Topic started on 23-3-2013 @ 01:01 PM by RedBird
What is the difference between an optimist and a pessimist?
Glass half full or half empty -- remember that tiresome old chestnut? I always thought it depended on whether you were in the process of pouring into
the cup, or pouring out of it. Or, to put it another way: Two men on a ladder, one on the third rung, and the other on the seventh wrung: which one is
higher? It depends on which direction they're going.
An optimist -- a true and sincere optimist -- believes that this is the best of all possible worlds, and that everything will work out alright and for
the best in the end. A pessimist -- that is to say, a sincere pessimist -- believes this world of ours to be perhaps the worst of all possible worlds,
or at the very least, bound to go down in ruin.
But neither of these positions make much sense on the whole. A child of six can imagine a better world every time he fails to reach a cookie jar. And
anyone who has ever had near miss or a close brush with death or misfortune; or anyone who has ever lived through fear and violence and illness and
sadness, can easily imagine a world far worse than the one that we currently inhabit.
But the question is not really "what should we believe about the world?" but rather "what should we make of the world?" And for this reason: That
we can only create that which we can conceive: even if we conceive of it after its creation, its true moment of birth is only in the conception. It is
the same with ideas: A tool lying on the ground is not a hammer until I pick it up and hammer something with it. In the same way, the world is not a
good or bad thing; an useful or an useless thing; until I make of it so.
For this very reason, true optimism or a belief in inevitable progress is non-utilitarian: If we believe that things will work out alright at the end,
we have no particular reason to specially ensure that they do so: There is no impetus for positive moral action. This is, incidentally, the whole
weakness of Buddhism, Pantheism, Unitarianism, and similar new-age constructs: If the universe is nothing but one cosmic wholeness experiencing itself
subjectively, then there can be no real romance or inspiration to revolutionary action, change, or reform. The idea that all things are meant to be,
or that all things are equally good, implies that one thing is as good as another. Whereas action implies in its very nature that one thing is greatly
preferably to another.
If we desire things to be a certain way, we must be able to believe that they can be some other way. If we desire man to seek to improve his
condition, we must believe, not that the improvement is inevitable, but rather that it is always in doubt. Only in this way can we assure that man
will always have care and cause to make a change when and where it is needed. If he merely believes that everything will work out all right in the
end, he will never take care or cause to make it so.
To put it simply: if we are to make a paradise of this world, we must believe in the idea of hell-on-earth. Or, to put it metaphorically: if we are to
believe that a man can go to heaven, we must be willing to believe that he might go to hell.
On the other end of the spectrum: Sincere pessimism is not only incompatible with positive moral action; it is also incompatible with all human
ethics, virtue, and happiness. To believe that the universe and the fate of all souls must come to a dismal and desperate end; means not only the lack
of any impetus for moral action, but the lack of any hope, or desire, or conception of a better world: A true pessimist cannot even create a paradise
by accident, for man cannot create that which he cannot conceive.
Is it not clear that what man needs is not merely a balance of these two extremes, but a juxtaposition?
Man must believe, not that the world is as good as it can be, or that it is as bad as it can be; that it is destined for ruin, or destined for
greatness; or even that its fate is beyond all mortal ken, no: man must believe that we can make heaven on earth, but that we might not.
This is the simple truth that can change the world: We make of it what we will. We can make heaven, or we can make hell: Both are within our power.
Insincere pessimism: The belief; not that the world will go to hell, but that it could and might, is the hidden hand that fights against the cult of
inevitable progress and submission to the will of fate, as well as the dead cosmos of materialist determinism.
And this virtue -- for it is a virtue -- rests, still, most clearly in the philosophy of Orthodox/Catholic Christianity. It rests and persists in our
culture most steadfastly in the dogma of salvation: In the notion, not that men are damned, but that they are damnable.
That we have a choice: Between right and wrong. Between good and evil. Between heaven and hell.
And our actions decide for us.
I do not say that the Christian creed is right or wrong, or even that is necessary: Only that of all the creeds, it alone professes and affirms the
idea that man has a choice.
It may be (if indeed there is a hereafter) that all souls are saved, and all risk, daring, and romance is illusory: It may be that we are all one, and
the universe is only one giant person that has learned to love itself, but I hope it is not so. And for our own sake, I hope we never believe it.
Love desires division: It desires personality and separation. If we are all one, how can I love my neighbor as myself? How can I be kind to children,
or charitable to strangers? If I and the tyrant are one, why should I stand up? Why should we?
Beware the bearers of false gifts and empty promises: This world is what you make of it.
I think, therefor I may know.
I think, and I may know, therefor I know that I think.
The world is.
I think, and The world is, therefor I know that The world is.
I think, and I know that the world is, therefor I may be.
I think and I may be, therefor I know that I may be.
I know that I may be, and I know the world is, therefor I may not be the world.
I think, and I may not be the world, therefor I know that I may not be the world.
I know that I think, I know that the world is, I know that I may be, and I know that I may not be the world, therefor: There may be two things.
If I suspect that there may be at least two things, I am bound by pure reason to suppose that actions have moral and existential consequences.
Love becomes possible. So does hate. So does charity, or meanness; closeness, or isolation.
Only with the realization that others exist in real and eternal separation from yourself does it become possible to love another as though they were
yourself, and have the act mean anything at all.
The things of the world are not the different colors of a picture, but the different colors of a palette: Our creative choices as individuals make the
world. And in order for us to paint a perfect or even a good picture, we must believe:
First: That the colors are real, and that they are the really different.
Second: That the picture can and should be good.
Third: That the picture could and should not be bad.
Fourth: That we are part painter, and part pallet, and that we are masters of the picture, and can make it what we will.
Our modern world is full of fatalism, and the white fatalism is as dangerous as the black.
The world is not bound to improve; neither is it bound to fail. We must choose.