On Pessimism in Political Discourse

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Behind the mask of every pessimist there is the face of a disappointed idealist.- George Carlin

I have often heard it said that one must not come to a conclusion merely because it is convenient to oneself but what about coming to a conclusion merely because it inconvenient to oneself? Isn’t that just as invalid? Peter Hitchens once said, I can’t remember where, that one perk of being a pessimist is that one may occasionally be pleasantly surprised, perhaps so, but would one really be willing to readily admit and accept that one was wrong? Imagine all those times that the pessimist was ridiculed by the optimists(most people) for his views, would he really be eager to admit he was wrong and that they were right? I doubt that.

I have been reading some of Orwell’s essays lately and I noticed that he was sick of the age he lived in and with good reason too. Now I do not for once suggest that we live in such an age as that tumultuous period in the twentieth century but it is easy to succumb to a sense of futility when looking at some crude piece of journalism or politics. The lies just keep on piling up. The noose around liberty’s neck gets a little tighter everyday etc… There is something certainly attractive about turning into a misunderstood prophet when one realizes that there is little that one can do to sway events in the direction that one wishes to and since things will eventually sway the other way, well, one may be tempted to ask, ‘What is the point?’ ‘Why bother?’ I guess if you are a journalist or a political activist making a living out of this there may be a material need to keep on finding things to be annoyed about but that is just my cynicism speaking. At times like these it is quite easy to don the hollow mask of stoicism and spew some optimistic motivational humbug. There is no good answer to this, it is immaterial to point out the few instances (relatively speaking) that individual effort has directly lead to great social change (leaving aside that many of these individuals were merely riding the currents of their time), I think at some level one has to pretend, to live and write as if it mattered what one writes and does hoping that it will one day really matter. But this leads to another problem… and that is that it is hard to be genuine in any sense if one knows that it effectively what one thinks does not matter to the outcome of the events that one comments on, in which case this may lead to the most outlandish exaggerations and conduct that can only be afforded by those who have no power.

‘Symbols are for the symbol-minded’ – George Carlin

As TJ Kirk, aka The Amazing Atheist noted in his latest video ‘Divided as One, United Apart’, lately there has been an explosion of political posturing – petty acts done to ‘send a message’, ‘to make a statement’ due to an inability to actually change anything making the whole thing look like some theatrical performance rather than anything real thus the political actors too appear like actors, attention seeking, popularity seeking actors playing the role of revolutionaries that they learned about in school and in colleges, in one word ‘LARPING’(live action role playing). I remember Tony Blair has been constantly constantly accused of trying to play the part of Winston Churchill by casting Saddam Hussein as Adolf Hitler, I do not know enough about the Iraq War to comment on the validity of this accusation, but then what does that make the social commentators (including myself) are we too not just trying to play the role of George Orwell/Winston Smith or some other ‘last sane man/prophet’? This is the problem with role models but I digress, at any rate the point is that once you start looking for posturing, virtue-signalling and the like, it soon all starts to look like a performance, a gag, an act, a sketch, things done for attention (not even for effect) and in doubting the sincerity of others one it may lead one to doubt one’s own sincerity, this is not a bad thing but not entirely good thing either, it can be extremely debilitating but it can also have a clearing effect leaving only what one really believes in, if one really believes in anything.

In a wider, more loosely political sense there can also be a pessimism of the kind that ‘the pendulum always goes forwards AND backwards/ the political universe is cyclical in its nature’ and that ‘human beings are the same only the surface of things has changed and so to live is to fall into decadence’ etc… To the former point what I would say is that it is abject fatalism, that there is a certain direction that history moves in for better or for worse at any rate at a scale that makes sense to a human’s life and to the latter I would say that most human beings are fine the way they are, morally speaking, and that a world of either selfless saints or entirely selfish devils would be worse than this one because without selfishness selflessness has no value whatsoever as those for whom the self-sacrifice is been done for do not care about themselves either and a world of only selfishness would be hell for obvious reasons. I think it is sensible to be pessimistic about trends but there is some hope to be had in that they are trends.

Finally there is also the possibility that one may bind one’s disappointments and dissatisfactions about life in general to politics creating a sort of shared fate with how well some brand of ideology fares. I would refrain from accusing someone of this as it is charge that can neither be refused or proven, it would just be speculation, much better it is to point out the wrongness of their arguments if they are wrong. And of course there is the possibility that a political outcome may be already tied to one’s well being whatever one may think of it.

I don’t know how to end this blog post. So thank you for reading.