TED Conversations

Gerald O'brian

TEDCRED 50+

This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »

Is pessimism the new religion?

Against all odds, we can feed seven billion people living on higher standards than ever before, and maintain world peace between democracies.
Yet far from rejoicing it seems most people hold on to the belief that humanity is doomed, to the belief that the world has never been in a worse state.
Pessimists believe in a coming apocalypse, believe in a past Eden from which humans fell because of environmental fuck-up, and instead of infidels we have corporations playing the bad guys. Pessimists also have purifying rituals to wash their sins.

0
Share:
progress indicator
  • thumb
    Nov 10 2013: Like many things, I think there has to be balance. Pessimism and optimism both must have purpose, but need to work together to form as near reality as we can possibly get.

    Pessimism is the expert in identifying possible problems, while optimism is the master of possible solutions.

    Prolonged pessimism on its own leads to hopelessness, visions of apocalypse, depression, and removal from reality.

    Optimism on its own tends to prolong and maintain status quo through denialism and dismissal of fact, to the point of searching for information to refute warnings from the pessimists. Blind optimism has an even more distant removal from reality, in my opinion.

    I'm not saying which one is right and which is wrong - neither one is right or wrong in isolation. I stand to be corrected here, but I get the impression it is easier to change a pessimist into an optimist through reasoned argument, than it is vice versa...?

    When belief systems get mixed in to all of this, we get stuck in either one or the other. And belief systems can only be changed by some sort of epiphany, or jolted away from it through disaster - hardly ever through persuasion. And I think the seeds of belief can germinate either through ritualistic purifying for the pessimist - or denialism for the optimist. Both seek confirmation bias.

    I try (but often fail) to balance my own outlook this way, tending to lapse into pessimism, which seems to be my natural bent, but at the same time also studiously avoiding attaching it to belief systems of any kind, which has the effect of keeping me in touch with optimism at the same time.
    • thumb
      Nov 10 2013: I would have guessed the opposite- that it is easier for an optimist to become a pessimist, though not through reasoned argument. One betrayal, disaster, or significant fear-causing episode often has a shattering impact, I have seen.
  • Nov 8 2013: We need not believe in an Eden to recognize the Fragmenting of Society. The petri dish is being overrun. All things will come back into balance just not necessarily on our terms.

    The belief that 'Corporations' or even 'Big Government' is the source of our demise is what permits the unwinding. We see ourselves as Separate. As Victims. Someone else is causing this. It is not 'my' fault. (we are children)

    It might help to be doubtful of that belief. Society is You, and You are Society.
  • thumb
    Nov 11 2013: Pessimism is an attitude not a religion. It shows you lack confidence and actions in your life.
  • Nov 9 2013: The pessimism of today is nothing compared to the late 1970s. Back then, as a child in school, I had to watch docudramas that portrayed complete breakdown of the world by various paths. Oddly, none of them were nuclear war. They all boiled down to "We are all going to starve and have no fuel by the year 2000."
    • thumb
      Nov 10 2013: "Oh, there are optimist (I prefer to think of them as idiots) who think that if only we end wars, establish world tranquillity and advance science we can absorb population increase. (...) The famines will start in places like India and Indonesia, I predict, by 1980."

      Asimov, 1970
  • Nov 9 2013: Pessimists believe in Singing too ---

    1. Eddie Cochran, “Summertime Blues” (1958)
    2. Stevie Wonder, “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer” (1971)
    3. John Prine, “Mexican Home” (1973)
    4. Terry Jacks, “Seasons in the Sun” (1974)
    5. Bruce Springsteen, “Streets of Fire” (1978)
    6. Bananarama, “Cruel Summer” (1983)
    7. Elvis Costello, “The Other Side of Summer” (1991)
    8. Belly, “Slow Dog” (1993)
    9. Old 97′s, “Melt Show” (1997)
    10. The Decemberists, “July, July!” (2002)
  • thumb
    Nov 9 2013: There are different ways to think about pessimism. One is whether one tends to see "the cup half empty." This would be a feature of personality, with people being inherently disposed to it, or not. It is no more a "religion" than introversion is.

    Another use of the world pessimism is to reflect ones actual prediction of the future, whether things are getting better or worse, for example. One would come to a position on this question based on the facts at hand used for forecasting (I use the word "facts" loosely, because the information at hand may be incorrect or biased without the person's realizing), as well as ones disposition to shade things positively or negatively. If sources of facts have an incentive to skew them negatively, people will believe situations are more dire than they are. The media of many countries may skew information about other countries and their people negatively, as an example.

    Gallop's recent poll about pessimism and optimism does not support the claim that most people are pessimistic at this time. It varies widely by country. Here are their results: http://www.gallup.com/poll/163556/greeks-pessimistic-globally.aspx

    There is another angle as well, which I would consider hypothetical. That is, in many settings criticizing or disrespecting authority, regardless of what the people in positions of authority do or stand for, may yield status among peers, even when it is socially easier to criticize than to support. In these contexts arises what a colleague of mine calls a "culture of complaint." Sitting on the sidelines complaining is often the easiest posture.
  • thumb
    Nov 8 2013: THIS WAS A GOLDEN AGE, a time of high adventure, rich living, and hard dying ... but nobody thought so.
    This was a future of fortune and theft, pillage and rapine, culture and vice ... but nobody admitted it.
    This was an age of extremes, a fascinating century of freaks . . . but nobody loved it.
  • Nov 8 2013: First of all, I disagree with your initial premises. We have the ability to feed people at a higher standard, but the resources are badly distributed, so millions starve unnecessarily. And we don't maintain world peace, we maintain world tensions.

    But I'm not a pessimist. I believe that humanity can do better and there is a good chance that we will.

    But the use of religion here misstates the situation. Pessimism may be a distressingly common attitude, and for some a world view, but it isn't a religion. A religion requires a great deal more than a belief in something, and one can have a deeply held belief or faith without a religion.

    I also don't think that most people are pessimists, especially as you define the term, which I find a flawed definition.
  • thumb
    Nov 8 2013: Gerald,
    I do not observe "most people" holding onto the belief that humanity is doomed, and it certainly is not part of my belief system!

    What we focus on expands.....where attention goes, energy flows. In my humble perception, those who believe that humanity is doomed, are simply giving that idea energy.
  • Nov 8 2013: This is hardly a new phenomenon.
    You have everything from prophets to writers to politicians warning about coming disasters or even the end of times as far back as recorded history.

    You're just seeing the modern incarnation, is all. Its ever present.
  • Nov 25 2013: There is a difference between pessimism and realism. If the odds are equal for two possibilities and you choose to believe the more macabre possibility, that is pessimism. But if all the evidence is pointing to a single, horrible conclusion, it is logical to expect it.

    There is nothing pessimistic about the apocalypse from the Christian perspective. They want the end of the world to occur. Not only that, but they fervently wish it will occur during their lifetime.

    Also, vicarious redemption does not exist. The only person that can forgive you for your actions is the person that you wronged. If they are dead, you can never be forgiven.
    • thumb
      Nov 25 2013: What evidence do you find pointing to this horrible conclusion?
      You're right about the apocalypse. But if pessimism is the oppostive of optimism and if, like me, you define optimism as the idea that humans can solve probably every problem with time, then Christians are pessimists. They think little of our mortal aspiration to take fate into our own hands and believe in some kind of limit to human achievements. God is the one with the (Final) Solution.
      • Nov 26 2013: No I do not define optimism as you do. I defined pessimism as "If the odds are equal for two possibilities and you choose to believe the more macabre possibility", therefore it would only be logical to assume that my definition of optimism would be "If the odds are equal for two possibilities and you choose to believe the more appealing possibility".

        Think about it.
      • Nov 29 2013: 3 days ago: No I do not define optimism as you do. I defined pessimism as "If the odds are equal for two possibilities and you choose to believe the more macabre possibility", therefore it would only be logical to assume that my definition of optimism would be "If the odds are equal for two possibilities and you choose to believe the more appealing possibility".

        Think about it.
  • Nov 11 2013: Sometimes I think pessimism/cynicism is merely a way of coping with titanic ignorance and certain death.

    You are a fluke of the universe
    You have no right to be here
    And whether you can hear it or not
    The universe is laughing behind your back
    --Deteriorata, "Radio Dinner" The National Lampoon
  • Nov 11 2013: What is new? Pessimism can be found even in the speeches given in the Roman Senate. Probably there were some earlier than that.
    • thumb
      Nov 11 2013: Any Roman quotes? That'd be a fun read.
      Yes, pessimism seems to be a natural response to the unknowable. It's been taking the form of religion and I suppose it was foolish to expect it'd die with Judeo-Christianism.
      Pessimism is irrational and it's just sad that it's still prevailing in our modern age of, well, half-reason.
  • Nov 10 2013: "Against all odds, we can feed seven billion people living on higher standards than ever before, and maintain world peace between democracies." Do you believe the means justify the ends? We can take apart this earth but nobody seems to know how to put it back together.

    I am pessimistic because we got here on the miracle of cheap oil and the production of that peaked in 2005. Nothing is close to replacing it on the horizon.
    • thumb
      Nov 10 2013: Now that's pretty pessimistic indeed. Nothing on the horizon? At all?
      What about nuclear, solar, fusion?
      Or the swiss watches that use wrist motion?
      • Nov 12 2013: None are suited for transportation. First reinvent the battery than make those power sources competitive with conventional oil. No not on the horizon compared to speed at which we consume our best oil reserves.
  • thumb
    Nov 10 2013: i was always under the impression that pessimism means a dark view of the future. reading some posts here, without names, i'd like to add that apparently some people hold a dark view of the present as well. which is interesting, because the present is known. you can measure it. there should be no debate about what do we have. but there is, because facts don't bother a great many people. facts are just nuisances.
    • Nov 10 2013: Pessimisim is simply a dark interpretation of the world. The optimist says "The glass is half full." The pessimist says "The glass is half empty." The 21st century pessimist says "The glass is half full of poison that has been cunningly disguised as water by the conspiratorial forces of evil that actually run the world."
  • thumb
    Nov 10 2013: After 60+ years of post-war prosperity and relative peace, cynicism might be the new religion, but not pessimism.
    You could argue that "things have got worse" (inequality, poverty, never-ending smaller-scale wars & bloodshed, skewed distribution of post-war wealth), and the current trajectory points towards more-of-the-same.
    But there is also a slowly growing global community of people who had "had enough" and are taking initiative at their own local levels to improve things - despite hampering bureaucracies - and thereby realising 'community power'.
    Humanity is not doomed, though maybe certain geographical areas will bear disproportionate 'doom' as they are already doing, re starvation for example. If Fukushima melts down and triggers the other 3 reactors likewise, then you will get part of "a pessimists' dream come true".
    I'm an optimist because there is so much untapped human potential for self-empowerment on the local level, that once that gets going, the current "controllers" will have to capitulate their out-of-date militaristic divide-and-rule mind-sets. It's up to us to grow the 'greener grass' and make the current crop of Lords-and-Masters redundant.
    • thumb
      Nov 10 2013: "Fukushima melts down and triggers the other 3 reactors likewise"

      o_O

      let me guess you don't read about nuclear reactors in your spare time. you believe that some sort of black sorcery is going on there.
      • thumb
        Nov 10 2013: No, nuclear reactors not my forté; must have picked it off an unreliable source on the web somewhere.
        • thumb
          Nov 10 2013: okay, you don't have to believe me, but to be another source: basically the worst thing that can happen to a nuclear reactor is what happened in chernobyl. in that case, the containment as well as the ceiling of the building was blown away, exposing the core, so all gas/dust/smoke went immediately to the air. then the core entirely melt, and flowed through several floors of the reactor building, solidifying many days later. no defense remained effective, everything broke. thousands died, an entire city was evacuated, and the immediate surroundings are dangerous to date. but it did not cause nationwide, let alone global catastrophe.
  • Nov 9 2013: Gerald O'Brian,
    I just can't believe how bad things have gotten. Everything has turned to crap.
    It will get worse. Nothing can save us now. The end is just around the corner.
    Saying your prayers won't help you now. I know how bad it is, it's bad.
    Incoming !!!!!
  • thumb
    Nov 8 2013: Do you confuse pessimism with realism on purpose?
    • thumb
      Nov 8 2013: I don't expect pessimists to consider themselves other than realists. Nor do I expect the religious to consider themselves superstitious.
      • thumb
        Nov 8 2013: And this expectations are based on what and whom? And what could protect optimism from similar misperceptions? You?
        • thumb
          Nov 9 2013: This expectation is based on definition. Deluded people don't call themselves deluded, whether optmisists or pessimists.
          What you could do is deffend your pessimism (or realism) with arguments.
      • thumb
        Nov 9 2013: Who do you think calls themselves deluded? And are they right in doing so in that moment?

        By your definition I see no need to defend, as you already made your mind.
        • thumb
          Nov 9 2013: I was reacting to this : " Do you confuse pessimism with realism on purpose?"
          Which I find to be of no interest to this discussion unless you care to give motives for your opinions.
          I may have made my mind, but the fact that I've provided a few arguments gives people leverage to refute them and possibly change my opinion.
      • thumb
        Nov 9 2013: Change your opinion? What for? To get you real? To fill in the blanks you left open in your short list of arguments? Thats all observable if you so chose to.

        You have reasons why you deny the environmental fuck-up. Maybe due to a lack of imagination or due to dogmas of another 'religion' or because you delude yourself, or combinations of this and other reasons, yet whatever it is, it got you off sync with natures reality.

        Maybe any apocalypse finds its cheerleader and any sinking ship its band to play on even naturally, as some of us will always whistle in the dark.

        So why would I stop this if it helps you to cope with it?
        • thumb
          Nov 10 2013: So your kill argument to restrain from deffending your point is imagery from Titanic and more of that "Thou gavest them eyes but they cannot see" arrogance.
          You can do better than that.
      • thumb
        Nov 10 2013: Start with man-made climate change and compare the needs with what is really done or accomplished.
      • thumb
        Nov 11 2013: It's never to late to start this comparison.
        • thumb
          Nov 11 2013: So let's compare. Please give an instance of something that needs to be done and NEVER will.
      • thumb
        Nov 11 2013: So you don't have any idea yourself? Its 2013 and nothing comes on your mind on this? You as well can do better than that.

        In the given context it may help you to exchange NEVER with TO LATE, which makes for a complete different outcome for your comparison.

        Come on Gerald, its not that difficult, is it? Just take what we know is needed and compare this with what you see on the day to day basis on local as well as on international levels.

        And? Any spark of insight?
        • thumb
          Nov 11 2013: if you are not a politician already, you should be. the amount of hints and insults, empty rhetoric with absolutely zero actual arguments is mind boggling. it is a unique skill that should not be wasted on a forum. it deserves some higher use.
  • Nov 8 2013: perhaps we've had Faith in sooooooo many institutions over the years....sometimes blind faith. Perhaps Doubt is just he other side of the coin. We can have pessimism of the Future (which does not exist). We can have doubt in the institutions of the Present. Still, looking around at the Earth and it's Quality of Leadership or lack thereof, and one cannot help but wonder about our general trajectory as a society.
  • Nov 8 2013: N O