What Is An Optimist?

For a long time people referred to me as a pessimist. My replies traditionally varied from "so you hope" to "no, I'm a realist and the world sucks." But today I was wondering about the people who were considered optimists. People who always see things as bright and good. That's not optimism, that's self-deception. Sometimes things are bad, that's the way it is. If you can only see things as good, then you simply aren't paying attention. The true optimist can look the bad thing in the eye and see an advantage. An optimist sees the silver lining, only a blind man doesn't see the cloud.

When people find out about the crash they can view it in many different ways. That blind man refuses to acknowledge it. The pessimist sees that civilization will end and everyone will die. The realist sees that civilization is doomed, but that random humans will survive. The optimist sees that civilization is doomed, and that this is a wonderful opportunity.

So long as civilization stands nothing outside of it can exist for long, because civilization must always expand. This is intrinsic to it's nature. If you don't believe me ask anyone in finance what would happen if the economy didn't grow for six months…at all. This idea will likely be fairly alien to them, so stand strong until they understand.

But, once civilization begins to collapse in earnest, it leaves cultural space in it's wake. (This is in addition to the death and destruction, of course. Remember this is the view of the optimist.) And in this wake, new things can and will grow. It's not really tabula rasa, but it is best opportunity we've had for 10,000 years. It is a chance to live without oppression from individuals. Without hunger or class rankings. With universal education and cradle to grave health care. All that it takes is the will to seize the opportunity. The only question is: will we take the opportunity to seize our only chance to achieve what 10,000 years of philosophers and theologians and politicians have dreamed of offering?

I kind of like the optimist view.

-Benjamin Shender 

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7 Comments

  1. Bill Maxwell said,

    May 31, 2006 at 10:08 pm

    You know, I’ve always considered myself an optimistic cynic. I always believe in the best everyone / everything has to offer but I’m not surprised when it doesn’t turn out that way.

  2. Aftermath said,

    May 31, 2006 at 10:24 pm

    Optimistic Cynic, huh? I think I can live with that. :D
    I’m usually unsuprised when things take a turn I didn’t expect, but that’s what makes the plot interesting, right?

    -Benjamin Shender

  3. onyxblue said,

    June 2, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    “People who always see things as bright and good. That’s not optimism, that’s self-deception.”

    If you haven’t read _Candide_, you should. “Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.” I think you’ve pegged it pretty well, there. I still consider myself a realist, but I don’t think that has to be a negative thing.

    And I’m not going to create an account at Ishcon just to comment on this, but I had to tell you that this made me smile:

    “Not caring about commas is fine, so long as you don’t care about being easily understood. Honestly, most anti-school rhetoric around here is greatly hampered in its effectiveness by poor spelling and poorer grammar. It makes me get really close to saying things like ‘maybe if you stayed you would be able to explain this without sounding like a bloody illiterate.'”

    (Janene will be completely unsurprised if she reads this.) I couldn’t agree more. Say all you want about non-standardized spelling and how it’s ridiculous to enforce outdated spelling and grammatical rules. If you don’t follow them, other people will have a really hard time understanding what the heck you’re trying to say. Makes it a little difficult to get the word out, eh?

  4. Janene said,

    June 3, 2006 at 9:46 am

    Hey —

    She’s right. I’m unsurprised ;-)

    And I second the recommendation of Candide. Awesome story.

    I think that I, also, fit into the ‘realist’ category. I’m not ready to look at all of this as a ‘wonderful opportunity’. And I suppose that only makes sense as I am not 100% convinced that things are going to play out as has been suggested. I think I see it as ‘well, that would make things ‘easier’… but I’m not ready to give up my responsibility to proactive response because it may be taken out of my hands.

    So instead I go through cycles of being depressed because I don’t know if what I choose to do will be useful or effective, balanced by cycles of depression because things are gonna get REALLY ugly for a lot of people…

    At least there are the moments between those cycles when I am NOT depressed, because I see the potential opportunities before us:-)

    Janene

  5. Aftermath said,

    June 3, 2006 at 9:55 am

    Hey Janene,
    Sounds like me! I can see that there is a wonderful opportunity out there in the future, and in truth I’ve been seeing it for years before I even had a word for it, but I still get depressed about it more frequently than I would care to admit. Part of the reason for “collecting” people is that maybe, just maybe, that person will be one less that has to go through the ugliness. Not a guarantee, of course, but just knowing that a crash is coming increases chances.

    – Miranda Vivian

  6. Janene said,

    June 3, 2006 at 9:58 am

    Hey! I underlined Candide, why didn’t it work? Do you guys have some special type of coding here? Or are there no tags available? WTF???

    J

  7. Aftermath said,

    June 3, 2006 at 11:49 am

    I don’t think that our theme likes underlines. I’ve mostly been using italics to overcome that. It seemed like a minor eccentricity of an otherwise good theme, so I ignored it. (I can’t edit the theme. Using the free version limits our ability to play games with the program, but costs us nothing in web-space.)

    I can certainly understand not feeling happy about the situation. It’s not a great one, and there is a bigger chance than I’d like of ending up in a very nasty hierarchy of some kind. So I’m proactively trying to avoid it. :D

    Candide…I think I was supposed to read that at some point…maybe not. I’ll put it on my list.

    Thanks for saying that onyxblue, I was starting to feel pretty lousy about the whole thing.

    -Benjamin Shender


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