David Brooks, writing in the NYT on the centennial of Leo Tolstoy's death:
"As a novelist, Tolstoy was an unsurpassed observer. But he found that life unfulfilling. As he set out to improve the world, his ability to perceive it deteriorated. Instead of conforming his ideas to the particularities of existence, he conformed his perception of reality to his vision for the world. He preached universal love but seemed oblivious to the violence he was doing to his family."
Well. THAT's discouragingly accurate.
You can have clarity of observation, or you can set out to change the world, but not both simultaneously. It's the quantum physics of social activism.
Of course this applies not only to activists but do-ers of all kinds. As Cohen rightly suggests, the memoirs of political leaders tend to be skewed not (simply) because of attempts at whitewash, "but because they’ve been engaged in an activity that makes it impossible for them to see it clearly. Activism is admirable, necessary and self-undermining." Go watch The Fog of War if you doubt this.
This is also what occasionally makes business leaders very poor judges of economic policy (see here, for example).
But this is very bad news indeed for newly-minted grad students who are setting out to change the world.
Best to start a blog instead.