Reflections on “pessimism”

In reponse to the entry about John Derbyshire’s We Are Doomed, David G. has sent me an e-mail exchange he and I had in August 2007 about the way today’s conservatives automatically dismiss, as “pessimism,” all warnings about demographic and cultural threats to our country.

David G. wrote to LA, August 20, 2007:

I’m hoping that you can indulge me for a few minutes on the topic of optimism,

I have a conservative friend who is a good person. By his own admission, he says that all he has time for is reading business related books and periodicals. He knows my opinions and is generally receptive to hearing me out on immigration, Islam, the war in Iraq and “W,” among other topics.

Recently, he stated that he thought that I was a pessimist whereas he was an optimist. In a nutshell, without getting too deep into personality, he believes that the best will always win out—in life, in politics and in business. Not Pangloss, but perhaps an American combination of Rush Limbaugh, Norman Vincent Peale and “W.” Maybe this comes out of a belief in “free-markets.” I tried to clarify the issue, via e-mail, a section of which is below.

Bear in mind that I did not write the following for an advanced reader of VFR, (i.e., someone who has long recognized the threats posed by immigration and Islam). I’m sending this to you, in part, because the “good-optimists” among us are often turned off to VFR type analyses precisely because they seem too dark. I think that these “good-optimists” often go along with the liberal Zeitgeist almost unconsciously while assuming all the time that they are against it. I find this ironic to consider—that one can be too optimistic to save oneself.

They see themselves as dyed-in the- wool conservatives with sunny dispositions—as opposed to the pessimistic, existential-types, such as myself, I guess. Have you had this experience?

Here’s the close of my long e-mail to him:

A note on optimism: A critic of Bush once said regarding the war in Iraq that optimism is not a strategy. It’s not enough. Optimism is a great American trait. It embodies the “can-do” mentality that opened the frontier, built the nation’s infrastructure and put a man on the moon. I think that in our lifetime Ronald Reagan was the embodiment of this attitude and it’s one of the key things that grace his legacy. But “ignorance is bliss” is also true and many “optimists” are often underpinned by their unwillingness to confront the dark, the painful and the evil in men. Let’s say that an American citizen of self-sufficient means lived the entire war years of WWII in total disregard of its events yet lived a cheery, happy existence and disturbed no one. Let’s say that this person’s philosophy of life was simply

“It’s a great day, don’t worry, things will work themselves out for the best. The best ideas and best ways, always win out in the end.”

What would you make of such an individual? Certainly, by the time the war ended, he would have been proven right—Nazism was destroyed, the Japanese surrendered and America went on to experience great prosperity. Did our optimist add to the cause? Perhaps so. But was he an enlightened citizen? Did he understand the risks and the stakes? Could such a person ever truly appreciate sacrifice, bravery and heroism? Could such a person ever truly recognize a mortal threat to his civilization and his way of life?

Here is a point about optimism from a professional poker player:

“However, it is important to differentiate the things that it doesn’t pay to be optimistic about. Cards don’t give a damn about your frame of mind. Probabilities don’t change because you are in a good mood. If you are optimistic about events that have a fixed probability and change your actions accordingly then you are playing sub-optimally.”

When you look at demographic changes and the nature of Islam itself there is much to be pessimistic about. These are close to fixed probabilities. I won’t rehash the demographic argument against immigration but let’s look at Islam for a moment. Islam is a political/religious/social ideology that is a complete way of life. It does not, cannot, accept or change its nature to include what we in the West would call secularism or the basic liberties of individuals to decide for themselves how to behave. Islam, by definition means submission. Islam has strict rules for dealing with everything from taking a pee to dealing with infidels in Islamic societies.

What I remain optimistic about is our ability as citizens to change our policies here in America and thereby prevent these near “fixed probabilities” from becoming mainstreamed into our society. I am not optimistic about what the influx of illegals and Islamics into America would do to us. I am not optimistic that the prevailing liberal Zeitgeist among Democrats in particular can recognize these distinction in time to save themselves from becoming a party that stands against the interests of the traditional American population. The loss of a patriotic Democratic party and the loss of an electable Republican Party spells disaster for us.

Make sense?

It seems to me that optimism is best employed when we are living up to our responsibilities as enlightened citizens (to the best of our abilities) with a belief in our way of life to achieve a desired result—instead of blindly assuming that the best will always win out, as my WWII example illustrated.

LA replied to David’s 8-20-07 e-mail:

This is great.

I would just add that the whole concept of pessimism, even to the extent it means anything, is misused. People hear someone warning of a danger, and they say, “You’re a pessimist (meaning you think that things are getting worse and will not work out), I’m an optimist (meaning I think things will work out ok).” This is to misunderstand him completely. It’s not about saying things are going to work out versus saying that they won’t. It’s about warning of a danger that must be met. When a man is warning of a danger that must be met, and people say to him, “You’re a pessimist,” they are completely distorting what he’s saying.

It’s a form of deep idiocy. I’ll bet only college graduates exhibit this idiocy.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 17, 2009 03:24 PM | Send

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