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A Pessimist Writes #2450

As a pessimist, I am often asked: when will things look up and can I do something to make life better? To a professional pessimist like myself, the answers to these questions are comparatively straightforward: probably never and no you are utterly powerless to do anything. So far so clear.

However, that is by no means the end of the story, since pessimism [sometimes tied to, but not to be confused with, fatalism] presents a clear opportunity for sufferers to abnegate all sense of responsibility for events, interventions and outcomes: since I can do nothing to change things and they will, therefore, be as bad as they will be, it's neither my responsibility, my fault nor my business. The world is as it is [ie not good] and I am merely here to suffer and experience it. [NB close as this may be to the fatalist position, it should not be thought to engage in any shape or form with providentialism - a dangerous ally of optimism which implies there is a plan after all and things might turn out alright in the end.] Perish the thought.

To the long-haul pessimist, the overall dangers in this abnegative frame of mind - readily apparent to anyone with a well-developed pessimistic streak - is that it can lead [inadvertantly] not to relief or even mild euphoria [that would be ridiculous], but to a temporary feeling of powerless well-being. Unhappily - or rather happily for the dedicated pessimist - this feeling soon passes as the realisation dawns that responsibility for the state of things might lie, if not with us, then with other people over whom we have no control: a thought as depressing as it is alarming. Acceptance of this unsettling possibility soon reinstates the familiar feelings of the pessimism which initiated the whole cycle: leaving us in a well-charted [and to some not unwelcome] territory: a state of mild depression. With the pessimism-powerlessness-pessimism cycle restored, we can get on with not looking forward to the inevitable troubles, tribulations and adverse developments of the day which will come "not as single spies but in battalions" - a pessimistic thought robust enough to keep even the most fragile pessimist unhappy.

As a pessimist, I like to end every consultation with a dispiriting joke or bon mot, so here goes: "Did you hear the one about the masochist who liked a cold shower in the morning? So he always took a hot one." Boom-boom!

NEXT WEEK: Karma: Does what goes around come around and what if it's trapped wind?

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