Bryan Caplan  

Meet the Rational Optimist

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I like the first post on the new blog, The Rational Optimist:

Some say we need pessimists, to see what’s wrong with how things are, and push for positive change. Yet pessimism and cynicism actually foster resignation, despair, and a sense of powerlessness—a “why bother?” mentality. And, while modern social alienation is a staple of the pessimist litany, much of that is traceable to the psychology of pessimism itself. After all, you won’t likely feel a compassionate connection to your fellow man if you see him as basically selfish, violent, and guilty of making a terrible doomed world.

And here's the rational optimist qua parent:

We need hope to find life worth living and face the future. We do that most obviously by creating the next generation. Nowadays, many question whether it’s right to bring a child into “such a troubled world.” My wife and I actually had that conversation. But, convinced that in fact people today have it far better than any past generation, we went ahead and put the condoms aside. We are very glad we did — and so is our teenage daughter, who understands what a blessing it is to be alive — especially in today’s world, which, for all its troubles, she keenly appreciates as the best ever. (Kids sometimes do listen to their parents.)
Rational Optimist, I'm glad that you're glad that your daughter is glad.


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TRACKBACKS (3 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/838
The author at Books and Suits in a related article titled Goodbye to the American Dream writes:
    In John Truslow Adams’ 1931 book The Epic of America, he describes the American dream as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement... [Tracked on May 31, 2008 12:39 AM]
COMMENTS (5 to date)

The only problem I see is that he is mistakenly conflating hope and optimism. They are quite different things. He's right about pessimism, but optimism says things will definitely turn out well, and that's as reality-denying as pessimism.

Kudzu Fire writes:

give the state of the world, we need optimism more than pessimism

BooksandSuits writes:

I stumbled on this article not an hour after typing a blog entry about the spread of pessimism in the American workforce.

Thanks for the link! His ideas, while not necessarily novel or groundbreaking, are refreshing to read.

http://www.booksandsuits.wordpress.com

GlassHalf writes:

As usual, pessimists are being misrepresented here, which is common when optimists attempt to validate their inherently lazier mindset.
Pessimism does not foster "resignation, despair and a sense of powerlessness." Quite the contrary. Pessimists tend to work harder than optimists and spend more time thinking through alternate scenarios to prepare for the possibility that things might not go as planned. Optimists, on the other hand, tend to assume it will all work out just fine, which leads to passivity and a lack of preparedness when things don't work out so well. When things go wrong, they go more wrong for optimists, who aren't prepared, than for pessimists, who are. Pessimism is a highly functional and responsible approach - for example, the cockpit drill of professional pilots is based on the premise that if something can go wrong it eventually will, and you certainly want your pilots to think that way. When it's important to be right, you do not want PollyAnna in charge.
While there are some questionable arguments that pessimists are less happy than optimists (doubtful, since pessimists are constantly being pleasantly surprised), maximal happiness does not seem to be an especially primary objective for most people, but rather one of several considerations people use in choosing their course of action. Successful pessimists also know that the biggest driver of unhappiness is worrying about things beyond your control - which is not at all a necessary component of pessimism. Having taken what sensible precautions you can, you let it go and hope for the best.
Hope is not the sole preserve of optimists; pessimists hope too. Pessimists, too, recognize that sometimes hope is all you have. But at least they recognize that hope is not a strategy.

Hope is the golden mean between optimism and pessimism. A true pessimist and a true optimist both do not have or believe in hope.

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