Optimism v Pessamism

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Optimism v Pessamism

Postby steve » Mon Jun 15, 2009 10:50 am

In a wider society anyone who holds the view that our society is on the verge of an imminent crisis (peak oil) that will completely change our way life is likely to be viewed as somewhat misguided if not mad.

Even within Transition there's an emphasis on always being positive, perhaps because that's the only way we can psychologically deal with the predicament we're in.

There's an excellent article partly quoted in Richard Heinberg's book The Party's Over by Ernest Partridge entitled Perilous Optimism.

The article compares the viewpoints of Cassandra and Pangloss before analysing two optimistic but flawed views of the future by an economist and philosoper.

Just in case you are unfamiliar with the tale of Cassandra’s plight, she was a princess with whom the god Apollo fell in love. As a gift, Apollo bestowed the ability of prescience upon her. However, when Cassandra didn’t return Apollo’s affections he cursed her, such that no-one would believe her predictions. She foretold of the dangers of the Trojan horse, the death of Agamemnon and her own demise. Yet no-one would believe her; instead she was seen as mad.

Pangloss was a character in Voltaire's novel Candide who taught that everything is for the best and that man lives in the "best of all possible worlds."

Partridge's article begins:

Human beings thrive on hope. Without some sense that our individual deliberate effort brings us closer to a fulfillment of our personal goals, we simply cannot function from one day to the next.

And yet, hope often betrays us, as it blinds us to clear and evident danger and leads us to courses of action and inaction that will eventually result in the loss of our property, our livelihood, our liberty, and even our very lives.

Pangloss is admired, and Cassandra is despised and ignored. But as the Trojans were to learn to their sorrow, Cassandra was right, and had she been heeded, the toil of appropriate preparation for the coming adversity would have been insignificant measured against the devastation that followed a brief season of blissful and ignorant optimism.

Throughout history, and most recently in the mid-Twentieth century, millions have perished due to stubborn and ill-advised optimism. For example, Hitler made his intentions brutally clear in Mein Kampf, yet neither the British nor American governments took heed until the Wehrmacht crossed the Polish border.

Today, Cassandra holds advanced degrees in biology, ecology, climatology, and other theoretical and applied environmental sciences. In a vast library of published book and papers, these scientists warn us that if civilization continues on its present course, unspeakable devastation awaits us or our near descendants. Turning away from that “present course” toward “sustainability,” will be difficult, costly and uncertain, but far preferable to a continuation of “business (and policy) as usual.”

As a discomforted public, and their chosen political leaders, cry out “say it isn’t so!,” there is no shortage of reassuring optimists to tell us, “don’t worry be happy.”

We sincerely wish that we could believe them. But brute scientific facts, and the weakness of the Panglosian arguments, forbid.

Full article

So is it dangerous to be almost ideologically committed to an over-optimistic viewpoint? Is it better to be more honest about the coming crises or will that just simply turn people off and see us as mad? Are only a small percentage of the population able to cope with discussions about disturbing information like peak oil or societal collapse?
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