March 26, 2013
The School of Life in London runs a philosophy blog where a Mr. Stevenson has seven ‘Principles of Optimism.’ His principles of optimism include being busy, have ambition for the future, devote your life to something more important than the self, expose yourself to new ideas, be an empiricist, and suffer criticism gladly. Hmm.
The first five could describe Hitler or Stalin as optimists. Nothing provokes more head-shaking than listening to a philosopher describe how much of an optimist Karl Marx was. Optimism is a psychology, not a set of principles.
It is possible to inject optimism into a pessimistic life, and the mental health improvements are well-studied and documented. But it is how we form our pessimism originally that is just as important as employing ‘principles’ to become more optimistic.
The perceptions of the partially-full/empty glass of water are grounded in how we perceive human nature. If we find humans to be inherently bad, we develop a pessimistic psychology. If we find humans to be inherently good, we develop an optimistic psychology.
The easy test of the divide is to notice how we vote: if we approve of statism, we are pessimists wanting the state to assert control over inherently bad human beings. If we approve of less-regulated humans, we are optimists. ‘Principles’ do not have much to do with it, because the two psychologies are deeply imbeded in everyone. And note, such ‘principles’ can easily be used to describe people who are definitely not optimists.[Email comments welcome: duoism(at)sbcglobal.net]