On 4 September 2008, as the final academic year of my academic life was barely under way, I wrote an essay for this space bearing the same title as the current essay. It’s pasted below, verbatim, after a few contemporary words provide an update and context. I’ve added a song, too, immediately above the essay from 2008.
Nietzsche and Schopenhauer remain high on the list among my favorite doomers. The list is lacking living people. Perhaps dead heroes are the best kind, as the saying goes.
Schopenhauer was famous for his critique of Kant’s drivel. Apparently I agree with Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer also was among the first philosophers to contend the universe is irrational at its core. I suppose my agreement on that point depends upon the definition and demonstration of irrational.
Schopenhauer’s collection of essays in Studies in Pessimism remain among his most-quoted works. I include a couple relevant quotes below. They appear quite timely, and therefore timeless.
“The greatest wisdom is to make the enjoyment of the present the supreme object of life; because that is the only reality, all else being merely the play of thought. On the other hand, such a course might just as well be called the greatest folly: for that which in the next moment exists no more, and vanishes utterly, like a dream, can never be worth a serious effort.”
“A man never is happy, but spends his whole life in striving after something which he thinks will make him so; he seldom attains his goal, and when he does, it is only to be disappointed; he is mostly shipwrecked in the end, and comes into harbor with mast and rigging gone. And then, it is all one whether he has been happy or miserable; for his life was never anything more than a present moment always vanishing; and now it is over.”
I admit I’m a doomer. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. To be a doomer is to recognize the tragedy of the human experience.
History provides some excellent company. Nietzsche and Schopenhauer are among my favorites. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those hopelessly optimistic writers and thinkers who don their rose-colored-glasses and conclude we can always find a way to advance civilization: Lester Brown, Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and many, many others in positions of power.
Of course, power doesn’t come to those who deal in reality (e.g., Nietzsche, Schopenhauer). Not only does no good deed go unpunished, but no bad act is unrewarded. Consider this anecdote from renowned ecologist and AAAS Fellow Charles Hall, a professor at the State University of New York:
Hall has worked on ecological issues his entire career, and has been rewarded in the usual sense. He has received grant funds totaling millions of dollars and has published hundreds of papers. At the same time, he has spent his spare time working on energy issues, and has published more than 200 papers in this arena. But he has landed a total of $800 in grant funds to work on these issues, and he is perhaps the only person to be denied tenure from an Ivy-League university the very week one of his papers landed on the cover of Science (the paper was titled, Energy and the U.S. Economy: A Biophysical Perspective).
Obviously, Hall is not the only person who has been marginalized for his work on important issues. But his is a telling contemporary example of the type of infamy M. King Hubbert earned in his day, and a reminder how Cassandras (i.e., realists) are treated in any empire (at least as far back as Socrates).
Optimists, however foolish, earn external rewards. Realists are not so fortunate. On the other hand, realists get to deal in reality, and therefore face with honor the toughest judge: the mirror.
Yes, I’m a doomer. And damned proud of the company I keep, too.
I’m quoted in this week’s Chico News & Review. Catch it here.
Apparently I survived the cutting-room floor for a hit piece on me, courtesy of the unlikely duo of Rupert Murdoch and Bill Nye. Deniers of abrupt climate change rejoice! I’ll be featured in a televised episode of National Geographic on 1 November 2015. Footage includes Bill Nye at the mud hut. Details can be found here. Commercial for the show is a click away.