Tag: Optimism

Pessimistic about Pessimism

 

half-full-glassThings are getting better. Democrats can’t ruin it. Republicans can’t ruin it. Voters can’t ruin it. People are getting vastly richer. Our children will be far better off than we are, no matter how insurmountable the national debt seems to be. Just think about technology. Even if wages stay constant, the things that people buy will get cheaper, and food and energy will continue to be ever-shrinking portions of our budgets.

Morgan Housel wrote an article for The Motley Fool that expresses this perfectly, and has a wonderful explanation for the allure of intelligence surrounding pessimism. Check out this graph (logarithmic, mind you). It’s the ultimate example of “climbing the wall of worry.”

Rgdp

Rejoice! Rejoice! Victory, oh Victory!

 

shutterstock_158132165The most common form of contemporary conservative electoral argument is flawed in its premise. They argue that we don’t win elections because we don’t follow their advice (give up on social issues / double down on social issues / the same for fiscal issues and/or foreign stuff / use stronger language / use more moderate language / educate the public on abstract issues / stop talking about abstract issues / talk about gaffes more / talk about gaffes less).

In fact, we win elections. We run the legislature in most states, reaching a level of (small d) democratic control rarely seen in American history. We have most governor’s mansions, again, right at the edge of the historical record. We have the House; after decades of suffering from Ike’s neutrality and Watergate, we got it back in 1994 and we’ve mostly kept it. We have the Senate. Even presidentially, we’ve lost just five out of the last twelve races, with the “always losing” argument often resting on the last two. If you decide on the basis of receiving two tails after tossing a coin twice that the coin must be faulty and have no heads on it, you’re probably excessively predisposed that belief.

When people tell you that we’re losing and the only way to win is to buy their snake oil, whether classy snake oil like Arthur Brooks’ or off-brand oils like Mike Murphy’s or Mark Levin’s, they’re wrong in two ways. Firstly, we’re winning, and secondly, many of those who are winning are not from their faction of the party. Ron Johnson and Pat Toomey win in blue-purple states while being unapologetically socially conservative, whatever Murphy might prefer; while Graham, McCain, Murkowski, Capito, Cochran, and Alexander can win in red states despite Levin’s assurances that their path is doomed to fail.

Why Conservatives Are Funnier (And More Optimistic) Than Progressives

 

wogbXqWHere’s an excerpt from a C2C Journal article entitled “Why Conservatives Are Funnier Than Liberals.” I think the article makes more sense if you change ‘liberal’ to ‘progressive,’ as I think that term better describes the mindset of people who are pathologically obsessed with perfecting Earthly existence:

By the very nature of their philosophy, conservatives are disposed to be more optimistic and fun-loving than liberals. Liberals (a short hand I’ll use to cover the political spectrum on the left including progressives and socialists) base their outlook on causes, whether eradicating social injustice in our society, eliminating human suffering around the world or saving the planet and every species on it. Try smiling with all that weighing on your psyche when you wake up in the morning.Conservatives accept that the world and its occupants are fallible, and therefore are not as distressed by every manifestation of this imperfection. They know life isn’t always fair, outcomes are unequal and people and nature adapt to changes in their environment. It follows that conservatives are more optimistic because they can imagine how free people are capable of responding to challenging circumstances, rather than being limited by a sense of grievance about past transgressions …

He continues:

Which Wise Man of Conservatism is Correct?

 

shutterstock_37832320I have been struck this week by the divergent opinions of two wise men of conservatism, George Will and Victor Davis Hanson. Will thinks Americans are too mired in pessimism:

The world might currently seem unusually disorderly, but it can be so without being unusually dangerous. If we measure danger by the risk of violence, the world is unusually safe. For this and other reasons, Americans should curb their pessimism.

He points out that terrorist groups in the past have been more lethal, and, though ISIS is nasty, he agrees with President Obama that it poses no existential threat to the US or the West in general. Even its beheadings and other atrocities echo those found in public executions in Shakespeare’s London. With time, this kind of barbarism recedes as cultures mature. Russia, as a nuclear state, is a more worrisome problem, but its ramshackle economy makes sanctions likely to be effective. So we should not be so worried about the state of the world.

They Don’t Make Pessimists Like They Used To

 

The End Is Not For A WhileThe Cato Institute recently hosted a talk by Harvard Psychologist Steven Pinker on “Pessimism & Human Progress.” Pinker covers a number of the biases that tip the scales in favor of pessimism: how false positives are perceived as less harmful than false negatives; how the burdens of parenthood make us more aware of risks as we age; how greater refinement and wisdom cause us to notice errors our younger selves would have been oblivious to; how we generally afford greater moral authority to critics than apologists; how we tend to remember drama-laden exceptions while forgetting mundane normalcy, etc. He further argues that, while these biases had and, to a lesser-degree, still have their value, they often lead us astray.

It is, indeed, hard to look at recent history without asking the pessimists for an accounting of themselves. As Pinker has argued at book-length, violence — both state-sanctioned and private — has been in decline for centuries; world poverty is shrinking; we’re still riding the crest of the greatest boon in heath and medicine the world has ever seen. Even problems strongly associated with modernity such as urban crime, abortion, and teen pregnancy are all down.

Which is not to say there aren’t serious problems: as we conservatives are (rightly) fond of discussing, there are serious pathologies in the United States. Charles Murray detailed many of these, such as the decline in marriage, workforce participation, and civic engagement. And while I’m less concerned about the decline in religious participation than many fellow conservatives, no one seems to have discovered a means of conveying constructive meaning and purpose to billions in the same way Christianity and Judaism have for centuries.

Thought for Monday Morning

 

“There are countless horrible things happening all over the world and horrible people prospering, but we must never allow them to disturb our equanimity or deflect us from our sacred duty to sabotage and annoy them whenever possible.”

― Auberon Waugh