I've just finished Errol Morris's outstanding meditation--or is it Robert McNamara's disturbing meditation?--The Fog of War, which, over at The New York Observer, Ron Rosenbaum calls "...a classic of informed, foundational, epistemological pessimism." (More on Morris's documentary later.)
Rosenbaum decries our supposed "progress," but hastens to add,
Pessimism, it should be noted, doesn’t mean not trying to stop genocides: pessimism means genocides are unlikely to stop. Pessimism doesn’t mean passive-ism or pacifism; it can mean the opposite. It can mean the kind of preventive intervention in genocidal situations that comes from expecting the worst, not hoping for the best. Pessimism at its best is watchful skepticism.
It reminds me of Popper's distinction between utopianism and "tinkering" improvement in The Open Society. The former fails because of its historicist (and non-empirical) optimism; the latter may succeed because of its unrelenting lack of faith in the inevitability of progress.
Rosenbaum closes his comments on pessimism by referring to the videotaped beheading of Nick Berg (which I choose not to link to), which he claims is evidence of the double-edged sword of "progress."
But in some ways, I think I’ve resisted watching the beheading because to watch would be to lose the last shreds of optimism left in this pessimist’s soul. Pessimists don’t like being pessimists. We don’t need any more evidence for our point of view. We’ve got enough reasons to curse the darkness to last a lifetime.
Okay, back to vacationeering. The sun's out--and I'm too cheery, and too optimistic, to think like a pessimist for now.