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In defense of political pessimism


At the blog of Salvage magazine, editor-in-chief Rosie Warren argues for the intellectual and political uses of pessimism in the face of climate disaster, economic decay, and a rightwing upsurge. An excerpt:

Two iterations of pessimism are commonly conflated. One is a pessimistic lens through which one looks at the world; the other is the result of what one sees when one looks. These are not coterminous, though they may be co-constitutive.

The first might, in a better context, be termed (critical) realism. But when ‘don’t demoralise the class’ is a common reprimand within activist circles, a more explicit statement of position is necessary. To reclaim something called ‘pessimism’ against such nonsense is to assert that the belief that optimism, in the face of repeated defeat and the scale of the task we face, is in any way motivational or appropriate for those trying to change the world, is delusional.

What one sees reflected back from the world, for analysis, is another thing altogether. The question is, is the situation one about which one can be hopeful? This can’t be an a priori attitude nor affect, but the result of an assessment. We should not confuse the attitude one has and the analysis of the state things are in, though of course each affects the other.

Image via Salvage.