By Lotte Schuengel
A while ago this friend and I had this typical I-am-aware-of-events-because-I-read-headlines discussion that you’ll regularly overhear in dining hall when you’re not paying too much attention. The conversation shifted somewhere towards the oversaturated topic of climate change. I mentioned we would probably live to see multiple waves of mass extinction happen, to which my friend responded with: “oh my god don’t be so negative. Everything will be alright.”
I got up, kicked him off his chair and stood on his face. “Of course not, you idiot,” I said. It was quite a rough thing to do, but it was necessary. And I realized: a lot of people really are stupidly optimistic.
Believing things to eventually ‘be alright’ is hardly even optimism anymore, it’s indifference. It’s the kind of indifference that only exists because of a chronic lazy attitude that has been adopted through the myth of progress. When saying that everything will be alright, you’re not a source of positivity and inspiration. On the contrary, you are rather selfish, for when you fail to see yourself as a part of the problem, you’re likely to fail to see yourself as a part of the solution. More radically, one could argue an optimist to be nothing but a nihilist. If everything will be alright, there is nothing worth preserving, or even worse, nothing to cry about.
Optimism has intoxicated us while we weren’t paying attention. There is this obligatory and forced ‘upside’ to everything that news outlets and Facebook morons keep emphasising for no other purpose than to comfort an amputee with a new pair of shoes. As soon as you start looking for it, you’ll see it a lot more often. Be it the weather report after the news, be it vain condolences below a depressing UCU confession, or be it an article on an expert claiming that there is at least a 25% percent chance of a certain dictator not actually committing mass genocide. Artificial sunlight may lift your spirits for a while, but it can be equally blinding.
Here’s the deal: as long as the positive side of an outcome doesn’t weigh up to the negative side, which is generally the case since the term is most often used in context of catastrophe, you might as well want to disregard the positive side altogether. After all, if the benefit does outweigh the cost you’ll end up in negative. In conclusion, there is no rational reason to be optimistic in negative circumstances.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s perfectly okay to try and make the best of it. Hope can be one’s most valuable possession. But making the best of it can only truly happen successfully when admitting that there might be a chance that things will get worse and that the better is something to pursue actively, instead of waiting for it to never happen.