Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Merits Of Pessimism

Human Nature

The Pessimistic View Is Based On Reality: Will Self writes on the speculative foolishness of the optimistic view: “Indeed, what are speculative bubbles if not the purest example of optimism run wild? The same sort of loony thinking that once invested in perpetual motion machines leads the contemporary credulous to believe that financial wizardry can conjure something out of nothing.”
Image Credit: Ralph Steadman, 2013
Source: New Statesman

An article, by Will Self, in the New Statesman provides a view on why pessimism is not necessarily a bad thing and how it can have a salutary effect on individual thinking and individual contentment. Self writes about his talks with his mother, about her views so much grounded in reality, and her death from cancer 25 years ago:
The last time I remember going out with my mother it was to Hampstead Heath. We drove there in my car, then walked arm in arm along the terrace in front of Kenwood House. As if elliptically commenting on our own halting progress my mother said: “The good thing about being a pessimist is that you’re never really wrong-footed; even before you’ve put one foot in front of the other you suspect that you’re likely to trip up, and that makes adversity much easier to deal with.”
She died three weeks later, lying in a bed in the Royal Ear Hospital. Not, you understand, that there was anything in particular wrong with her hearing; rather, despite the cancer that had metastasized from lymph to liver to brain, she remained highly attuned to the vapidity of yeasayers.
Indeed, I imagine the last thing she heard – and silently dismissed – before she slid into the coal-hole of inexistence was some well-meaning health professional or other, telling her it was all going to be all right.
She regarded the auto-cannibalistic tendencies of capitalism not from a theoretical perspective, but with the weary eyes of an American child of the Depression era. She had witnessed her own father keep the family afloat by organising fire sales for bust department stores.
How events tend to repeat themselves, over and over again, and once or twice more, notably when the people running our nations are both blind and deaf to history. Ignorant men and women, the lot of them. It’s fearful to think what will happen next, given democracy’s general lack of leadership, but pessimists have no such fears, braced for the worst.

Perhaps such is the way to view things politically and in some respects, personally. This does not mean you cannot enjoy life, say, the beauty of flowers and nature and of personal relationships and friendships, which I do, but in the back of the mind resides the knowledge that even the most beautiful rose has thorns, the most trusted friend can turn aside. This might be a more mature approach to life and living than the childish views of so many optimists.

You can read the rest of the article at [New Statesman]

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