Pessimism Revisited

Interesting if awfully dreary post.

A Pessimist Manifesto

Friday ~ September 3rd, 2010 in Babble | by Karl Smith

One odd empirical regularity is that hard-nosed, pessimistic, realist, free-market guys like myself seem to spend more time agreeing with soggy Liberals than with the Conservatives who supposedly share our worldview.

Part of that has to do with the success of the general Libertarian project, as Scott Sumner outlines here. Many free market ideas have now simply become conventional wisdom among wonks of all stripes.

Partially , however, I think it is that many modern Conservatives intuitively base their analysis of the world on a philosophy is that anathema to my worldview. Their view is that if you take a responsible, measured, well-reasoned approach to the world things will work out. Failure is thus a sign that you have not done that.

My sense is that this is fundamentally crap.

First of all things are not going to work out. You are going to die. Your friends and family are going to die. Everything you care about and everything you ever worked for will be destroyed. This story, our story, only has one ending and it is death and destruction.

If you don’t recognize that, you are living in a fantasy world.

Second, even in the short term your plans almost certainly won’t work out. Most ideas are bad ideas and there are infinitely more ways to fuck something up than to get it right.

To wit, clean living is not some form of salvation. Nor, is prudence assurance that that you and your loved ones will be okay. Suffering is inevitable and the best one can say is that it hasn’t happened to me – yet.

Bad things happen because badness is the natural state of the world. If something good ever happens count yourself lucky and be aware that this too shall pass.

Thus, I see our proper mission as easing pain, where we can, to the extent we can, the best we can. This is best done up close and personal where you are mostly likely to quickly notice if your efforts to help are actually doing harm.

On the drearyness, I think that our existence and of our friends and family and everything we care a whit about is limited. But that we occupy a limited place in space and in time doesn’t seem to mandate being quite so gloomy. You need to make the most of what time you have. I am a Christian and as such believe in transcendence of death, but even if I didn’t I think I would feel the same.

I was very struck by this comment:

4:40 pm


“‘Thus, I see our proper mission as easing pain, where we can, to the extent we can, the best we can.’

Why? What is the point of that? What right does one have to impose that responsibility on others?”

I think this is pure Ayn Rand, correct? I’m sure Apex has a very eloquent defense of this, but honestly my gut reaction is I don’t get this at all. I think life acquire most of its meaning from having connections with something larger than yourself, whether that is family, friends, your God, your country or other, and trying to add something good to something beyond yourself. Furthermore, the mission that Karl suggests doesn’t have to be mandated.

If life is just trying to pursuing your own wants and needs, then as best I can tell it really is very empty and meaningless in the end, unless you’re meglomanica as I think Ayn Rand was, in the end dying alone and largely alienated from anyone and everyone.

Finally, I thought pessimism was a the point of view of conservatives, especially of course about well intended government programs, especially with unintended consequences and the like.


One response to “Pessimism Revisited

  1. Pingback: Will Randians will be the skunk at the Tea Party?? | Brucetheeconomist's Blog

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