« Philosophize This!

Episode #042 ... Optimism

2014-11-11 | 🔗

On this episode, we explore the benefits and drawbacks of optimism. First, we examine the various motivations for pessimism, and hear what Winston Churchill, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Marcus Aurelius have to say about optimism. Next, we think about the vastly different implications of optimism in our personal lives and optimism on a societal level. Finally, we find out why Voltaire thought it was preposterous to think that we’re living in the best of all possible worlds and why he said, "Optimism is the madness of insisting all is well when we are miserable." All this and more on the latest episode of Philosophize This! 

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
For more information about this or any episode of the podcast, got the website at philosophize this start org. We have additional content further reading. And scripts of every show, all free, of course, but if you value the shows an educational resource and you want to help keep it going, you can find out more about how to do that at dot com philosophize this or all if you're buying something from Amazon this week anyway, on clicking through our banner it's at the bottom centre of the landing page philosophize this dot org. Small percentage goes back to the show. It may just be a click for you, but every little bit adds up key for wanting to know more today than you did yesterday, and I hope you have the show. Let's all start the showed any by asking ourselves a very serious and revealing question. Are you an optimist right, let's think about ourselves. When, when you go about your life and things happened you throughout your day, good or bad, when you think about the future, do you think about it optimistically or pessimistically
this kind of a bizarre stigma attached to being a pessimist in today's world, like if you're a pessimist there are certain groups of people that, if you're around they I mean it's the worst thing you could ever possibly you could be a convicted felon. These people would be more accepting of you than if you're a pessimist, and Heaven forbid somebody a glass of water and front no, it's half full. Don't be so hard on yourself all the time? It's the miracle of life, its water, the best way to get to the bottom of pessimism. Mrs to look around us and try to understand what causes people to be pessimists in the first place and look The surprising amount of work done in this field. I mean you think it would be arbitrary right, like some easily identifiable event from our childhood made us into a pessimist, but I guess it doesn't work that way. There are a lot of really smart people and goggles and lab boats with tons of free time on their hands at a deeper into this and what they found that there is actually a lot of different ways that people validate their pessimism
We all know about certain types of pessimism right. Very clear that there is a strong contingency of people that we ve all seen that claim that the reason why they are a pessimist is because they can't not be a pessimist. They ve seen way too much in this world to ever be an optimist right. They have way too much life experience and knowledge to ever. Be able to look at themselves in the mirror and honestly expect things to work out for the best. I couldn't live themselves like that. These don't even like to call themselves a pessimist. They say I'm a realist right. Look, it's not that I dont want things to work out for the best. Of course I do. But look I've been around the block, a couple. I'm not going to fill my head with all these starry I'd fantasies about things always working out for the best right, let's be honest with ourselves, bad things happen You don't expect to happen you're too, setting yourself up for failure again and again and again many of these people are cynics right. We criticise the optimist for being these naive,
children with delusions of grandeur saying its through their blind optimism that their setting themselves up for a long lifetime of dealing with the banning of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but which really interesting to consider. Is that many the pessimists into falling into the very same traps at their warning. The optimists about right they become so cynical and so negative about how the world is going to treat them that they end up growing apathetic. They end up just throw in their hands up in the air and whenever they hear about some sort of bad thing on the horizon or some bad thing that happened to them or a family member, they just kind of scarf and say What are you gonna do about it as how the world works? What else is new? But let's not just, begun? These guys, there's more than one type of pessimist. So there's another! type of pessimist out there. I'm sure we we've all run across one of these fine, absolutely toxic people, in our lifetimes and the reason why they acquire their set of pessimistic beliefs is because they're playing this, this twisted self congratulatory, psychological, gay,
with themselves, know they'll surround themselves with optimists and then, when good things happen to all their friends, oh will they got lucky, but then, when bad- inevitably have been well I shall listen to me. I told you so if only you were wise like I was, you would have known that the world isn't filled with sunshine and rainbows all the time. One of the more interesting theories that I've read about why people become pessimistic is that we may, Have as a species evolved, the trade of pessimism or pessimistic people may have been chosen by natural selection and the thinking behind this is that if you have two hundred there is walking through the Serengeti and they come across some tallgrass one of them's, an an optimist, one of them's, a pessimist activists looks at the grass needs as no one. I don't think that there's a lying waiting in there to disembark me when I walk through the grass. I think I'm gonna go that and the pessimists stays back he's like now, there's always a line, and there is always some sort of dangerous thing and tall grass. I'm not go in there. What that's the case in the testament lives longer has more of a chance to reproduce them more of a chance to make up
gene pool that we all come from. So we may all be from a pessimistic predisposition from birth, interesting to think about this may be the reason why pessimism is so common today and I look. I truly do think that it's a common thing. This is strange way of thinking that I see all the time for people. It goes like the long You live on this planet and the more that you know about the world around you. The more passed mystic and miserable you have to be as a result of that knowledge. You know I have no idea where this thinking comes from necessarily, I think they hear the quote. Ignorance is bliss and they mistakenly can at least in my opinion that the only path the bliss is through ignorance and that the opera it, is true as well that the more you know the less blissful you become necessarily. But knowing more about the world around you does it mean that you need to be tortured by that knowledge? One thing I'd like to point out real quick as we talk about optimism and how it applies to us and our personal lives is that there is no magic
The only thing you're doing by being an optimist or a pessimist. Choosing the lines that you're gonna view the world through, and what I mean by this is that, being an after MR, a pessimist doesn't necessarily change things that happen to you in your everyday life. It changes how you perceive it It might change the number of mental barriers that we read for yourself up in your head and that might in turn. Change. How you react to what happens in your life, but just being a pessimist or an optimist doesn't change, how much control you have over the actual things that happen when it comes to the? things that happened in the fleeting adversity or fortune throughout your life?. You have zero control over. That stuff is something that the stoics talked about a lot. We covered it in the hallmarks of stoic ethics. They would say that all these things that happened you adversity or fortune, our external to you. The only thing you have control over how your mind reacts to these things. For example, it said that the economy is doing really well and there's a company right. The company
its growing its hiring a bunch of new people at seven tons of product and then all of a sudden, the economy tax and to stay in bed. This is company needs to fire a hundred people? Well, let's be clear about something that one hundred people is not made up of one type of person not one hundred people. There are both optimists and pessimists. The point of making is at the people who were some mystic about whether they were going to keep their job or not at that company? somehow magically prevent this bad thing from happening to them? By dwelling on how unfair and volatile the work Places for months ahead of time, not they lost their job, just like the optimist. It be an optimist or a pessimist doesn't control the future. It just controls how you see the future. As are probably saying because of that example. Well, at least the pessimists is more prepared than the optimist right.
At least he expected months in advance and he was gonna get laid off. He probably lined up several jobs on the side and he was ready to go once you got laid off. The optimist just got blindsided and that's a very good point, but I'd like to point something out What about the hundred other scenarios surrounding that lay off with their pessimism could have been destructive to them. We cannot ignore those right. What if they didn't have. Jobs. Lined up one of the economy was so bad that he didn't have three or four jobs. Waiting in the wings Well in that scenario, their pessimism would have been destructive right. Your pessimism could have easily just lead them to sit on the couch, collect unemployment, wallowing from for nine months, watch and more perfect everyday and saying I'm never. And get a job. Why would I even try to get a job? There are many practical benefits. Being an optimist and our personal lives, it's the reason why it's been endorsed by so many great thinkers throughout history. Winston Churchill said quote for myself. I am an optimist.
It does not seem to be much used to be anything else. In quote, and I love what he's saying here. Optimism is a choice. Let's think about faced with the decision every day of our lives, to make a choice about whether to be an optimist or a pessimist in response to all the stuff that happens to us, you may have been born a pessimist genetically without even pass you may have conditioned yourself in one direction or another, but that is it necessarily a life sentence. Alright, if you practice hard enough, you can try. In your brain to perceive the world differently and what what Churchill's alluding to hear that being an optimist is more than just a nice sentiment. It's a very useful quality to have such a pipe dream for us to delude ourselves within the short term, not just what stupid people do, not quite the opposite to Winston Churchill. Being an optimist is the only useful proposition we have now. Why do you think he said this right
lot of people would say optimism useful because, because do you think good stuff is going to come or bad stuff is going to come, it doesn't and what it is. Eventually, that's going to happen. So why put yourself through all the needless derisive, focusing on all the potentially negative outcomes focus on the positive points, but I think Winston Churchill is getting deeper here. I think he understood the usefulness some optimism and await its mirrored by modern science. Let's talk about it there, art Thousands of studies out there that unanimously talk about all the various benefits there are two being an optimist. Studies show that optimists live longer. Optimists have better immune systems, they have lower levels of stress and anxiety, there was a study that took place over a long period of time that found that optimists were twenty three percent less likely to die from heart disease and fifty five percent less likely to succumb to all the other different forms of pay Death optimists make more money across the board on average, thirty grand a year more than their pessimistic equals optimists are significantly happier than pessimists some
studies say that optimists are luckier than pessimists. The significantly more likely to be, in a long term, fulfilling loving relationship than a pessimist. Know. What I'm saying is when it comes to determine which lends is more useful on a personal level. It seems pretty That being an optimist, has a lot more use outside of just the looting yourself in the short term, and this is one reason why so many great thinkers advocated there's another philosopher that it's a lot about optimism, his name's Ralph Waldo Emerson, and he said famously quote right it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year, And quote now: have you seen the movie office space there's a main character in the movie that says about the exact opposite of this somebody hey how's it going today. He says every single day in my life has been worse than the last. So that means Every day you see me, you see me on the worst day of my life.
Try to think about the opposite of that, if you follow Ralph, Waldo Emerson advice and you try to write it in your heart, that every day is the best day in the year, then every single day you live on this planet. Is the gray this day of your life, it's an upward staircase! You seek out good things. You look to reinforce that fact. Rather than thinking about all the potential bad things can happen and being on that constant downward staircase, it's crazy, like when good things happen to a peasant It's almost like, they don't even happen me just think about it. Even when a long string of good things happens to a pessimist, they spend their time not preceding how good they currently have it, but fantasizing about all the different ways. These good things are going to eventually leave them or be destroyed. When it's all said and done, it's almost like they didn't even have them. In the first place, put even Marcus Aurelius advocates optimism right. He said in his meditations quote: dwell The beauty of life watch the stars and see
yourself running with them, in quote now. This is coming from Marcus Aurelius. Here he was a stoic The stoics are one of the most famous advocates of premeditated pessimism, and they history of the world. You know you should wake up and tell yourself I will be met with idiots and inconsiderate people. Today I will get cut off in traffic today. I will get my parking spot stolen at work by that weird guy works on the eighth floor, This is powerful. Even someone who strongly advises to to hold low expectations about the world very, very clear focus on beauty and positivity, rather than the things that would be needlessly destructive to well. There was one more philosopher I want to talk about that. Had a famous quote about optimism: his name was Voltaire
and it went like this optimism- is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are actually miserable now. The first inclination here is to resist right. What are you talking about? Voltar, don't be so hard on yourself. Things are great. No, we shouldn't get down on Voltar here. Because the optimism Voltaire is talking about the optimism that he's railing against in this quote is in a very different contexts in what we ve been talking about so far in the episode and by exploring the difference between, these two uses of optimism by exploring, tears famous rebuttal to delights. In other words, I think, by the end of the episode, we're going to think about the world just a little bit Currently them when it began and isn't that why we're all here so here we go first, let me ask you guys a question. Would you say that there is one correct way for humans to look at the world regardless of time period, regardless of culture. Regardless of how many people there making decisions on behalf of, is there one way.
What I mean by that is, you may think that being an optimist is a great thing. You could think that when it comes to your personal life. It is the only truly useful or logical way to go about living. Why not be an optimist, but does apply to every situation that any person or entity might find themselves in. For example, what if you start a new company your operating in an extremely competitive market were dozens of businesses all around. You are constantly trying to steal your market share out. Innovate you drive, yet a business is thinking optimistically about your future. The best plan there is think that. Well, everything works out for the best. Isn't the best attitudes have to ensure success. Now the bigger question here is: when you look at the: U S, government or whatever government you hail from Do you personally follow the same set of behaviors that you vote for the government to have? This is a big question right. It's a question that we changed the way that I look at politics distilling.
What I'm talking about? Let's, let's talk about fiscal conservatism right most of us, listen to this? If not all of us are fiscal conservatives when it comes to our personal fine We live within our own means we wouldn't even about doing something stupid or reckless. With our finances, I mean most of us work all day to try to maintain those finances. Most of us, wouldn't even thing about you know, going down to the bank or going to China and asked for a loan, so that we can pay for the down payment on a ferrari that we have no idea how we're going to pay for no idea how will pay for the insurance, no idea, how will pay for the maintenance? That would be crazy. Why would we ever do that? but there are a lot of people out there. That would never do something like that with their personal finances, but they would think it was downright inhumane in certain cases for the government to not used taxpayer funded subsidies to promote a giant unfunded future taxpayer liability that we have no way of paying for it, I'm, not making an argument for fiscal conservatism. Here. The important point of what I'm saying is that
Oftentimes, the set of behaviors that we that we live by in our personal lives is very different so the behaviors. We want the government to have when acting on our behalf and what I'd like to ask all right now is: do you want your government to be optimistic? Do you want your government to be optimistic about the possibility of a future terrorist attack Do you want your government to be optimistic about their plan to fix the economy? Even if it looks bad? Do you want the human species to be optimistic about climate change? But it's funny if we looked at those things when it comes to our personal life, why shouldn't you be optimistic about them. Me why you're gonna run around constantly scared of being attacked by a terrorist. Nobody would recommend that you need to be optimistic about that stuff. Point here is to explore the idea that optimism maybe an so it means in certain situations, like our personal lives, in a terrible.
Mindset when it comes to other situations like protecting the human species, and this is what Voltaire's talking about when Voltaire said the It's that optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable. He was talking about philosophical optimism. He was talking about optimist. On a species wide scale really he was responding to lights. Now, just a recap live nets famously said that we live in the best of all possible worlds that when God created the universe heating just set up in the clouds and say hey, I think I'm in the second best of all possible worlds in our make the third best of all possible. No, he made the best of all possible worlds. So because of that, Leibnitz argued Everything that happens happens for the best things like terrorist attacks, economic collapses. The. House house all all these things are God's will, and we we may not understand why they happen at the time with feeble, feeble human intellects can Rest assured, knowing that they're, probably just damage control,
or a necessary evil to make sure that future evils don't occur, no matter how Things may seem no matter how much suffering you're forced to go through relax. Guys. God maintains this world is the best of all possible worlds, and you should press that just add some historical context. Here. Voltaire was in a pretty dark place in the year. One thousand seven hundred and fifty five I mean the love of his life had just died. He looks around them in the people that he'd attested the most for gaining power. He was being prosecuted just for speaking his mind, then, to top it off and one thousand seven hundred and fifty five one of the most catastrophic earthquakes in human history hits the city of Lisbon, the history it would become known as the great Lisbon Earthquake Voltaire. It was widespread brutality that was beyond Certification, let this was long before any sort of earthquake construction code had been enacted in the death and clean up it was associated with a natural disaster on this scale? It honestly would have turned the stomachs of anybody living back then
Voltaire decides to do in any decent person should do its what me and you would do. If we look back, then he writes a poem about it and in this poem he's responding to two things: one, the earthquake, obviously into the optimists that thought like lines, people who were in his eyes naive enough to think that, even with things like this happening, we Still living in the best of all possible worlds, he gets pretty ruthless in the polar I've already got a little piece of it cook. All here Kennedy, huddled in fear the endless subject of useless pain come from sufferers who cry all is well and contemplate the ruins of this world. Behold. The debris and ashes of the unfortunate these women then children heaped in common ruin scattered limbs under the broken marble, see them hundred thousand whom the earth devours torn bloody, and still breathing they are entombed beneath roofs and die without relief from the or of their suffering lies
as the dying voices call out. Will you dared respond to this appalling spectacle of smoking ashes with that the necessary effective. The eternal laws freely chosen by God sees this massive victims will you say: God is avenged. Their death is the price of their crimes. What crime? What fault had the young committed who, like bleeding at their mothers breast Did fallen, Lisbon indulge in more vices than London or Paris which live in pleasure man is no more, but they dance in Paris. He says in another section of the poem If it be true, they said that whatever is is right. It follows that Nature is not falling if the order of things requires that everything should be as it is, then human nature has not been corrupted and consequently has no need for a redeemer. If the miseries of individuals are merely the by product of this general unnecessary order, then we are nothing, more than cards which serve to keep the great machine in motion where no
or precious in the eyes of God and the animals by which we are devoured. End quote: I think it s going to be very surprised when I say this, but Voltaire ruffles alot of feathers with this poem but there's an upside. When he gets a considerable amount of fans and notoriety with this poem and over the This has been a lot of people that respond to this poem, but historians of philosophy agree on one thing that there's one person that is more notable than all the others, especially to Voltaire. His name was John John Russia. Now we're gonna be covering Rousseau extensively in a couple episodes on the podcast. But his argument against Voltaire basically goes like this right. The reason God can allow this earthquake to happen is because we aren't following gods, intentions. God never intended for anybody to live in cities. What crime together like sardines, you think: that's how God wanted us to live in fact to be about its cities, exemplify all the vice and all the excess that goes against God. God,
We wanted people to live in the countryside and how ironic, as is it, that whenever an earthquake happens in the countryside, no one dies. There's even a where Ruso makes fun of Voltaire compares comparison to somebody that built his house. At the bottom of the sea and then turns around and yells at God for allowing him to drown so after this rebuttal. What may otherwise, just been a molehill turned into a mountain right. Rousseau set Voltaire into a frenzy with this rebuttal. And what Voltaire rights in response is one of, if not his most influential work. The candied and Voltaire sets out to destroy them. Foolish optimism that was originally laid out by likeness and looked is to be fair. There's a lot of different interpretations of what's going on here. Ok, there's a large of group of people that think that Voltaire wasn't even responding to at all that all was really was really responding to the church Authority time the time but a Have you some time
really matter at all, it doesn't matter who he was specifically responding to was primarily attacking the idea that we live in the best of all possible worlds. The candied rebuttal too, that let's keep it there too, The title candied comes from the name of the main character. The book starts out with a guy named candied, obviously The student of a respected scholar, name, Pangloss now Pangloss Adamantly believes that we live in the best of all possible worlds and he does his best to teach candied all about it now not law. After the start of the book, candied starts to get a little frisky. He starts to develop feelings for the baron's daughter and are caught kissing one day and he's expelled. So it goes off on this long journey where it comes across all kinds of bloody battles and eventually arrives in HOLLAND and, while he's in HOLLAND, he comes across this dishevelled mangled beggar on the street. Very soon after he meets this beggar, he realizes its pangloss. What happened pangloss? glass tells him that an army came killed, his family,
missed him up pretty bad, and now here is a beggar on the street, but dont worry. He still believe he's he's living in the best of all possible worlds or from here the story doesn't get much better for them. Candied pangloss many other friends that they meet along the way or put through the ringer? Really there tortured, put to death, they survive their death sentences. There, enslaved, raped, beaten the whole book catalogs a really depressing sequence of events. Now that I think about it, and it ironically ends with them all living on a farm together. White. Everything that's happened to them. The point is pangloss. Still believes that he's living in the best of all possible worlds, the whole story is chaos and the central point is to make certain observations about the human species and the key one that Voltaire's trying to make here is just how we're ridiculous. Pangloss glasses optimism is in the face of all these things that are so obviously wrong with the way the world operates. Are we truly
living in the best of all possible worlds? Are you really going to make that claim? Let me sum up Voltaire's main point: and the candied, but as members of a species when we look at all these bad things that are happening around us optimistically. We really are shooting ourselves in the foot it certainly may make us feel better to say that things are ultimately for the best, but is what makes us you better necessarily the best thing for humanity? Voltaire says that if we live, The best of all possible worlds and everything that happens is ultimately for the best. Then anything that happens is the best the could ever happen. So if you believe that why even try at that Why should we even try to prevent terrorist attacks? Why should we even try to understand what causes climate change if, ultimately, anything that happens is the best thing that ever happened and its maintained that way by God. The real under lying question. The Voltaire's asking here is why
Even try to limit human suffering if any subsequent human suffering is God's will and is there, before the best thing that ever happened to us see. Voltaire was addressed at this point in his life doesn't think that God created this entire universe, so that we can tell How great he was, and he could grant wishes force from time to time. He uses an incredible metaphor to talk about how he thinks We should truly be viewing ourselves as beings on this planet. He compares the you First to a ship that was built by the king of Egypt. He says, God is like the king of Egypt. He built this ship that we all and we, as humans are like rats. It's in the lower deck of the ship, drowning in puddles or starving to death. Yes, Her part of God's Creation- guess God may even be consciously aware of our existence, but he didn't. It creates Ship just so that rats could scurry around on the lower deck of the ship. Now he built the ship for some greater purpose.
Like sailing him around the Mediterranean. A purpose at the rats could never fully comprehend. So when these rats get stuck in these puddles underneath is the king of Egypt concerned about that is the king of Egypt, bothering himself running around trying to save every single rat or maintain That the rats exist in the best of all possible ship decks. No, the king of Egypt doesn't even think about it now. Voltar's getting at here is actually pretty profound if we were giving advice to those rats, what we tell them, tell them that they can rely on the king of Egypt for their safety. That he's going to ensure that everything works out for the best. Now the amount Wrapped suffering on his ship is an even keel Still is number one priority in the same way that fruit fly suffering, How suffering isn't the main thing he's concerned with If we were giving advice to those rats, we would have to tell them look of you. To limit the amount of rat suffering. You guys have to do something about it.
build a bridge over that puddles, so that no rats can fall in there anymore way, to secure more food for yourselves, you guys don't starved to death all the time Voltaire saying is that just like the rats, if we want to limit the suffering of other human beings. The absolute worst thing that we can do is just sit around and be complacent about it. You know just being optimistic about the fact that in that happens is for the best. So thinking in that way, should we be complacent about terrorist attacks, just saying if you ve got allows them, then there for the best right now, I would say that we should do something about it. Should we become recent about the effects of climate change, saying look if it ever get. to see me in here? If the earth turns into a sonnet gods, turn on the AC force right he's going to regulate the temperature. If things get too bad, no Voltaire would say we should learn as much as we can about it. Voltaire limiting human suffering is our responsibility. And sitting around saying that everything
happens, is just for the best. It breeds complacency. We need to be taking action, not assume. That human suffering actually matters to God or that it's the metric that God uses to determine what The best of all possible worlds is so. This is fascinating to me. When it comes to our personal lives, optimism seems like the clear way to go, but when it comes to the government and the future of the humans, He sees we want them to be as pessimistic and worrisome as possible. Maybe that's one of the benefits of being part of an organised, well governed society is that by outsourcing all of that pessimism and worry for the government to worry about, it allows for us as citizens to live, healthier, richer happier, less worry filled lives and the empowering question to ask is: are you taking full advantage of it? So this is the end of the main episode optimism, but I want to say that I didn't get that many questions for this week
the twenty dollar Amazon gift Card, and that's why I feel like everything you do with any business, that you own is an experiment, and I'm too willing to accept the fact that not many people want to ask questions, and this is isn't that's going to catch on, but I have to be sure, ok, I have to be sure, I'm not just doing it too frequently. Maybe it would be immensely popular if it was every two weeks I'll wait until next week to do the question. Hopefully, we can get more and more people to choose from for the gift card and look either way what an incredible opportunity you have to win a twenty dollar Amazon gift Card, either by asking a question on Twitter, Facebook, or if it's too, long and can't fit in that small amount, a text it to me over email, Steve at Stephen West, showed outcome. Thank you for listening. I love Oliver guys I'll talk to you, sir.
Transcript generated on 2020-09-30.