Contra Mozilla

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Optimism-Pessimism and Hope-Despair

Some people wonder about the seeming oxymoronic phrase "Hopefilled pessimist". This is because such people do not understand the distinction between hope and optimism or between despair and pessimism. Optimism and pessimism pertain to our outlook of things which are strictly in this word. The would-be progressive is aways optimistic about how the future will turn out, if not for himself than for society at large; the world is always progressing in a particular direction, and history has a right side and a wrong side to be on. The pessimist may or may not share this view of the progress and sidedness of history, or the ongoing march of social progress; he may or may not believe that history is, if not actually repeating in a cycle, then at least rhyming. He can read the signs of the times and sees something ominous.

Take, for example, the supposedly endless march of progress as concerns "gay rights." There are a number of pessimists such as myself who almost expect to end like this (I am/we are blindfolded here):

Some less pessimistic people suppose that it will stop somewhat short of this, or will do so in our lifetimes. Perhaps is will "only" be as bad as, say, Canada. I expect real religious liberties to be eroded (as much as I expect for the now-ironically named ACLU to lead the charge on that front), And on the other hand, there are some optimists on the other side who are looking forward to the day on which the result is more like this:

"The Deserter" by Boardman Robinson, n protest of the march of progress in 1916.

I gather this based, for example, on the kinds of comments which people are more-than-happy to post in public, including more than a few comments which are exchanged between supposed friends. The cause is greater than any mere friendship, apparently. So color me a pessimist. Better still, don't color me at all right now, since that's currently being used to celebrate the SCOTUS' decision in Obergefell. There's something about wearing rose-colored grassed which makes us incapable of seeing the difference between black and white.

But if I am a pessimist only, then I am lost. The pessimist can at least see black, but if he is a pessimist only, he may cease seeing white but only "less black," or possibly gray.

Hope is a virtue, a theological one which makes us look to something better in the next life. It is the reminder that there is something bigger than history, that while history is the sequence events taking place in time there is an eternity which is timeless. It is the reminder that there is a Providence which is God-ordained, and that, in the words of Joseph Pieper, history too will be judged. Blessed are those who mourn--if that mourning turns their eyes heavenward and reminds them that this vale of tears is not their final home; that it does not matter which side of history they are on when they die, but rather which side of eternity. Despair, then, is the loss (or lack, or negation) of hope. The mourning will receive no comfort if they turn to thoughts of vengeance.

I think I will close this brief reflection with a passage from Tolkien's Return of the King, since it grants comfort and a glimpse of hope:
"Far above the Ephel Duath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping above a cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, even his master's, ceased to trouble him."
It is when we have hope that we are able to set aside our worries for a time, knowing that they won't go away in this life, but also knowing that in the end, that they will be insignificant and "passing" things. However substantial they may seem in this life, they are but shadows which must fade to naught when the light of eternity pierces our vale.

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