Thursday, May 04, 2006

Optimism is not Good Enough

OK, I admit, pessimistic theology is a funny term, I’m not sure it conveys the right message. But it is not a “the glass is half empty”-pessimism. It is not an attitude of resignation I want to reach, quite the opposite.

Pessimism in this case is about a pessimistic view of where our culture is heading, and possibly our world. It is about taking serious the fact that there are overpowering indications that our present way of life is not sustainable for long. It is the opposite of either an attitude of denial, indifference or of an optimism that renders passive.

One can deny that our culture is in decline, although that is really something I guess only politicians can do these days. Even if one chooses to believe that climate change is not something man has caused, there is no way denying that it is taking place. There is no way to deny that the earth's resources are limited and in some crucial cases (oil, then water) is fast running out. There is no way to deny that the ongoing process of automation in the industry reduces need for human labour to the point that sooner or later there will be very few people who can afford to buy what the industries are producing.

One can be indifferent in face of this decline, in several different ways. One can adapt an attitude of selfishness. This is, I guess, the attitude of the western world as a whole, and increasingly of individuals. It should be clear that such an attitude is completely impossible to reconcile with a religious way of life. I would like to call this an “inside the system” indifference, because it is about accepting the way the world works, and trying to use the system for one’s own good only. There is also a “outside the system” indifference, which is what the ancients called apatheia. But now I am getting ahead of myself.

Now, common knowledge is that optimism is preferable over pessimism. I would say that there is good optimism and bad optimism. Good optimism is one that activates. We have a good example today: Bono. (I’m not a huge fan, despite mentioning him in two posts now) I recently read Mischka Assayas interview book with Bono, and he really comes over as a extremely optimistic guy, but as we all know, his optimism has really enabled him to do some positive things. I think he reaches this optimism by disregarding some problems and focusing on problems that do have a solution (Third world debt, Aids), so in a way it can be said to be false. But it is functioning so I won’t complain.

Bad optimism is much more usual, though, and it is really something that may prove disastrous. This is the attitude that says that “oh, I am sure some one will invent something that makes the problem go away.” This kind of hope, besides being false, makes the optimistic person a passive member of society that is will not be a positive force in society.

There are different kinds of pessimism too, obviously. I will return to the subject.

Tomorrow I am going to Copenhagen to listen to Radiohead live on Saturday. I am a little bit excited… ;) I will not be able to post anything for a few days, so I leave you with the Radiohead song that best fits the theme (no, not Optimistic): 2 + 2 = 5

Are you such a dreamer
To put the world to rights?
I'll stay home forever
Where two and two always makes five

I'll lay down the tracks
Sandbag and hide
January has April's showers
And two and two always makes five

It's the devil's way now
There is no way out
You can scream and you can shout
It is too late now

You have not been
Payin' attention

I try to sing along
But the music's all wrong
'Cause I’m not
'Cause I’m not
I swat 'em like flies but like flies the buggers keep coming back and NOT
But I’m not
All hail to the thief
All hail to the thief
But I'm not
But I'm not
But I'm not
But I'm not
Don't question my authority or put me in the dock
'Cause I'm not
'Cause I'm not
Oh go and tell the king that the sky is falling in
When it's not
But it's not
But it's not
Maybe not
Maybe not

1 comment:

krister said...

Patrik-These are very helpful insights. I think you and I are on the same wavelength. Didn't Reinhold Niebuhr say something about being a pessimistic optimist once? I can't remember. Anyway, I'm looking forward to future posts. have fun at the concert!