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In Praise of Pessimism

In Praise of Pessimism

What’s an intelligent optimist to do with a book that glorifies pessimism, a book by a philosopher known for his ultra-conservative views? Certainly, reading The Uses of Pessimism: And the Danger of False Hope is enough to raise your hackles. But Roger Scruton deserves to be heard, because intelligent optimism means using all the resources at hand–including pessimism–to solve our biggest problems.

Scruton doubts it’s possible for us to improve our fate much through grand plans. Instead, he exhorts us to lower our expectations in recognition of the fact that human beings are fallible. The optimist in pursuit of a utopian future is most fallible of all, according to Scruton. Indeed, optimistic ideas have led to human tragedies when mobs became deluded by false hope. Just take a look at the Nazis or the communists of the former Soviet Union and, closer to home, Muslim terrorists, puritanical environmental activists and European Union bureaucrats. All would impose their worldview on us–some by force, if necessary. The result: distortion of truth and restriction of freedom.

That’s why, Scruton argues, we need to see the dangers of optimism, which include the idealist’s inclination to ignore evidence if it undermines a predetermined conclusion, to adore dubious gurus who claim to offer the only road to salvation, to launch witch hunts when opponents dare to criticize. These are all symptoms, Scruton writes, of a deep fear of losing the comfort of grand illusions. Fortunately, there’s a remedy–pessimism! Scruton’s criticism is caustic, yet his book speaks of a trust in humanity that is, in essence, optimistic. The Uses of Pessimism is ultimately an ode to our ability to see the world as it is and make the best of what we find.

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By Marco Visscher, from Ode Magazine, a community for Intelligent Optimists

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32 comments

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11:00AM PDT on May 5, 2012

ty

11:00AM PDT on May 5, 2012

ty

3:19AM PDT on May 4, 2012

:) for Robert P I can relate

5:27AM PST on Mar 11, 2011

I despise false hope. I have been given it many times with sick relitives and pets by the practitioners who knew very much better. All that becomes of it is that you are broken down again and again, instead of being able to accept and come to terms it, and in the case of my pets, the result was that they were left to suffer for far longer then then should have.
If there is hope, then that's fine, but it there isn't any, don't lie about it. I'd rather be pesimistic and be proven wrong, then being optomistic and be wrong.

2:37AM PST on Mar 7, 2011

I agree with Lynn C. Before pointing to others, you should take a good look at yourself and accept that nobody, no system and no country is perfect. I think that most of the problems, the crimes, the wars started because " somebody" thought that it is superior to the rest of the world: " My God is better than yours; my way of life is better than the one you have; only I know the truth etc". Tolerance and acceptance is what is missing in our society.

5:22AM PST on Feb 22, 2011

I'm a pesimist myself, of course it has some good sides (that sounds quite optimistic though ;)) But if I could, I'd change it and be an optimist instead. They just seem to some automatically dismiss bad things. I'd love to have that ability sometimes.

7:27AM PST on Feb 18, 2011

I've always thought that being a pessimist was the best. I'm always prepared for the worst (have more than one plan) if the bottom falls out of my primary/original plan. And if things turn out better than I expect, I am very happy and grateful. Generally, I am never depressed or disappointed. What is wrong with that? :-)

2:42AM PST on Feb 18, 2011

Thought this might be an article of interest right up until you said "Just take a look at the Nazis or the communists of the former Soviet Union and, closer to home, Muslim terrorists...."
You name these as examples of "mobs deluded by false hopes" without even a mention of the closest of all examples. This nation, who touts itself as a country of freedom and opportunity is the most deluded and the very strategies that were/are so effective in these other oppressive regimes, are being used to greater effect right here, right now.
How CAN we be so blind...Ray McGovern is abused and arrested for protesting at Clinton's speech, Bradley Manning and untold others, are being tortured - yes tortured -, the FBI is making raids and arrests of peaceful activists, every citizen of the country is spied upon electronically and the whistle blowers are stopped by any means, up to and including changing the constitution and laws of the country.
Which brings a wry smile to my face...pessimism versus optimism...either one without an intelligent and informed populace is just an emotional stance.
We have to actually accept the truth and act reasonably upon that acceptance and we need to do it now, before our access to the truth has been successfully and thoroughly silenced.

7:34AM PST on Feb 17, 2011

We teach this generation too much pride but don't give them the tools to back up their arrogance.

2:23AM PST on Feb 17, 2011

noted

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