Idealism as a survival tool?

Life in a Nazi concentration camp is very dismal. Long work hours, lack of food, filthy facilities, and constant threat of abuse from guards. Facing the reality of such a situation is detrimental towards the wellbeing of a person. There is little motivation to go on and the desire of living is greatly diminished. But perhaps choosing to circumnavigate the harsh reality will do us well. Perhaps it is best to delude ourselves into wishful thinking. Primo Levi certainly engages in this in chapter 3. Levi knows that the water in the washroom is full of filth. Bathing in it definitely isn’t cleanly. Yet Levi states that washing isn’t important for “cleanliness and health” (40) but rather as “an instrument of moral survival” (40). Levi chooses to bathe in the filth because of how it shows strong moral character; doing something of your own volition. Practicality is being replaced with some form of abstract idealism. It’s not practical to bathe in dirty water. Does idealistic thinking take precedent over being a realist? All the time, sometime, or maybe never?

One Reply to “Idealism as a survival tool?”

  1. I believe that idealism and an optimistic outlook is necessary in certain situations, even though it can come off as naivety. In a situation as severe as Levi’s, I believe his mix of idealist and realist views helped to balance his expectations as well as bring a more positive outlook to a dire situation. His idealism comes through in his idea of washing in dirty water of his own accord, and I think this provides him with a greater sense of humanity and hope that he will persevere through his time in the camp. On the other hand, during his recount of his conversation with Steinlauf, Levi seems to disagree with his personal idealist outlook. In general, I feel that it is necessary to find a balance between both idealism and realism so that your expectations are managed, but you still maintain some optimism to succeed.

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