Thursday, May 17, 2007

Rose Colored Glasses Half Full

An optimist looks at a half glass of water and says "the glass is half full." The pessimist looks at it and says "the glass is half empty." And an engineer looks at it and says "The glass is twice as big as it needs to be."

I read two interesting articles recently that I think inform one another. The first was in The Armed Forces Journal. You may have heard about this piece, by LTCOL Paul Yingling, USA. He tears into the senior Army leadership for moral failures and dereliction of duty. The general consensus is this is what soldiers have been saying in the messroom for a few years now, but this is the first time any active-duty officers have published anything quite like it. Slate published a very thoughtful review of it, pointing out how well-reasoned it is. LTCOL Yingling is clearly quite sharp, he makes an excellent argument.

The second article I read, also in Slate, extends the indictment. Yingling indicts generals and other leaders of wishful thinking. John Gravois writes that our culture, in general, is suffering from the same affliction. He specifically discusses a book called The Secret. Would you like to know the secret? The authors (i.e. a group of crackpots, charlatans, and kooks) say positive thoughts attract positive things, and the universe will respond to your thoughts if you just think right. Oprah promoted it, then one of her viewers decided to follow her advice... and stop chemotherapy and wish away cancer. Ms. Winfrey had the good sense to talk her out of it. I'm as big a fan of positive thinking as anyone, but as a way to deal with whatever comes along. This just seems childish.

Taken together, I think these two articles paint pictures, one specific and one general, about the dangers of optimism. I'm sure everyone likes to think of themselves as pragmatic; I'm sure I do. But now I'd be interested to read Never Saw It Coming to see how my outlook compares to most folks', viz-a-viz optimism and pessimism. And that raises the question: can you choose to be a pragmatist, an optimist? Can you train yourself into a new fundamental outlook on the world?

The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true. - James Branch Cabell

1 comment:

PudriK said...

I recommend to you: The Origins of the United States Military Coup of 2012, written by Lt Col Charles Dunlap for an essay competition at the National Defense University, for which he was awarded the prize
by then Gen Powell. It is an interesting hypothetical, cautionary tale.