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Optimism Vs. Pessimism Post by :netomax Category :Essays Author :William Cowper Brann Date :July 2011 Read :2896

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Optimism Vs. Pessimism


I am in receipt of a long letter from a Missouri minister, in which, to my surprise, he says: "I regret to note that you are a Pessimist. Permit me to express the hope that so powerful a journal as the ICONOCLAST will yet espouse the sunny philosophy of Optimism, which teaches that all that is accords with the Plan of the Creator, and works together for the ultimate good."

"God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform."

I had not hitherto suspected that I was inoculated with the awful microbes of Pessimism, but if my reverend friend is a professor in the sunny school of Optimism, I certainly do not belong to that sect. If "all that is accords with the Plan of the Creator," did not Christ deserve to be crucified for bringing about new conditions, and Galileo to go to jail for interfering with the stupid ignorance of certain Catholic cardinals? Can even the Missouri minister be held guiltless when he attempts to turn my thinking apparatus around and make it operate from the other end? Surely he should not interfere in even so slight a particular with the "Plan of the Creator," who may have been moving "in a mysterious way his wonders to perform" when he gave the supposedly pessimistic bend to my mind. Nay, if my Christian friend do but have the rheumatism, should he not refrain from poulticing himself, lest he throw the celestial machinery out of gear? If changes wrought in religion, science, government, etc., constitute a portion of the "Plan," we must concede it to have originally been a very faulty affair--quite upsetting the optimistic theory that "Whatever is is right."

The terms Pessimism and Optimism are handled very loosely in these latter days. In the modern acceptance of the terms, the first may be defined as a chronic intellectual bellyache, the latter as an incurable case of mossbackism. The thorough Pessimist believes the world is going in hot haste to the demnition bowwows, and that nothing short of a miracle can head it off; the full-fledged Optimist carries concealed about his person an abiding faith that "God ordereth all things well"--that he not only designed the mighty universe, but is giving his personal attention to the details of its management. Really, I do not believe I am Pessimist to hurt, or that my reverend critic is so dangerously ill of the Optimistic disease as he imagines. Perhaps he has been living too high for great intellectual effort. Were he in the condition of some millions of his fellow creatures, the cuticle of whose abdomens is flapping against their vertebrae like a wet dish-rag wrapping itself around a wire clothesline, perhaps there would not be quite so much sunshine in his philosophy. The man with whom the world goes well is apt to prattle of the "ultimate good" when considering the woes of other people.

The basis of Optimism is foreordination, the foolish faith that before God created the majestic universe and sent the planets whirling about the blazing sun; that before the first star gleamed in the black, overhanging firmament or a single mountain peak rose from the watery waste, he calmly sat him down and mapped out every act of moral man--decreed every war and pestilence, the rise and fall of every nation, and fixed the date of every birth and death. That may be excellent "orthodoxy," but it is not good sense. I reject the theory that all the happenings here below "accord with the Plan of the Creator--work together for the ultimate good." Hence, I am not an Optimist. I dare not accuse my Creator of being responsible for all the sin and sorrow, suffering and shame that since the dawn of history has bedewed the world with blood and tears.

I do not believe the "Plan of the Creator" contemplated that millions of people should perish miserably by war, and famine and pestilence. I do not believe the black buck who ravishes and murders a white babe is one of the great moral agents of the Almighty, nor that the infamous act has any possible tendency to promote "the ultimate good." And did I so believe, I would keep my shotgun loaded just the same. I do not believe that the blessed God intended there should ever be a liar or a thief, a prostitute or a murderer in this beautiful world. I do not believe that the Creator entered into a compact with the devil or a covenant with the cholera. And if not, then all that is does not "accord with the Plan of the Creator." If that be Pessimism, make the most of it.

That there is a Divine Plan I do not doubt; but I believe it to be broader, deeper, more worthy of the great Demiurgus than that which pictures him telling a priest how to carve his pantaloons or sacrifice a pair of pigeons, than standing idly by with his hands under his coat-tails, while some drunken duffer beats the head of his better half with a bootjack, or a bronze brute rips the scalp from a smiling babe. If that's the kind of a hairpin who occupies the throne of Heaven, I don't blame Lucifer for raising a revolution. I would have taken a fall out of him myself, even had I known that my viscera would be strewn across the face of the shrinking universe.

God gave us life, and this grand old globe for habitat. He stored it with everything necessary to the health and happiness of the human race--poured his treasures forth with a hand so bounteous that though its population were doubled, trebled, it might go on forever and no mortal son of Adam need suffer for life's necessaries. The gaunt specters of Want and Pestilence are not of his creation; they were born of Greed and Ignorance. God sent no devil with hoofs and horns to torment or tempt us; he gave to us passions necessary to the perpetuation and progress of the race and divine Reason wherewith to rule them--then left us to work out our own salvation, aided by those silent forces that are pressing all animate and inanimate life onward to perfection. Reason needs no celestial guide, no heavenly monitor, for it is the grandest attribute of God himself. Where Reason sits enthroned God reigns!

For more than half a million years man has been toiling upwards, impelled by that mysterious law that causes the pine to spring towards the sun. Sometimes the advance is by leaps and bounds, as when some giant intellect--some Son of God, especially gifted with the attributes of his Sire-- brushes aside the obstructions at which lesser men toil in vain; sometimes the Car of Progress stands still for a thousand years, else rolls slowly back toward brutishness, there being none of sufficient strength to advance the standards further up the rugged mountainside--nearer the Celestial City. Thus, ever in ebb and flow, gaining and losing, only to regain; nations rising and falling but to serve as stepping-stones whereon mount a nobler race, a grander people, the irrepressible conflict of the Godlike with the Beastlike in man goes bravely on.

In half a million years we have come far--won many a fair field from the dominion of Darkness. We no longer dwell in caves and hollow trees, fighting naked with the wild beasts of the forest for our prey. We have erected temples to that God who dwells, not only in the heavens, but here on earth--in the brain and heart of the human race. We have made matter so far subject unto mind that nature's mighty forces have become our obedient bondslaves. We have built societies, nations, weighed the world and measured the stars. We have acquired not only knowledge and power, but love and modesty. The procreative passion no longer crawls, a hideous thing, but soars aloft, a winged Psyche. Thus, one by one, through the long ages, have we built up within ourselves the attributes of the Most High, toward whom our feet are tending. Life is no longer mere animalism, content to gorge itself with roots and raw meat and sit in the sun. The ear craves melody, the eye beauty, the brain dominion, while the soul mounts to the very stars!

Thus far have we come out of the Valley of Darkness, led on, not by those who believe that "all that is accords with the Plan of the Creator," but by those whose battle-cry has ever been,

"Forward, forward let us range,
Let the great world spin forever
Down the ringing grooves of change."

Every reformation yet wrought in religion, science or polities, was the work of men who declined to accept the doctrines enunciated by the Missouri divine. If I am a Pessimist I am in such excellent company as Confucius and Christ, General Washington and Mr. Gladstone, Prof. Morse and Dr. Pasteur, while my critic is training with the gang that poisoned Socrates, bribed Iscariot and crucified the Savior. And the world persists in judging a man by the company he keeps!

(The end)
William Cowper Brann's essay: Optimism Vs. Pessimism

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