20 July 2015

The Optimistic Pessimist, or the Pessimistic Optimist?

I get all kinds of advice in my life.  Most I seek out, then ignore, like most people.  Don't get me wrong, I try to follow advice that I seek; nothing is more annoying than for someone to approach me for advice and then tell me it is worthless. But it is good to recall that one can choose not to follow advice, but that doesn't mean the advice wasn't considered and heeded.

Among the advice that I don't seek out, one stands out as most popular: don't be so pessimistic.

I try to reassure the advice-giver that I am not a pessimist at all.  In fact, I think I am usually a naive optimist trying for realism.  For example, I know that Christ and His faithful triumph in the end.  I pray for the virtue of Hope.  But I still think that civilization as we know it is headed down the toilet.  Am I a pessimist?

Anyway, via The Tenth Crusade, this sermon by Fr. George Rutler hit home for me.  Enjoy:

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FROM THE PASTOR
July 19, 2015

The pessimist and the optimist are much alike. Though the maxim has the pessimist seeing a glass half-empty and the optimist seeing it half-full, what they share is the confinement of their perspectives to the glass and what is in it. I’d rather be an optimist, because he tends to be more valiant. King Saul with his spear was a pessimist who though that Goliath was too big to be killed, and David with his slingshot was an optimist who thought that the giant was too big to miss. But the attitudes of both were psychological. The morose personality sees threat, and the buoyant personality sees opportunity, but reality for both is only perception. It has been observed that the pessimist is an unhappy idiot and the optimist a happy idiot, for the self and the self’s humor are the measure of all things.

There is agreement among both kinds of personalities that the world is going to end. Grimly or happily, they can cite physicists who expect that our own planet will be finished by the year 500,000,000,000 AD. But it will be too hot to sustain human life within a mere one billion years. These days, many seem to be pessimists who think that the world will end faster than expected, at least in terms of livable conditions affected by climate change. Some take this as a new Gospel, and skeptics are treated as heretics facing an opprobrium as harsh as it is capricious and as capricious as it is vicious. The argument is declared settled, even though no true science is ever settled.

No less a brain than that of Isaac Newton was confident that the world would end in 2060 AD. The jury is still out on that. Now some Russian scientists complicate things by predicting that a 60% drop in solar activity will cause a mini-ice age from 2030 to 2040, similar to the freeze from 1645 to 1715. We do know that Paul Ehrlich’s book, The Population Bomb, predicted in 1968 that long before now 4 billion people would have starved to death, including 65 million in the United States. He continues to lecture to well-fed students at Stanford University.

Grigori Rasputin contaminated Russia with his pessimism, predicting that the world would end on August 23, 2013. That only happened in places like Detroit. He was the opposite of P.G. Wodehouse’s blithe Madeline Bassett who thought that “the stars are God’s daisy chain,” and “every time a fairy blows its wee nose a baby is born.”

The only settled science is that of the soul. It is neither pessimistic nor optimistic. It is the realism of Christ who is the Eternal Logos, reason itself. Against pessimism and optimism it posits the virtue of hope. By hope, one trusts God will grant eternal life and the means to attain it if one cooperates with the divine will, while recognizing the difficulties that lie in the path toward that blissful eternity. Hope has no patience for its dark enemy pessimism, nor for its gossamer imitation optimism.
 
Faithfully Yours in Christ,
Fr. George W. Rutler

1 comment:

St. Corbinian's Bear said...

Bears are optimists when trends are favorable, such as an abundance of fish in the stream and many bees in the woods making honey. They tend to become pessimistic when staring down the bore of high-powered rifles. For a long time now, it's been a hunters-got-the-drop-on-us kind of thing going on. So does that make the Bear, a pessimist or a very focused realist?