Pessimism (but not what you’re thinking)

September 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

While perusing my subscriptions on Google Reader yesterday (which is something I do entirely way too much during my waking hours), I ran across this blog post at Modeled Behavior about a new book entitled “The Uses of Pessimism: And the Danger of False Hope.” In it Karl Smith quickly points to and adds his thoughts on pessimism and aiming for rational progress. (Tyler Cowen also pointed to the same book over at MR)

While reading the post, I was reminded of a quote from Albert Camus – “Man is the only creature that refuses to be what he is.” Camus was alluding to the idea that by recognizing who we are (including our many limitations) we can successfully be something more, something better.

It’s is a worthwhile proposition, in my opinion. I come from a mentality of shying away from pessimism, from turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to it. I have long considered pessimists to be nihilist, defeatist in their approach and to have a misappropriated lack of vision. However, in allowing myself to review my own biases, I think it is important to consider the utility of pessimism.

In reference to the book and the commentary by Smith and Cowen, I find great merit in using pessimism to revise institutions, actions, and traditions. These reviews must be grounded in reality, which author Roger Scruton believes eludes optimists through their denial of the confounded and manipulated realities of humanity.

As a believer in the progress of our human kind being almost completely based on the random filtering of an unbelievable amount of inputs (speaking evolutionarily), I think it falls in line for me to believe in the merits of pessimism since not all but only a few selected inputs brought us where we are today, and not all but only a few selected inputs will move us forward.

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