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Posts Tagged ‘optimism

“Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable”*…

 

By the end of last year, anyone who had been paying even passing attention to the news headlines was highly likely to conclude that everything was terrible, and that the only attitude that made sense was one of profound pessimism – tempered, perhaps, by cynical humour, on the principle that if the world is going to hell in a handbasket, one may as well try to enjoy the ride…  Yet one group of increasingly prominent commentators has seemed uniquely immune to the gloom…

The loose but growing collection of pundits, academics and thinktank operatives who endorse this stubbornly cheerful, handbasket-free account of our situation have occasionally been labelled “the New Optimists”, a name intended to evoke the rebellious scepticism of the New Atheists led by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris. And from their perspective, our prevailing mood of despair is irrational, and frankly a bit self-indulgent. They argue that it says more about us than it does about how things really are – illustrating a certain tendency toward collective self-flagellation, and an unwillingness to believe in the power of human ingenuity. And that it is best explained as the result of various psychological biases that served a purpose on the prehistoric savannah – but now, in a media-saturated era, constantly mislead us…

Don’t worry, be happy? “Is the world really better than ever?

* Voltaire

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As we cultivate our gardens, we might send well-watered birthday greeting to Monkombu Sambisivan Swaminathan; he was born on this date in 1925.  A geneticist and international administrator, he is known as the “Indian Father of Green Revolution” for his leadership and success in introducing and further developing high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat in India.  Swaminathan, based these days at he MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, is an advocate of moving India to sustainable development, especially using environmentally-sustainable agriculture, sustainable food security, and the preservation of biodiversity– which he calls an “evergreen revolution.”

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Written by LW

August 7, 2017 at 1:01 am

If we do not meet with agreeable things, we shall at least meet with something new…

Optimism is the madness of maintaining that everything is right when it’s wrong.
– Voltaire, Candide, Chapter XIX

Just over 250 years ago, a short volume by Voltaire– Candide, ou l’Optimisme— was making the underground rounds.  Within a month of its publication in January of 1759, the Grand Council of Geneva and the administrators of Paris had banned Candide; still, it sold twenty thousand to thirty thousand copies by the end of the year in over twenty editions, a clear best-seller by the standards of the time.  In 1762, Candide joined Giordano Bruno’s works on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.  (Indeed, though its authorship was a badly-kept secret, Candide was, as can be noted above, ostensibly written by “Doctor Ralph’; Voltaire only admitted his paternity in 1768.)

Now, through April, readers can revel both in Voltaire’s sardonic indictment of optimism (and poor Gottfried Liebniz) and in the stories that surround it:  The New York Public Library is hosting “Candide at 250: Scandal and Success”– an exhibit (at the Schwartzman Building Gallery) and a wonderful on-line experience.

Then, “let us cultivate our garden.”

As we discipline our inner Pangloss, we might recall that it was on this date in 1886 that Karl Friedrich Benz patented the Benz Patent Motorwagon– the first “automobile” entirely designed to generate its own power (via a water-cooled gasoline engine)… that’s to say, not simply a motorized stage coach or horse carriage.

The Benz Patent Motorwagon

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