Thursday, September 7, 2023

#250 / Pessimistic Optimism

Chauncey DeVega, writing in Salon, has been speculating about what happens next in the "Trumpocene," as he denominates our current political reality. I enjoyed his article, and think that it is probably available to everyone, no paywalls preventing access, if you click the link I am providing. The article is headlined: "Don't count Trump out: He could still win in 2024 — or destroy the GOP."

I think that the headline does, properly, assess where we are, politically. What made the biggest impression on me, however, as I read DeVega's article, was his description of his personal relationship to the realities he sees, as he examines our current "Trumpocene" political world: 

As I navigate the latter stages of the Trumpocene era, I continue to be guided by the principles of "pessimistic optimism." I will not fully surrender to pessimism because there may be no recovery from that state of learned helplessness. Likewise, I will not fully embrace optimism because to do so in such dangerous times would be naive and foolish. The hope-peddlers in the mainstream media can push those fictions; most of them are privileged enough that they will never face the consequences of being wrong.

"Pessimistic optimism" does seem about right, in thinking about our current politics, but here's the big takeaway for me, in what DeVega has written above. The following phrase, I think, characterizing the "pessimism" we often feel, contains an important truth: 

Learned Helplessness

That rings true to me as exactly the way we should understand our impulses to "pessimism." Those pessimistic feelings of helplessness we all too often encounter in ourselves are "learned." 

We confront adversities of all kinds as we contemplate the world in which we find ourselves, and it is a great temptation to decide that all the adversities we face are "determinative," and that they reveal to us the true "reality" of the world in which we live. Based on a deep-seated belief that what now exists is a definition of what must exist, we conclude that we are "doomed," to use a word that is definitely getting a lot of play as the correct way to designate our situation. 

Well, the truth is that everything that exists in our human, political "reality" is a human creation, and what we have done (and created) is not in the nature of "inevitability." Within the "Political World" we most immediately inhabit - and we need continually to remind ourselves of this - anything is possible. That is true because each and every one of us can do something new, and unexpected, something never thought of or undertaken before, and those things, when we actually do them, change the reality that we have come to assume is a given, "inevitable."

To succumb to "doom," to "determinism," to "pessimism," is to display a "learned helplessness." DeVega is right on target in making that observation.

If you are feeling "helpless," as you confront the unacceptable reality in which we live, it is time to do a little "reeducation!" That's best done, by the way, by our individual participation in "small group" efforts.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment!