English novelist, journalist, and short story writer Will Self counsels his readership to remain negative, or at least pessimistic, which is how his mother would have wanted it. Self sees the worst events of our era—the Iraq War, the global financial crisis, persistent Middle East conflict—as the result of overly optimistic thinking. A collective cognitive dissonance, which allows us to believe that everything is fine and can only get better, leaves us politically inert and ill-equiped to deal with bumps in the road. When we do take action (which is rare), we refuse to allow for the possibility that some negative consequences may result.
What’s the Big Idea?
Self characterizes the criticisms of pessimism as follows: “The optimist…thinks that it is her willingness to entertain a better future that acts as a psychic midwife to its birth. How, the optimist argues, can you be bothered to struggle for a state of affairs that you regard as at best unlikely, and quite possibly altogether unattainable?” All that’s necessary, according to Self, “is to expect the worst but live hopefully, if by ‘living hopefully’ is meant to invest the present in the raiment of all the idealism any of us could wish for—to practise, in the telling phrase of Basho, the Japanese Zen poet, ‘random acts of senseless generosity’.”