Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"Temperamental Determinism"

And those catchy titles keep a-comin!

During a commercial break in the football game I am watching, I switch over to Bill Moyers’ Journal on the Public Broadcasting System – because that’s just the kind of a guy I am – and I come upon this guy being interviewed about the book he has written.  The guy sports a black suit, a dark gray shirt, a black tie with white squiggles on it, hunched-up shoulders and an unsmiling expression on his face.

The moment I catch sight of him, as easily as I can determine – with impressive accuracy – U.S. Congressmen’s political affiliations on the basis of their haircuts – it’s a little harder with the women, but “Rule of Thumb”:  If their hair doesn’t move, they’re Republicans – I can predict with a near certainty Bill Moyer’s guest’s ideological proclivities.

The guy is a pessimist.  

And, as a consequence – and I will argue inevitably – his ideological proclivities will be predictably negative.

Sure enough, the title of the author’s book flashes on the screen.   It’s called “Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism.

I will not go into specifics here.  I will only say that his book is less than an upbeat assessment of the current status of America affairs.  (Two of his main points involve “human disposability” and the “culture of cruelty.”)  According to the book’s author, Henry Giroux, this country is in really terrible trouble.  (Unless we form a Third Party – never going to happen – or organize massive local protests across the country – ditto.) 

Just looking at him, I knew instantly that Mr. Giroux would not be delivering good news.  

Conversely, having read a positive appraisal of it in the New York Times Book Review section, I ordered a book entitled Undivided Past – Humanity Beyond Our Differences.  This time, I worked backwards, from the book’s thesis to the temperamental leanings of its author, David Cannadine.

Cannadine argues that the idea that groups that are unlike each other will inevitably cross swords can be successfully challenged by substantial historical evidence to the contrary. 

Though I have no definitive proof on the matter, I am betting that Mr. Cannadine is an optimist.  (One of his listed books in Wikipedia is “The Pleasures of the Past.”  Really?  The past had pleasures?  Those halcyon days of surgery without anesthetic?  Perhaps the past did have pleasures.  But it takes a real optimist to find them.)

As a welcome break from possibly meaningless conjecture, I am pleased to reveal a scientifically verifiable fact favoring pessimism.  Studies indicate – I know “studies indicate” is a cheesy smokescreen, but I am holding what is generally regarded as a losing hand here – studies indicate that pessimists have a more accurate view of reality than optimists do.

What these studies tell us that pessimists are not to be dismissed as annoying naysayers, they are actually providing a clear-eyed perspective on the world.  Optimists, on the other hand, although arguably more fun to be around, will deliver a description of a world that, in fact, does not actually exist. 

According to me (and Popeye) however, people should not be stigmatized for either perspective, because the truth is we cannot, in fact, help ourselves.  We are what we are.  (Or as Popeye would put it, “We yams what we yams.”)

My entirely non-scientific view is that we are fundamentally wired “optimist” or “pessimist” from birth.  We can, it seems to me, investigate this hypothesis by asking mothers what their grown children were like when they were infants – fussy or easy-going? – and then compare that assessment with the way those children ultimately turned out.  My money – boy, I am throwing a lot of money around today – is on temperamental consistency.

Here’s the thing then, “the thing” being my point.  A man writes that America is going to hell in a handbasket.  Another asserts that it is not inevitable for Christians and Muslims to want to wipe each other off the face of the planet.

The question is,

Are their observations accurate? 

In which case, we should give them serious consideration.

Or are their observations merely a natural consequence of their orientation to reality?

In which case it is simply, “What else would you expect?”

I believe that it is difficult to know what we are told is true because we cannot know if the reports we are receiving are accurate or merely the inevitable results of the way the reporters are biologically programmed.

Although, coming from me….

What else would you expect?
Happy New Year and best wishes to all.  And thank you for sticking with me.  I shall endeavor not to disappoint in 2014.  



Jim Russell said...

Happy New Year, Earl!

From your loyal readers (or at least one of them).

Jack Russell Terrier said...

Happy New Year!