Thursday, March 28, 2013

When Stunted Logic Loses the Plot



Recently the New York Times published an article by Roger Scruton entitled “When Hope Tramples Truth” in which he argued for the benefits to society of pessimism, saying that optimism is blind and ignores reality whereas pessimism deals with facts. 

He attributes the rise of Hitler, the Bolsheviks, World War II, the Arab Spring, the troubles in Syria to unfettered optimism. If only people had been a little more pessimistic, the grand social disasters would never have happened and nobody would ever get into trouble. I’m paraphrasing, and saving the best for last. The fight for Gay marriage. 

Scruton allows that Gay marriage is a good thing and should be accepted in society, but then says that the people who promote it have called those opposing it intolerant, homophobic and bigoted. He allows that they’re probably right, then adds that it doesn’t matter because the important thing is that for the optimists, hope is more important than truth. Puzzling logic.

People who sincerely seek out truth, says Scruton, seek out those who don’t agree with them so they can get all the facts. Pessimists do that. Optimists, blind foolish creatures that they are, only want to talk to people who agree with them. Because they don’t care about the truth.

Well that's a rabid generalisation if ever there was one. I couldn’t believe my eyes to see such a ridiculous article published in the New York Times. I can’t imagine why Scruton chose Gay marriage as an example, because the fight for it is about human rights, it's got nothing to do with optimism or pessimism. The same with the Arab Spring, which is about people finally gaining enough courage to fight for their rights. Anybody who opposes a person's rights isn't a pessimist, they're a bigot. And that isn’t pessimism, it’s truth.

Pessimism is responsible for all suicides - people can't see that there might be a better solution - and optimism underpins all the great things that have happened in society. Nelson Mandela was optimistic. So is Barack Obama. So was Ghandi. So was Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, any Nobel Peace Laureate. Elvis Presley, The Beatles, J.K. Rowling.  

Pessimism is absence of vision. It's about condeming oneself or another person, society, or the whole human race to never moving forward. Hope and optimism are about understanding that there is that within us which can transcend our own bondage to what holds us back.

Certainly if we try we can fail and we do, but that's not because our hope or optimism was unfounded, it's because nobody can realize what all the obstacles are until they engage. People with hope and optimism keep trying and eventually succeed or lay the groundwork for those who follow. Which is success in and of itself.

Roger Scruton could do with a class or two in logic and basic psychology and the New York Times editorial staff, clearly out to lunch, should please come back.