Monday, September 17, 2007

29; pessimism

It's no great revelation that within the heart of each pessimist is a core of optimism. I'm not sure if it works the other way 'round, but I do remember the day I first realized that particular fact about human nature. The most devout pessimist still is preparing for the worst, but when the worst usually doesn't occur they can be pleasantly surprised.

The position is rather rational. Bad things happen in life; and we can either prepare or not. If we don't prepare we are living our lives as if nothing goes wrong, whereas preparing for the worst-case scenario leaves one more confident, but with a rose-tint of assuming things will work out for the best, after all.

Having lived as such for many years I can find no other way to explain it. I consistently assume things won't work out, or go wrong, or tragically occur, but the don't. 98% of the time they go well, we make it through, and we move on. I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back and food in my stomach. Probably anyone else reading this has the same, and that's fortunate.

And pessimism, it should be clarified, does not go hand-in-hand with cynicism. They are separate: Pessimism is a life-outlook that prepares for the worst. Cynicism, on the other hand, has two historical forms, the ancient and modern. Ancient cynics would merely defend their views against any and all attacks. If, say, an Epicurean cynic, then you'd defend your stance of Epicureanism against all rival philosophies/ religions/ life views/ what have you.

Modern cynics, however, are much more dangerous. They do not use cynicism as a tool to confirm any other outlook besides their own right to by cynical. Today's cynics have no greater philosophy they are defending at all costs besides the philosophy of their own cynicism. It is recursive, and futile, with as is the case with most recursive and futile endeavors, unproductive. It merely hampers action or activity, unlike pessimism which encourages it.

So there are cynics who are also pessimists, and not only prepare for the worst, but also refuse to hear any other points of view that don't allow for cynicism. Pessimism is forgiving like that: it'll allow cynics into the fold, since no one else wants them. (Well, perhaps the nihilists do, but they aren't saying much one way or the other.)

In other news, perhaps good reason to be pessimistic after the last column I wrote: The British have expelled their Russian diplomats. It has to do with their anger over the whole KGB officer killing their guy thing. There are details, but they're not interesting with the exception that he was killed by radiation poisoning.

And as we slip deeper into a John Le Carre novel what are the headlines from the New York Times? 'New Populism is Spurring the Democrats on the Economy'.

As columnist Jon Carroll said, "Anyone who survives this process is, by definition, not someone I want to vote for. Do we really need people who have the stomach for begging for money for 19 months?"

But while we pessimists brace for the Republican victory in 2008 perhaps the questions on our mind should not focus on populist economics as much as it should UK, US and Russian relations, or as I like to think of them: The Decent, the Bad, and the Ugly. Whatever outcome I hope to be prepared.

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