A society of optimists
March 30, 2018 4:24 PM   Subscribe

 
On progress.
posted by spaceburglar at 4:27 PM on March 30 [1 favorite]


pessimists might point out that depressive realism means that your society needs a healthy proportion of curmudgeons to prevent it from marching blithely off a cliff with a song in its heart
posted by murphy slaw at 5:30 PM on March 30 [11 favorites]


Metafilter:
posted by bleep at 6:12 PM on March 30 [16 favorites]


pessimists might point out that depressive realism means that your society needs a healthy proportion of curmudgeons to prevent it from marching blithely off a cliff with a song in its heart

England is kind of a counterpoint to the argument for the defensive value of curmudgeons.
posted by srboisvert at 6:27 PM on March 30 [2 favorites]


The thing about Optimism! is that optimally, there should be a reason to have some. What drives me nuts about optimists is:

(a) How our society considers them to be right at all times because they are dishing up happy cheer and shame on you if you're not bright sided
(b) the aforementioned "off a cliff" thing, which I totally agree with
(c) that we're supposed to have it no matter what the situation, just because.

Thing is, there needs to be a reason to have some optimism beyond "well, you're alive and as long as you're alive, there's hope!" I can be optimistic if there's say, at least 51% reasons for that. But right now there's not a whole lot of reasons to dish up hope and cheer and therefore it's hard to maintain. Optimism should be reasonable, not totally unreasonable. Until tides change in the right direction, anyway.

On a related note, I noticed that Ben Mathis Lilly at Slate has finally stopped trying to do the impeachment watch column on a daily basis (hasn't done it since midmonth). I wonder why but I would guess because what's the point? The odds are zero unless some drastic huge stuff changes. If/when that does, then sure, be optimistic. But until then, us pessimists will be preparing just in case.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:44 PM on March 30 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: cf., the Internet
posted by mwhybark at 8:45 PM on March 30


Big face portrait, just to make sure that it is yet another good-looking well-advantaged white dude author, right at the top of the article. About optimism.

Fuck this noise.
posted by yesster at 8:55 PM on March 30 [3 favorites]


Big face portrait, just to make sure that it is yet another good-looking well-advantaged white dude author, right at the top of the article. About optimism.

That's a photo of Steven Pinker, who is being criticized in the article. Though I think the author of the article is also a white British guy.
posted by atoxyl at 9:27 PM on March 30 [2 favorites]


Man, the number of times my cynicism has saved my own butt, but the people around me can scarcely be counted.

The only thing my optimism has ever saved me from is drowning in my my own cynicism.
posted by loquacious at 10:08 PM on March 30 [9 favorites]


What drives me nuts about optimists is:

for me, it's the same issue I have with pessimists. They both have a fixed prediction of how things shall be (sure to get better/worse), which has to distort things, because you just can't know that sort of thing. It makes them kind of difficult (dangerous even) to be around at times. I guess I prefer the uncertain and/or confused, who I suppose can also be difficult and/or dangerous, but they're not trying pretending otherwise ... so fair warning.
posted by philip-random at 10:25 PM on March 30 [6 favorites]


... or as piece in question puts it:

The trouble with all fatalisms—optimistic and pessimistic, ardent and resigned—is that they preclude alternative futures.
posted by philip-random at 10:33 PM on March 30 [6 favorites]


the article criticizes pinker for discounting the agitation that comes from fatalism and focusing too much on maintaining the good that comes from humanism and progressivism.. but i get the impulse of pinker and those like him to jump start the agitation process around enlightenment ideas. insanely, it's avant garde these days to have a debate between ancient nations' glories and tribal identities versus human rights and science. weighing in on the side of the latter isnt lazy or complacent, it's taking a side in a live dispute.
posted by wibari at 10:41 PM on March 30 [6 favorites]


insanely, it's avant garde these days to have a debate between ancient nations' glories and tribal identities versus human rights and science

I don't know if it's insane, but yeah, that's rather where we are.
posted by philip-random at 11:19 PM on March 30 [1 favorite]


What a frustrating article. I've read it all in both directions and I still can't see what he's getting at. In fact, I'm struggling to convince myself it's not satire.

I love how he centres the argument around climate change as the giant spanner in the Enlightenment works without once mentioning how our failure to address it is a consequence of neoliberal economics and its attendant corruption. Not only is that a mighty feat of understatement, it's a serious omission. It makes his dissection of Tocqueville and Hayek all but impossible to parse. One of them is hundreds of years out of date, the other is arguably the reason we're in this mess, but by the time he'd finished I couldn't tell which was which any more.

I don't see how kicking over the traces of old-white-guy philosophy is going to help if we're not going to talk about cause and effect. I do know I'd rather read, say, an article comparing Marx's view on alienation with Hannah Arendt's ideas on totalitarian terror as they apply to our atomising society. If the author really wanted to talk about failures of fatalistic optimism, he could have written about that particular elephant in the room and made a very convincing case. As for the free exchange of ideas, that's all well and good until someone says "distribution of wealth" and then the game's up, everyone starts coughing and looking at their watches. Dear me, is that the time already? Better modify your fatalism, old chap.

For the record, I always seem to have half a glass of water, more or less.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 10:45 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


Air's a fluid, water's a fluid - the glass is always all the way full.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:38 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


I think Hayek being one of the fathers of neoliberalism, the author's attempted refuting of his theories is therefore also an indirect refutation of neoliberalism. That to me is the real value of the essay, but it is certainly a mess. I like the ideas but it starts sounding like all of Rumsfeld's knowns and unknowns where you get the point but it also becomes convoluted and kind of silly. It would have been so much better as a focussed attack on Hayek's philosophy rather than just serving as a kind of sidebar support for global warming policy.
posted by blue shadows at 11:50 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


Optimist says the glass is half-full. Pessimist says the glass is half-empty. Engineer says the glass is twice the size it needs to be. Cynic says the water probably contains lead or micro-plastics. Realist says the Cynic may be right and we could fix it with some simple safeguards. Environmental activist wants to change it. Conservative thinks the Market will fix. Protestors start screaming at each other over Nanny state vs. Public Good. Politician turns to the most likely to re-elect position for their district. Yellow Journalists stoke the fires for ratings/sales. More water related bad s#!^ happens. Socialist start ranting about the Capitalist system. Plutocrat laughs, they haven't believed in Capitalism for decades. Capitalist just shakes their head knowing that just like Marxism, Capitalism has never really been the way of things. Scientist says yes the water is full of crap it should not be full of but we have no idea if the plastic is actually a problem. Realist asks why we would take the chance. Conservative wants to know why the Realist hates Freedom. Libertarian asks why we still have fluoride in the water. Pessimist knows that we are all doomed by our stupidity. Optimist knows we will find a solution any second now or even better the plastic will turn out to be good for us. Techno-Futurist says not to worry we will just start uploading ourselves into a vast computer system so we won't need water. Evangelical Fundamentalist says that God will fix it if we just have faith. Realist is beginning to think that the best method to fix the problem is to kill all the motherf#<{ers. Last they checked water should be clean, have some oxygen, and only trace elements that the body can actually use or at least filter out without much trouble.

Simplistic human analyses are really just fodder for opposition. Sadly nuanced positions always sound like simplistic analyses to enough people that they are the same thing. Most folks seem to want the world to be a certain way so badly that they will dismiss everything they don't recognize as true. Of course we have the brains of primate scavengers that should have 125 to 250 social connections maximum and are optimized for using stone tools and animal tracking across rugged terrain. Now we live in cities of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of people. Everything looks nothing like the wild world and we use shiny masters to tell us how to get places because dead reckoning is no longer necessary. WE have had the ability to wipe out all life on Earth for fifty years but we have not done it, yet. We may never do it. We could fix things. We might not. Maybe aliens will fix it.

The problem is of course that we have just enough smarts to cause real problems. And like a teenager we have just enough gumption to think that we can fix it while knowing in our hearts that we may have been dumb. If we get out of it we can look back and say there was nothing to worry about. If our descendants get the chance to evolve into a more mature life-form I have no doubt that the time spanning everything from the Industrial Age to We Managed to Save Ourselves Through Sheer Dumb Luck Era will be referred to as the Adolescence of Humanity.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 12:02 AM on April 1 [2 favorites]


A society of optimists might well be a disaster. A society of pessimists might well also be a disaster, but at least they wouldn't be surprised by it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:03 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]


> aspersioncast:
"Air's a fluid, water's a fluid - the glass is always all the way full."

The glass is a fluid too. So it's turtles all the way down.
posted by chavenet at 9:51 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


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