultimately harmful to one’s health. It gets down to that old saying “Be careful what you ask for.”
In general, it is my belief that technology has transformed the way that we look at perfection. In preindustrial times, when we lived closer to nature, perfection used to refer to a complete seamless phenomenon that was defined enough to prevent it from losing its sense of integrity by being enveloped, swallowed up by organic stimulation in a traditional highly grounded more natural environment. On one level, perfection was transcendence in spiritual entities that were not susceptible to organic decay. Religion played a very important role in terms of creating notions of perfection in traditional society. Perfection was conceived of in terms of perfection in subject matter (a transcendently beautiful woman) or in technique. Among the Navajo Indians, creating perfect rugs was thought of as challenging the gods, so they always purposely put in one mistake. Perfection also entered into the area of romance, which was, in spite of what I wrote earlier in this article, an attempt to find the perfect person who complemented one in every way. This romantic ideal was not something that the average tribesman or peasant or tradesman could afford to think about. Rather it was an ideal that was found in the middle and upper classes of European society – people who had the leisure time to think about such perfection. Needless to say, it probably often led to disappointment, which was why many romantics got lovers to satisfy them emotionally in ways that their spouses were not able to. All these transcendent approaches to perfection were ways to fight off the undifferentiating effects of the intense organic stimulation found in more natural and traditional living environments. That intense organic stimulation with all the intense manifestations of nature: vegetation, wild animals, pronounced geographical features, geological presentations and weather patterns as well as intense manifestations in traditional villages, towns and marketplaces, tended to blur the outlines of a person’s sense of self and, as it were, melt it down to a more and more primitive animal state of mind. Even those forms of architecture that represented early attempts to create transcendence to fight undifferentiation like pyramids, churches, castles and estates and traditional cities with their more organic architecture only proved how intense the pull of the intense organic stimulation was in more traditional society.
In modern technological society, where people start to model themselves after highly defined machines, definition is not the aspect of humans that is threatened by their total living environments. Today, the concern is with coherence, with mustering together sufficient flowing blendable continual stimuli, organic stimuli to hold oneself and one’s surroundings together. And today, perfection can be thought of as an entity that is coherent enough to prevent it from losing its sense of integrity by randomly falling apart, crumbling apart from entropy in an experiential vacuum. In a world where a focus on transcendent eternities means focusing on the seamless forms of modern architecture and long stretches of concrete and asphalt that wander endlessly rather than on spiritual entities and worlds, the perfection which makes us feel complete is tactile, textural and temporary. It is good experience rather than lifeless possessions. Perfection today is not so seamless but rather invites one to enter the experience of the phenomenon rather than to simply view it from outside. It is a rich immanent perishable moment: a good encounter, a good adventure, a beautiful meal, terrific sex. In a vacuumized world, the focus is on making perfect imprints rather than preserving them. Granted that at the end of life, one has to confront the total nothingness of death without a strong surrogate immortality of preserved imprints. But perhaps the intense memory of a rich vibrant life without many preserved imprints is in and of itself a kind of perfection that a person can carry with them to the grave. Perhaps, there is a perfection in a life that is vulnerably perishable. If not, the end of life for people that follow this approach has to be very difficult.
© 2020 Laurence Mesirow