noun: the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.
Stare at the mirror. What do you see yourself as? What do you see yourself as tomorrow? Next month? Next year? In ten years? How many improvements will be made until the best version of you will become a reality? The infinite number of unresolved New Year resolutions are constantly archived. Even more so, how many times will you relatively change the ideal version of you? The mirror of perfection tells you that you haven’t done enough.
See, perfection is a tease. It allows us to imagine a better version of ourselves, perhaps successfully enjoying the luxuries we desperately long for. It allows us to operate on the basis of raw incentives, such as work promotions, monetary gains, social acceptance, obtaining authority, or simple self-satisfaction of reaching personal goals and overcoming challenges. And although, it doesn’t allow us to live freely and comfortably with our indelible flaws, it encourages us to further advance ourselves to operate at a higher efficiency. But right when we think we’ve accomplished something to its full potential, the infamously untouchable Ms. Perfection plays hard to get and suggests more improvements. It mocks us and sets us to another level of expectations, a completely new or better ideal unmatchable version of ourselves.
In the macro spectrum of chasing perfection, human civilization has progressed exponentially to make life easier and people happier. Over the past 30 years, innovations in healthcare, finance, and technology have successfully provided us with more convenience. Here’s what perfectionism looks like at a larger scope.
Take a look at our constantly advancing technology. The introduction of iPhones in 2007 revolutionized forms of communication. To enhance military operations, the Internet, a system of networks interconnected by fiber optics, was later adapted by the U.S in the 90’s by mainstream users for better access to information. If you were ever wondering how cool it would be if your car automatically set your destination according to your digital calendar, the Internet of Things is making that a reality. IoT will enable our gadgets to be connected to our devices, and it’s estimated that by 2020, over 26 billion devices will be connected. Using artificial intelligence, the transition into Web 3.0 will require natural language processing and understanding information like humans for more relevant search results. Currently, virtual-reality headsets are being adapted in several industries to train people and to enjoy immersive experiences when watching entertainment. Users will also get assistance in daily activities with virtual information using augmented reality.
Likewise, perfecting our healthcare system enables us to reduce medical costs and treat conditions with more promptness and quality. For instance, wearable technology by FitBit and AppleWatch reduces medical staff intervention by continuous physiological monitoring of patients. Today’s use of 3D printing allows us to instantly create prosthetic limbs for the handicapped and cost effective teeth retainers. As can be seen, striving for perfection has improved our healthcare system.
Moreover, the innovations in finance such as online banking allows customers to remotely access their balances, deposit cash, and apply for mortgages. For example, Google Wallet and Apple Pay allows users to hold a virtual version of their cards on their phones. In 2009, the unidentified and legendary Satoshi Nakamoto invented one of the most revolutionizing platforms of today. Blockchain is an incredibly impactful global infrastructure that can move value around. Cryptocurrency, digital money created by code on the basis of blockchain, is now actively used by 3 million people. Coins like Bitcoin allow users to exchange electronic cash securely. The second most commonly traded coin, Ethereum, provides smart contracts that rids both agreeing parties of any middlemen for faster transactions and agreements. To sum it all up, all these innovations allowed us to live better by working smarter, not harder.
And to remind you, humans have been perfecting themselves involuntarily, too. Darwinism and the theory of natural selection shows us that humans evolved over time by adapting certain physical features to survive better. Those with unsuitable characteristics are outlived by the survival of the fittest. For example, about 10,000 years ago, humans were completely lactose intolerant up until the practice of dairy farming came along. A study conducted at Cornell concluded that European descendants digest milk better than Asian and African descendants because their ancestors depended on production of dairy cattle as a source of food, whereas Asia and Africa didn’t have suitable climates to raise dairy cattle.
If you think about it, humans have also attempted to perfect human race physically. Eugenics, an unethical set of practices and ideas of perfecting human race, became a widely accepted social movement in the 1920’s and 30’s in which local associations like the American Eugenics Society competed in “fitter family” and “better baby” competitions. A core belief is that human populations could be physically enhanced through manipulating their genetic makeup by selective breeding of positive traits and terminating negative ones. By 1931, thirty states, including California, enforced sterilization policies in hopes of preventing the inheritance of “undesirable” traits that included not only physical disabilities but also pauperism, promiscuity (children born out of wedlock), and criminality. Not long after, selective breeding to achieve a perfect human race became discredited after witnessing the atrocities of Nazi Germany’s attempt to purge the Aryan from any defects by killing Jews, Gypsies, Slavics, Blacks, communists, socialists, the unemployed, criminals, LGBT, and the physically disabled. Perfecting the human race implied killing those “unworthy” of life, as stated by H.G Wells,
“The way of nature has always been to slay the hindmost, and there is still no other way, unless we can prevent those who would become the hindmost being born. It is in the sterilization of failures, and not in the selection of successes for breeding, that the possibility of an improvement of the human stock lies.”
So what happens when we aim to constantly perfect different aspects of our lives through innovations and physical enhancements?
Pareto efficiency tells us that improving something as an attempt to advance human civilization comes at the expense of harming another party; another economy creating another defect; another imperfection. For instance, the clothes we purchase from well known brands like Zara, GAP, and Urban Outfitters exploit poverty stricken workers in chemically polluted environments from the third world. Of course, human capital and cheap labor drive the high profits of the iniquitous fashion industry, however loyal consumers unintentionally encourage major fashion brands to continue exploiting nature and impoverished workers. Perhaps, the introduction of self driving cars may cause three million Uber drivers to lose jobs worldwide. Numerous studies have also shown that some detrimental results of frequent use of technology are obesity, depression, and shortened attention spans. Not only do technological advancements create human imperfection, but also environmental imperfection. The excessive burning of fossil fuels by driving cars and running factories cause global warming and environmental degradation. With every solution to a problem comes an imperfection to another economy, country, or life of another individual.
When we look to ourselves and back at the mirror, we put in effort and diligence to improve and perfect. The personal goals and reminders written on post-it notes, the to do lists, the scheduled meetings with friends and colleagues, the effort to look fit, to acquire wealth, to be socially popular amongst our circles, to find purpose, to leave a legacy manifests in our strive for perfection in hopes of being ultimately happy. And when we achieve that happiness, another imperfection seems to appear and we make efforts to remove it again, thus falling into a perpetual cycle of miserly chasing perfection, breaking a new threshold of suggested ways to improve every time.
Lo and behold, perfection is a mere contradiction. The ideal versions of ourselves and human civilization are all relative. Perfection, by definition, is a standard we personally set ourselves to live by. However, the standard is relatively perceived. What we think is perfect may be imperfect to someone else. When we fall into this perpetual cycle of trying to be perfect, we only deceive ourselves into believing our standards are the standard.
So dear perfection, you don’t exist.