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A public conversation about our worlds.

  • Monday: Morgan J. Locke
  • Tuesday: Madeleine E. Robins
  • Wednesday: Maureen F. McHugh
  • Thursday: Bradley Denton
  • Friday: Steven Gould
  • Saturday: Caroline Spector
  • Sunday: Rory Harper

Brain Activity



Pessimism – Part Two

April 14th, 2008 by Rory Harper

Is the glass half-full or half-empty?

It’s half-empty.

And there seems to be a crack hidden in its base that’s sucking the remaining liquid from it as I watch.

You’re a smart, reality-based person, or you wouldn’t be reading this. So you have the same problem that I do – which is that all the research indicates that pessimists have a firmer grasp on so-called reality than do optimists. It really is as bad as we think it is, and it’s going to get exponentially worse. That’s the fact, Jack.

So — Would you rather be delusionally happy, or would you rather be right? Yeah, me too.

I don’t know how I got to be such a pessimist. Oh, sure – George Bush. As with the rest of us. But my world darkened long before his evil shadow spread beyond Texas.

Perhaps it started the day I realized that I’d probably never be an astronaut, which was my secret ambition when I was 12. Worse, being an astronaut became less cool than it should have been. NASA screwed the pooch when they didn’t make Chuck Yeager an astronaut. Dammit, he should have been the King of the Astronauts. If Yeager couldn’t be the poster boy for space exploration, the world was a dismal place.

I also stayed in a marriage that made Satan laugh, for about twenty years longer than I should have. If I’d been smarter, I’d have just stolen some eggs and created Rachael in a castle tower hidden in the Carpathians.

Pessimists generally blame themselves when things go badly. If I’d been a better, smarter, more disciplined person, the world as we know it would be much improved. If only I could have persevered and built my time machine and gone back and strangled all those bastards in their cradles! You know the ones I’m talking about, the ones who’ve wrecked it for everybody else. It would have kept me busy and happy and productive for a dozen years. And my allergies would trouble me much less today, too.

The weight gain might have been inevitable, though I suspect I could have avoided it if I was a better person. It was a mistake to move to College Station, because it’s completely full of Thems, and has almost no Uses. And what’s with all that white hair? Especially in my ears?

Here are the two cognitive mistakes that I constantly make, which trigger my worst bouts of pessimism:

  1. I can’t tell the difference between events that I can affect in some way, versus those that will crush me no matter what I do. It all feels the same, and this completely immobilizes me on occasion, because there’s ALL THAT BAD STUFF that’s unmanageable.

  1. I focus on the wrong time periods. I experience negative emotional and cognitive internals because I frequently dwell upon the mistakes I’ve made in the past, and fear what’s going to happen in both the near future and the much farther-along End of It All.

Swirl these two bad mental habits together, and it’s tough to even keep looking at the glass. Stephen Petranek’s sorrowful TED presentation makes for a perfect example of the combination punches that can be created with this mix. I just want to crawl off and hide in a culvert somewhere, hoping to avoid the worst. Of course, it’ll rain then, and the culvert will quickly become more than half full.

So, I’m going to try to make some changes. I’m going to focus on issues where I have some chance of at least optimizing my outcomes in an uncontrollable environment. And I’m going to try to stay in the present mostly, and then plan for the intermediate future, right beyond all the terrifying near-term future events that I’ll struggle to survive.

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The awful reality is that my present situation isn’t all that bad. I’m fairly healthy, though the cancers and heart attacks are coming. I did refuse to let my former urologist do that unnecessary operation that would have bought him a new BMW, and me a new diaper collection, though I’m sure that day will arrive. I do really, really enjoy riding my Shadow 750 in the bright spring air, though there is a cell-phone-wielding homicidal soccer mom waiting just around the next corner in her black SUV. I have a job that pays me more than I’m worth, though the coming recession will make the 1930s look like Bill Gates’s birthday party.

Even better, we’re on the immediate verge of getting rid of GWB and many of his thug-buddies. Though — well…. *sigh*…. there’s apparently some clause in the Constitution that prevents us from getting rid of all of the politicians while we’re at it. Damn.

So. The Now Time is okay. And I probably can’t prevent stuff like the heat death of the universe from happening, much as I might wish to.

It’s the middle-distance future that I can spend more productive non-pessimistic time contemplating, and perhaps even fake some genuine optimism for. Here’s the plan that Rachael and Jesse and I have worked out. I like it a lot:

If all goes well, I get to retire on a shrunken, but manageable retirement income in about seven years. Yes, I’m that old. Weirdly, I’m looking forward to being seven years older, as soon as possible.

As you know, we’d previously thought about emigrating to New Zealand and working on a coup from within, after which Rachael would become the Empress. She’d invade Australia as the first step in our march to world hegemony. We figured that, since it’s so far away, and there’s no oil down there, none of the other countries would notice what was happening until we’d gone nuclear and it was too late to stop us.

That plan probably would have worked out fine, but it mutated after Rachael became Asatru and I allowed her to become betrothed to Jesse, who is also Asatru.

Rachael will go to school long enough to get her Masters degree in Nursing. This will make her an incredibly desirable immigrant to every country on the planet. Jesse will get a degree in Construction Management, which will also make him a wanted citizen. I’ll be ready to retire about the time they finish school. Asatru is a formally recognized religion in the Scandinavian countries. They’ll move to Denmark, and get a place with a shed out in the back for me to live in.

As you may know, the Scandinavian countries are among the most enlightened on the planet, with correspondingly happy, optimistic populations. It will be good for me to hang out with these types of people.

My retirement income should help a little with expenses. It’s true that the contract we’ve signed doesn’t have a No Dogfood For Rory clause, as I’d originally thought it did, but we’ve changed the plans for her marriage to Jesse so that he doesn’t have to pay me a large herd of cows at the ceremony, as was originally envisioned. Now, I get to eat the herd one steak at a time, with Jesse doing all the cooking. Therefore, ipso facto, no dogfood in my future.

I’ll take my motorcycle with me, or buy a new one once I’ve settled in, and cruise Europe when the weather permits. I’m especially looking forward to hitting Ibiza, the Greek Isles, and all of Italy. France for the food, of course, and England because that’s where Eric Clapton is from.

Most importantly, Iceland is only a ferry ride away from Copenhagen. As you know, Iceland is home to the best raves of all, and has the highest per capita percentage of hot babes on the planet.

There is the ‘Ten Year Rule’ to be respected, however. I’ve promised Rachael to not become Really Close Friends with any female within ten years of her age because it would creep her out too badly. I’ve only recently realized that when she turns thirty-one, this opens up a whole new world of twenty-year-old hot Icelandic rave babes for me.

Many of them are Asatru, and will revel in the company of a man who looks much like Odin, as well as additionally riding a motorcycle that throbs and rumbles with manly power.

 

Rachael and Jesse plan to have at least six children, maybe more if they’re still having fun. I’ll be allowed to occasionally come into the big house to help raise the little ones, and teach them how and why to play the blues. They’ll be raised Asatru, in a country where they’re most likely to meet other Asatru.

Asatru = Vikings, incidentally, in case you haven’t read my link to it. This will become important later on.

I encourage our entire readership to migrate to Europe with us. Some of you can even live in the clan halls, of which Jesse will be fully qualified to supervise the building.

Brad and Barb will probably end up in Prague, since Czechoslovakia is the ancestral land that he’s blogged about, but my motorcycle should reach there economically even when gas is $20 a gallon, so that’s cool.

As you know, the US will continue to degenerate into a dismal backwater idiocracy over the next few generations. Add in the continuing economic self-destruction caused by corporate fascism and endless deficits, isolationism fueled by fundamentalist Christianity and the Fortress America mentality that’s already setting in when other countries refuse to continue to support the insane endlessly-consumerist society that American culture has devolved into. Additionally, accelerating global warming will completely destabilize the American breadbasket’s ability to feed the locals, much less export.

I’m optimistic that the US population will crash within six decades.

Which is great news for us in Denmark.

This is why you need to come with me and Rachael and Jesse. If all goes as planned, I’ll have four or five more kids with my hot Icelandic babe. There’ll be the grand-kids. Great-grandkids. The Asatru religion is all about self-sufficiency, courage, hard work, and taking care of your clanspeople.

Our clan will be among the best positioned in the world to survive when civilization falls. Denmark has a good, resilient infrastructure, non-dense population, close access to the ocean, and a temperate climate that will only get better with global warming, once the instabilities have settled down. Iceland and Greenland are relatively unexploited and will thrive in a warmer world.

It’ll be a more primitive world, and the strong and brave will once again rise. Once more the halls will fill with our songs. Once more the Viking drinking horns, made from the descendants of the herds that I’ve decimated, will be held high as our people’s longboats are launched into a frothing sea.

The day will come, and it won’t be long, when our children’s children will skip across the northern seas, sailing from wealthy colonies in Iceland and Greenland, to glide down the coast of our ally, Canada, and descend like wolves upon the crude savages that inhabit the former United States of America.

Our children will sing this song as they joyously loot and pillage in the new dawn:

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Yes, you’ve heard this song before. You’ve even seen the video. But you didn’t realize that you could take it personally. You didn’t understand its deeper meaning. Click the picture and, once again, see the future.

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You think that this is all a fantasy. You think it cannot happen. Oh, no, my friends, my beloved clanspeople-to-be.

Remember — I’m a pessimist. I have a special, close relationship with reality.

Come with us and make it all be true.

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Posted in Daily Life, Environment, Personal History, Politics, Pop. Culture, Rachael is Awesome, Religion, Rory | 9 Comments »

9 Responses

  1. John H. Says:

    Sweet ass. You know me if there is raiding and pillaging involved I am so THERE. (although if you don’t mind I will skip the raping)
    On a serious note I have been going through a period of reflection and worry about my own relevance in the scheme of things…. It seems the is no one left to save, Becca is doing great in school and my kiddos are finishing up theirs… So I think I will spend this time helping some one I have been dodging dealing with for almost 49 years… Me. Qapla’ My friend I can’t wait to sit and share a drink and conversation with you. John

  2. Sean Craven Says:

    Some see the glass as half-full, some see it as half-empty. Some of us hate ******* glasses.

    Yeah, pessimists tend to see the world more accurately but optimists tend to be more successful. When I got that news I collapsed for a while, then started developing some optimism. I get called a nihilist a lot; I think of myself as an upbeat realist.

    Rory, I hear you about the cognitive dissidence you experience when contemplating the dire state of the world in conjunction with one’s own position of relative comfort and privilege. As Randy Newman sang, “Got drunk last night and kicked Mama down the stair/but I’m all right so I don’t care.”

    And your master plan reminded me of something the missus once said to me. (During a high-volume lecture on my pessimism, as it happens.) A quick, angry jab of the forefinger — “I’m just keeping you around in case civilization collapses.”

  3. Sean Craven Says:

    Aaaack! (big Cathy sweat drops)

    Dissonance, not dissidence. Jesus, I should know better than to use big words.

    Now I’m going to be contemplating cognitive dissidence. Sounds like something Bruce Sterling would write about.

  4. Rory Harper Says:

    Hey, John — Yeah, let’s sit around the fire and visit some at the next camp-out, if I don’t get a chance to see you before then. You’re one of my favorite people, in case you didn’t know already.

    Sean — I read some of that stuff about optimists being more successful and healthy and long-lived and such. I think it’s a crock of hooey. They’re all gonna die horribly, just like us. Probably in next week’s giant meteor impact.

    But also, like you said, it’s hard to feel too put-upon when you realize that we in the West have the most lavish lifestyles ever known in history — and that they are unlikely to be sustainable, so we may right now have the most lavish lifestyles that the human race will ever know.

    I actually kinda like the phrase ‘cognitive dissidence’. It’s like the non-ruling parts of my brain not just disagreeing with other parts, but maybe having a sit-in or publishing underground newspapers about what an ass the cortex is.

  5. Sean Craven Says:

    Hey, Rory — There’s actually a fairly respectable body of evidence indicating that it actually works that way…

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13658-brain-scanner-predicts-your-future-moves.html

    My guess is that in the untrained mind the cortex is the organ that rationalizes the decisions made by other parts of the brain and body, particularly parts not to be mentioned on a family-friendly website.

  6. Rachael Says:

    Adoption voids the ten year rule! Muahahaha! But, even then, old Icelandic babes are pretty hot, too. And what’s this about you creating more spawn? That’s awesome! You’ll have to name them all after me. Maybe I can be pregnant at the same time as all fifteen women of your Nordic harem? We could practice viking Lamaze together! Kill—-exxxhhaaallle.

  7. Eat Our Brains » Blog Archive » Frazzlement Says:

    [...] Pessimism – Part Two [...]

  8. Bill Bottorff Says:

    Rory, I hope this won’t come across as humorless as it seems. It is just hard to cover in a short space.
    The glass itself implies a significant investment in material, energy and labor over a gourd. So it implies that the investment in the glass drinking vessel is long term. If time is considered in the analysis, and the function of the glass to contain water to be drunk, then the fullness of the vessel is less important than the contining supply of water to sustain you, the owner of the glass. Full, empty or in between, the glass merely transfers the water from the source to the drinker (you). So the issue is the reliability of the source of the water and its purity and good taste. This could go on and on, but my point is that here, and now, and for the rest of your existence you will have to use the glass many times a day to survive. (at least until the rock hits) So opti or pessi are not important, only the mist! Which I’ll bet Morgan can invent a method of converting into water to fill the glass, or gourd. Max nix.
    Bill

  9. Rory Harper Says:

    Bill — I think I understand what you’re getting at. Which leads me to the point that my main problem is that the glass triggers my pessimism because it doesn’t contain any amount whatsoever of well-aged Scotch in the first place.

    Which is an issue that Morgan and I can address next time we get together. Which may be as soon as a couple of weeks from now, if I’m being optimistic about it.

    Rach — Yes, on all of your points. I’m actually more intrigued by the possibility of the Icelandic rave babes who fall into my age category. But the harem thing would work out fine for me, too.

    Our clan must grow strong and numerous quickly, in order to more easily dominate the post-apocalyptic world and repopulate the wilderness that was once America.

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