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April 30, 2010

On the dire necessity of optimism

By Allan Goldstein

Optimism is the missing ingredient in much progressive thinking. If we don't change that, we fail.


The world is beset. Earthquakes, oil spills, floods and fires, global broiling and killer fungi, the news gets worse and worse. Americans are turning against each other, Germany snarls at Greece, China buys everything and trusts nobody, Iceland chokes on gas from an unpronounceable volcano.

Maybe it's always been this bad, but now we have instantaneous global communication so the world can be miserable together, maybe we are in unprecedented crisis. I don't know.

But I do know this. We are living in an age of pessimism. And pessimism is the most destructive force of all.

There is something undeniably seductive about Cassandra. Hope seems idiotic, happy endings are for kids or adults with the emotional maturity of kids. Hope is a Disney movie and everybody knows Walt was a fascist.

To hear some so-called progressives say it, the only remnant of good left in humanity resides in a tiny fragment of some indigenous tribe, deep in the Amazon basin. And, between the twin forces of deforestation and climate change, the Xutils will be dead and gone before you get to the end of this sentence.

There is moral purity in condemnation, it sets one apart. We stand in the midst of an infinity of human corruption as the plaintiffs, calling out the accused, one by one. The pessimist is unsoiled by the crimes of our race. And they show no mercy. Just an endless litany of "j'accuse."

But of course, that's an illusion. You cannot set yourself apart. But you can be so pessimistic you virtually root for evil. You can Stockholm Syndrome yourself, make a fetish out of gloom and despair and embrace the foolish, selfish and downright evil aspects of mankind so tightly you cannot see any of its goodness.

But that's no way to live. Pessimism is life as jury duty.

One can argue, endlessly, about whether the glass is half empty or half full. But to the modern nihilists masquerading as progressives, there is no glass, there are only slivers and sand, it can't hold water at all. All that's left of society is broken shards, suitable only for cutting your feet and bleeding to death.

It is no wonder that the fundamentalists of every stripe are on the rise while the rest of cynical, disillusioned humanity is busy willing itself out of existence. They have something to believe in, however fanciful or ridiculous.

What do the religious zealots know that we don't? How is it that conservatives can be the enemy of the future and still convince so many that they are defending it?

They have pride. They have hope. They believe they can make a difference, they think what they say and do matters. And they're not wrong about that. Everything else, sure, but not that.

The future demands optimism. A progressive without optimism is like a doctor without medicine. Why bother? You cannot be a progressive and believe we are all doomed.

I mean, you can, there are political corpse-pickers who claim to be progressives, but what's the point? What are you asking people to vote for, believe in, support? If it's totally hopeless, what's your plan? Have you found the Mother Ship behind a comet? Is that what you propose? If we're all doomed, that will work as well as anything.

Optimism is so vitally important, so indispensable, you need to fake it, even if you don't have it. It is necessary in life, to have a reason to get up in the morning, and politics is just life in packs.

Progressive pessimism is an oxymoron. A progressive has a duty to the future; if he or she doesn't have that, he or she is just a whiny punk.

It takes optimism to have the guts to dare to make a difference in people's lives. An optimist risks being a fool. A pessimist is never fooled. As long as there are problems, the pessimist feels justified, and there are always problems.

But problems motivate the optimist. Our optimism imposes a duty upon us--do something. A pessimist has no such duty, he has only to heckle. It's a much easer job, being a pessimist. You can do it without getting off your ass.

But you can't be one and be a progressive. Optimism is the entry requirement for progressive thinking. If you can't manage it, you're not a progressive, no matter what your opinions are. You're a kibitzer, a heckler, a Cassandra, and you're no help to the rest of us at all.

Submitters Bio:
San Francisco based columnist, author, gym rat and novelist. My book, "The Confessions of a Catnip Junkie" is the best memoir ever written by a cat. Available on, or wherever fine literature is sold with no sales tax collected.

For those seeking more detail on yours truly, the following is from my website,, where you can partake copiously, and for free.

"Allan Goldstein lives in San Francisco with his wife, Jordan, and a minimum of two cats. His op-ed newspaper column,"Caught off Base," has appeared in San Francisco's West Portal Monthly for the past decade. Satire, invective and humor are specialties.

He also blogs regularly on and on under the pseudonym Snark Twain. Other work has appeared in Spitball, The Baseball Literary Review, The Potomac Review, and several magazines including Rock and Gem and Pilot's Preflight. He is currently at work on his third novel."