Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Optimism

During a typically good discussion over at Amba's another commenter, (with whom I tend disagree with on almost literally everything) said something that got me thinking:
People don't like dilemmas very much. They would like to think our problems can be solved by spreading capitalism, by ending capitalism, by encouraging religion, by abolishing religion, by conquering nature, by returning to nature, etc.

We can't solve our problems once and for all; we can only stumble along in darkness and try our best. The results might not be pleasant for us in the short term, and we have to trust that God always has our best long-term interest in mind.
Aside from the last phrase, I agree 100%.

One downside of the 'information superhighway' is that people have become so accustomed to instaneously finding answers to any inquiry is that we now assume that these answers are easy. Complexity, beloved by me, is a vice. So simple, even simplistic solutions, are seen to be instrinsically better, and that just clearly isn't so. Almost nothing of consequence is 'simple'. We are left making the best decisions we can given the information available. However, that entails considering all of the information. So yes, the best we can do is muddle through "in darkness and try our best."

But even given that daunting task, I'm still optimistic. Maybe it's because in my personal life, events have tended to work out in the medium-to-long term as long as I took things piece by piece. Does this optimism imply a belief in some immeasurable force? Can Adam Smith's invisible hand explain any or all of it?

This leads inexorablly to a question, how can I have faith in acceptable outcomes without 'Faith'? One to think on, I suppose. Or perhaps not, as the examination seems more likely to damage my optimism than to give me a solution.

23 comments:

Icepick said...

I read another commenter, (with whom I tend disagree with on almost literally everything) and felt sure you were talking about me. I've got to check this other person out and see if they're just another avatar of me....

Icepick said...

Okay, RealPC is someone else's avatar, so I'm off the hook.

Regarding this comment of yours:

One downside of the 'information superhighway' is that people have become so accustomed to instaneously finding answers to any inquiry is that we now assume that these answers are easy.

Not me. I assume that the answers are very difficult, else the questions wouldn't really be questions. Answers can be simple, but Clausewitz understood that simple and easy are two different things entirely. (Sometimes those old dead dudes know what they (were once) talking about.)

[H]ow can I have faith in acceptable outcomes without 'Faith'? One to think on, I suppose. Or perhaps not, as the examination seems more likely to damage my optimism than to give me a solution.

Yes, best not examine this too closely. Remember Nietzsche's warning about staring into the abyss. The vast majority of humanity needs to have some sort of faith to get by, regardless of what, if any, gods they worship/believe in. The Universe is terrifying without it.

DJ Ninja said...

Doesn't seem that crazy to me to embrace optimism ("faith" in positive future outcomes) without "Faith", and I say this as a person of "Faith", more or less. Perhaps your "faith" is really just the end product of serial empirical observations--things have worked out well for you, and you anticipate that things will do so in the future. I might add that you should be so lucky, and that you sound like someone who is truly Blessed (capital 'B'), but we can agree on (and celebrate) your general good fortune without bringing the Big G into the picture.

And Icepick, your embrace of Nietzsche's condescending and short-sighted view of religion notwithstanding, you lump all "religions" together at your peril. To speak only from personal experience, my faith is more than just a theology, and even more than just a cosmology (although it is both of those things). It is not as if, equipped with a religious outlook, I can look out at the terrifying uncertainty of the world and think, "phew, now I don't need to sweat any of that difficult stuff!" In fact, I've always felt that one of Judaism's central contributions to my life is not to answer life's difficult questions with unrealistically simple answers, but instead to enable me to come to peace with those questions for which I will never find the answers. So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

mbomber said...

I need a cool nickname like "icepick" or "djninja", but I don't think I'm cool enough to qualify. Pooh, why make a distinction between having faith in some future outcome and having Faith? I don't understand the difference. I love that you have a post called "optimism". It is also interesting that you're reason for having faith in the longish term is that things have generally worked out in the past, so there is some reason to believe they were in the future. I thought that was your foundation for that faith, but then you ask if it should be attributed to something else, some other force, Adam Smith's fingers or something like that. Why do you think that question comes next in your mind?

Can't wait to see you next month!

DJ Ninja said...

I assure you I'm not even remotely cool.

Icepick said...

What do you mean, MBomber? You're in with a name like that. Just stick "The Evil" in front of it and you're set: "The Evil MBomber, what bombs at M." Or something like that.

DJ Ninja, I have no idea why you think I share all Nietzsche's views because I referrenced one quote from his writings. Really, settle down.

DJ Ninja said...

'pick--in all fairness, I only attributed to you the single Nietzschean view that you clearly stated in your comment. And I do, indeed, tend to get worked up about these things. But his premise is a doozie, no? I mean, the notion that people seek religion out of fear and weakness (rather than, say, as a consequence of their search for meaning or community) is unavoidably condescending. ("Short-sighted" is another matter; that's just my opinion.) Now, if you don't ascribe to Nietzsche's position on this issue, but were rather just relaying it, than I apologize for being presumptive. And if you do ascribe to it, I certainly don't hold it against you; some of my best friends are Nietzshceans. But surely it can't surprise you that so offensive a notion might offend!

Pooh said...

Bomber a few things,

First, the fact that things have worked out in the past troubles me as a rationale for things working out in the future - it represents something of a Gambler's Fallacy.

Second, as you know capital-F 'Faith' is a tough one for me, because I like tangible evidence of things (which, to a degree, is the antithesis of faith).

Icepick said...

Really, the only point I was trying to make is that the Universe is terrifying to the rational mind. (If you think it isn't, then you haven't been paying attention.) Contemplating its indifferent nature in comparison to one's individual position in said Universe is a sure way to go bonkers.

So I stand by my assertion of most people needing something to get them through the night. It's not dismissive at all, just an acknowledgement of what I feel is the basic human need to know that we have a place and a purpose in the Universe, regardless of any current difficulties. Finding that place of comfort is extremely difficult without some sort of belief system to fall back on, however.

And please note that my comments don't address any kind of morality, nor moral dilemmas.

But let's look at it a little differently. Most people DON'T come to hold religious beliefs after a search for meaning. Nor do they come to hold them out of fear. Most of us are born into a tradition, and pretty much stick with it. It suites peoples needs without them having to come to it. And those that go searching usually end up in another established tradition. (Those traditions do tend to evolve over time, but there's usually something recognizable about them over time. The Catholic Church has been the Catholic Church for ages, even though it has changed considerably over any given period.)

And don't worry about offending me. I certainly won't worry about offending you! If we worry too much about that, then the conversation will be dull, which is a fate worse than death. Plus, if I never offend anyone I'll never win Pooh's AHW award, which is my second highest priority in life.

cakreiz said...

And here I thought you meant me (kreiz on 'Done with Mirrors'- with the oversized use of the phrase "anti-American"). It's interesting how we size up fellow commenters. Ironically, I discovered your blog yesterday because of some of your thoughtful comments in a thread on Ezra Klein's blog.

But hey, at least my screen name is much less threatening than Icepick's (no offense, dude). That's heavy duty stuff.

cakreiz said...

And for what it's worth, RealPC is spot on with his observations of our distaste of dilemmas and complexities. It's why movies and tv shows wrap up so neatly- we want quick easy answers and we want them now.

Pooh said...

RealPC is spot on with his observations of our distaste of dilemmas and complexities. It's why movies and tv shows wrap up so neatly- we want quick easy answers and we want them now.

Oh, I agree. It's amusing that we start from the same spot and reach totally different conclusions though.

Thanks for stopping by, BTW kreiz.

Kaiser said...

Pick, can you expand on this?

"Really, the only point I was trying to make is that the Universe is terrifying to the rational mind. (If you think it isn't, then you haven't been paying attention.) Contemplating its indifferent nature in comparison to one's individual position in said Universe is a sure way to go bonkers."

In what way is it terrifying if the universe is, in fact, indifferent to us?

cakreiz said...

Pleasure to be here, Pooh. You'll have to refer me to some of your more political posts. I've read several of your comments other places but haven't seen any extended posts on your political views. Rather than speculate about where you stand, I'd rather read it straight from the horses' mouth. By the way, always assume good faith on this end.

Icepick said...

In what way is it terrifying if the universe is, in fact, indifferent to us?

Just because it's indifferent doesn't mean it won't kill you.

Imagine yourself sitting on a beautiful sunny beach. You're relaxing, having a cool beverage of your choice, enjoying life.

At somepoint you realize that when you weren't paying attention, the beach has become HUGE. Someone stole the ocean. While staring at this and trying to determine what exactly was in that last drink, you see something on the horizon. There is a wave several hundred feet tall coming right at you.

Of course, the wave isn't really coming at you, it is just a physical phenomenon headed to where you've planted yourself. The wave doesn't care about you, or know about you, or know anything for that matter. Nonetheless, it's going to kill you, just because you choose to vacation in Bermuda at the exact time that a volcano in the Canary Islands collapsed into the ocean.

And that is just one (admittedly unlikely) way the Universe can squash you like a bug. There's everything from the prosaic (car crashes, disease) to the outlandish (an asteroid lands on YOUR HOUSE while you sleep), but dead is dead. THAT is a terrifying indifference.

We like to think that our lives have meaning, but if we can be extinguished so haphazardly, with no consideration of our indiviual worth, is that truly the case?

That's the reality we have to cope with. That's the question we all need answered.

Icepick said...

Kreiz, the starting point for Pooh's politics is here. In summary, Pooh's just another leftie-commie-pinko scum -- but in a good way!

More seriously, just do a site search on 'NSA' or 'wiretapping' to get a good start on particulars.

But don't let him fool ya. He's much more interested in how well porn 'staches play hoops, and in discrediting Vince Young. The politics thing is all a smoke screen.

Icepick said...

Duh, I forgot the obvious. Site search on 'Bush'.

Pooh said...

'Pick, that's a little unfair, I don't rip on Bush that much here. Gonzalez and Yoo? Open season.

Kreiz on my to do list is to link to various posts from the sidebar headings. Probably happen this weekend once (if?) I get my taxes done.

I think the best description of me overall would be partisan left-leaning centrist. If that sounds oxymoronic, well it is...

cakreiz said...

For some reason, I didn't see the side menu until after I asked. Your self-description was in line with my hunch- left-center, a Dem centrist, but I wasn't sure. Despite impressions otherwise, I'm a center-right independent- libertarian on most social issues and an American optimist internationally.

reader_iam said...

Nice post, Pooh. I linked to it.

reader_iam said...

Interesting discussion in this comments section, too.

Icepick said...

Pooh, I wasn't saying that you bash Bush that much, it's just the obvious name to site-search for political posts. It won't guarantee 100% capture, but it's a good way to start.

Pooh said...

Oops. Yeah that makes sense.

There I go, hating Icepick first...