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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A cynic and an optimist

In a post on EconLog titled "The Cynical Optimist," Bryan Caplan tells us how it is possible to be both a cynic and an optimist:
I think of cynicism as the view that the average quality of human beings and the world is a lot lower than it could and ought to be. Professors should be passionate about answering the Big Questions of their fields, but most of them are boring careerists. Movies and tv ought to be creative and thoughtful, but most of it is derivative claptrap. And so on.

So how can I think this and remain an optimist? Because optimism, as I practice it anyway, is an attitude and a strategy, not a description of the world. As an optimist, I try not to dwell on boring careerists and derivative claptrap. Instead, I seek out the exceptions to the rule and appreciate what I find. Just because the average is low doesn't mean that you can't personally consume high quality. And even when the quality I consume is far from ideal, I try to mentally change the subject to another dimension where I have blessings to count. [Emphasis in the original.]
In other words, your view of the world could be cynical and your approach towards it could be optimistic. No contradiction there.

Also read: Robin Hanson's essay, "The Cynic's Conundrum." (Link via EconLog.)
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