I am a hopeful pessimist. That’s not as self-contradictory as it may seem.
I’ll stipulate some definitions:
An optimist is a person who, in the absence of evidence to demonstrate it, believes a situation will improve. A pessimist is a person who, in the absence of evidence to demonstrate it, believes a situation will worsen. A hopeful person is one who, in the absence of evidence to demonstrate it, believes efforts to improve a situation are worthwhile. A hopeless person is one who, in the absence of evidence to demonstrate it, believes efforts to improve a situation are not worthwhile.
There are hopeless optimists. They believe that efforts to improve a situation are not worthwhile, but that nonetheless the situation will improve. Some libertarians, for instance those who believe in the “invisible hand,” appear to be hopeless optimists. They believe that efforts to improve the situation of impoverished people are not worthwhile, and are in fact destructive, because the only way to improve the situation of impoverished people is to do nothing – the situation will simply improve.
Hopeless pessimists believe that the situation will worsen and that our efforts to improve it are not worthwhile. Some hopeless pessimists believe our efforts are impotent against whatever force is making the situation worsen. Some believe our efforts will only make matters all the worse. A sort of extreme version of the hopeless pessimist believes that we are doomed, and that our efforts to avoid doom only make us more, or more quickly, doomed.
Not me. I’m a hopeful pessimist, on most matters. Ecologically, for instance, I believe we are doomed, but that our efforts to improve the ecological situation, even if they won’t make us less doomed, could make our doom less terrible than it might be. I am extremely pessimistic about California’s near future and the future of the CSU. Indeed, the CSU as it has been known may be doomed. But in this case, I am terribly hopeful (I mean hopeful in a terrible way), because I believe that the efforts of all of us who care about the CSU and about California matter a great deal, and are worthwhile because of the solidarity they create. That solidarity is valuable even if the CSU is doomed.
It’s a good philosophy. It keeps me energetic.