“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Philosopher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” Now that was rather pessimistic yes? Yet these bitterly resounding words are ascribed to a king who is known for his unparalleled economic advancement and growth, not to mention his prudence and capacity to judge matters wisely.
It is lovely and probably even essential to raise our head above the clouds but it’s also necessary to keep our feet on the ground. A light study of pessimism can be a grounding experience. It may also help us to better relate to those around us who subscribe to such views. We may discover that it can be useful under certain circumstances and may help to release the hot air of pretence that can keep one floating along in the clouds.
As a boy I worked on the Banana Slide at a travelling carnival in central Canada. My role was to keep people safe. At the beginning my job triggered much anxiety for me. The larger children would glide down the slide with greater speed in comparison to the smaller children, so it was important for me to regulate the number of users to avoid the probability of collision. But every now and again a bigger kid would come storming down with his tongue hanging out of his mouth a foot long due to the velocity of speed and come very close to crashing into another! Hell this percolated butterflies in my stomach the size of snails. Next to my ride was the candy cotton gal who noticed my anguish. She was able to empathise with me and offered a dose of pessimism that actually corrected my worrisome condition. Before she got boxed up in the hot and sticky candy booth, her duty was to the Banana Slide and could vividly recall the stressful encounters she had that were similar to mine. Her advice was to secretly wish for the children to hurt one another! There was no hint at actually creating the conditions for a higher chance of accident but a mindset to help offset the extreme disposition for keeping others secure and safe. In other words her council was not to give a frack about the things outside of one’s control. Indeed it was my responsibility to keep people safe to the best of my ability, not to obsess or torment myself about the probability and risks of things that can go wrong.
So if pessimism has the ability to bring about mental equilibrium, perhaps it would be to our advantage to become familiar with its tenets at the very least. Here’s another proverb of sorts that rings with pessimism that may serve to be an ideal note to end this post. “Common people are as worthless as a puff of wind, and the powerful are not what they appear to be. If you weigh them on the scales, together they are lighter than a breath of air.” What this king and author seems to be suggesting here is not to take ourselves too seriously and not to lose sight of the larger picture.
Click on the image above for an audio recording of Rust Cohle’s philosophy of pessimism from True Detective (2014). The purpose of this video is to help introduce and prime the viewer for a more thorough study of pessimism by Arthur Schopenhauer.