Pessimists and Optimists

We are to regard existence as a raid or great adventure; it is to be judged, therefore, not by what calamities it encounters, but by what flag it follows and what high town it assaults. The most dangerous thing in the world is to be alive; one is always in danger of one’s life. But anyone who shrinks from that is a traitor to the great scheme and experiment of being.

GK Chesterton

“The most dangerous thing in the world is to be alive; one is always in danger of one’s life.”




Pessimists are of two types, the catastrophists, that is to say the types who look up in the starry heavens and see (metaphorically) only asteroids in the sky racing towards us to wipe us out as the dinosaurs were wiped out; and existential pessimists, that is to say those who see dissatisfaction as the permanent condition of mankind because of his inherent makeup, his contradictory desires and emotions, dissatisfaction that is perfectly compatible however with a great deal of enjoyment of life. I am a pessimist of the latter kind.

The former kind of pessimist [catastrophists], those who foresee inevitable universal collapse, destruction, death by epidemic, and so forth, have no sense of humor, or at least of irony. For them, the furrowed brow and the shoulder weighed down by care are signs of intellectual and moral seriousness, the sine qua non genuine concern for humanity and (God preserve us) the planet. Like catastrophe itself, they are not much fun.

The existential pessimist is light-hearted, for he knows that human life is not perfectible, and can therefore enjoy what it has to offer without any sense of guilt that he is not spending his every waking hour averting disaster or bringing perfection about. He does not deny that many diseases currently incurable will one day change their status and that this is a good thing, for taken in the round more life is better than less; but neither does he expect that, when formerly incurable diseases have become curable, human complaint and dissatisfaction will become things of the past. Golden ages in the future are just as mythical as golden ages in the past (except, perhaps, in isolated fields, as exemplified in Dutch painting).

As for radical optimists, they are as insufferable as the catastrophist pessimists. America has produced perhaps more of them than anywhere else: which is why, perhaps, its best literature is so overwhelmingly tragic in tone.

Paul Ehrlich’s False Gospel




Our civilisation has decided, and very justly decided, that determining the guilt or innocence of men is a thing too important to be trusted to trained men. It wishes for light upon that awful matter, it asks men who know no more law than I know, but who can feel the things that I felt in the jury box. When it wants a library catalogued, or the solar system discovered, or any trifle of that kind, it uses up specialists. But when it wishes anything done which is really serious, it collects twelve of the ordinary men standing round. The same thing was done, if I remember right, by the Founder of Christianity.

GK Chesterton


Unfortunately, it seems that the future Aldous Huxley predicted in 1932, in Brave New World, is arriving early. Mockery, truculence, and minimalist living are best, then enjoy the decline. However, we do need a Revolving Door Tax (RDT) and to prosecute politicians and staff and their “family and friends” who profit from insider trading.

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