Sunday, March 13, 2005


Glass Half Empty?

Then you should really consider filling it back up. Never know when you might need a drink.

I myself am a recovering pessimist. I have only recognized my own need for "recovery" because there is something about the pessimism I've seen in others that has been increasingly off-putting of late. There has been something about the pessimist - exactly what I have not quite been able to articulate - but something nonetheless apparent and sufficiently hideous that has brought about a desire for me to purge all traces of it from my being.

Then in re-reading the indispensable Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, the problem with the pessimist was revealed. Chesterton compares the pessimist to the "candid friend". And goes on to say that the problem with the candid friend is that he is not candid at all. He's holding something back and takes a dreary sort of pleasure in pointing out unpleasant things. Chesterton describes it as "a secret desire to hurt, not merely to help."

My issue here is with those folks who offer plenty of critique and nothing by way of recommendation. Zero proactive effort is taken to remedy the problem (as they see it) and no ideas are offered as an alternate solution. Of course, countless examples of this scenario abound, whether it be at home, work, church, etc.

In particular, I am irritated by the "anti-American American" types. Sometimes known as the "Blame America First" crowd (Ward Churchill and his inane philosophy is as good an example as any recently), they fancy themselves blessed with such extraordinary intellect that they can see what the rest of us mere mortals cannot. Specifically, that America is the great source of evil in the world. While they may not endorse the methods employed by Osama bin Laden, they can certainly empathize with his mindset.

Setting aside the fact that such a worldview is so completely devoid of any sort of grounding in reality, these people have a bigger problem. They live here. The vast majority have even reaped the benefits of living in the most prosperous and generous nation on earth.

Contrary to what their actions and remarks might suggest, they are not aliens dropped onto this planet solely for purposes of observation and vilification. No, the world and indeed the country they so denigrate is their own. Devoid of any sense of loyalty or patriotism, their faux indignation merely provides a convenient forum in which to display their worldly sophistication and intellectual superiority. Most assuredly, there is no love of country or genuine concern for fellow man dwelling at the heart of their disparaging repertoire of grievances. (Update: Look here for an example of those rooting against America - in their own words.)

Chesterton concludes, "The evil of the pessimist is, then, not that he chastises gods and men, but that he does not love what he chastises - he has not this primary and supernatural loyalty to things."

Chesterton wrote those words nearly 100 years ago and yet they are as relevant and insightful today as ever. There is something of an eternal nature to The Truth, in that it has a way of transcending time and place to shed light on a darkened world.

John 8:32: You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

"Darkened world?" Isn't that pessimistic you ask? No, just realistic. The question is do you have enough love for this place in which we live to try to change it? If not, you've become a pessimist of the worst sort.

UPDATE: Jeremy Pierce offers some ancillary remarks on this post. It is well worth reading as a necessary dissection of my thoughts. He makes a good point in a comment below as well that some people are gifted with the ability to discern the need for change:

"The other thing I'm really good at is finding flaws in people's arguments and objections to their views. I can't for the life of me construct my own views to replace those with, but the kind of philosophical thinking that I'm very good at is still important and needs to be done."

I agree that it is absolutely essential to have people with this ability. Without this sort of constructive criticism, positive change will never take place because it would not be diagnosed in the first place. To me, it is really all about the underlying intentions of the person making the criticism.

One thing you have to keep in mind is that different people have different strengths, including intellectual strengths. I see this in philosophy a lot. Some people are excellent at putting together a whole system of thought. I marvel at Leibniz or Aquinas because I'm just not like that. I'm a detail person, and what I'm really good at involves little more than two things.

One is understanding other views and being able to order and organize them, putting them more succinctly, comparing them with each other, and presenting them in simpler terms to people not as familiar with the issues.

The other thing I'm really good at is finding flaws in people's arguments and objections to their views. I can't for the life of me construct my own views to replace those with, but the kind of philosophical thinking that I'm very good at is still important and needs to be done. I find that with things that are less philosophical my strengths lie in similar paths, and that's what my blog turns out to reflect. Is that illegitimate simply because God has gifted me in certain ways?

I say all this while believing that we need to be optimistic about what the Bible says our hope is in while being realistic about the sad state of the fall and accurately stating how bad off things are without Christ. Christians often forget the message of hope in trying to be real, but realism involves both optimism and pessimism about things God has a positive or negative attitude toward. I think there's a place for both.

What I wanted to offer as a supplement to your post is that sometimes one person may be particularly gifted just in the one and not the other, and I'd want to be careful about criticizing someone for being negative without putting it in its context.
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