Letter from a Pessimist


Fig A: Supreme court judge lying under oath

Dear Bob,

Oh god. There’s just so much bullshit, Bob. And none of it is even being used for compost. I’m losing hope. 

Be like a boat, they say. Just keep the water out and float on. Don’t let it overcome you. Easier said than done, I say.

There are two kinds of negative feeling that overwhelm: the kind of our own making that time and self-talk help pass, and the kind that is a perfectly appropriate reaction to the reality of the situation; that is, to name one element of this mess we’re in, that we are basically inhabiting a spaceship piloted by incompetent, amoral megalomaniacs who live lives with dire consequence for anyone but themselves. Who choose to sacrifice this life – our lives – either for some afterone they’ve been promised in a book, or simply because it benefits them. It is slowly but surely heading towards the sun, and our efforts are too few and too late to turn it around. So what do we do then? Is the only option to delude ourselves?

I’m asking you because you are my oldest friend, at – how old are you now? – and probably wisest, and you’d think if things were really as bleak as I say, that you of all people have a much more effective coping strategy or else you would have pressed the “eject” button by now.

Knowing you, you would just give me some ambiguous quip if I just asked for your secret, and while I do admire your constant sense of humour, I want real answers, so I have compiled this list of questions on the topic of Having A Good Time Despite It all.

Thank you,


What is the most useful influence religion has on coping with the unpleasant truth of the world? (that doesn’t require supernatural belief)

Is peace more than just absence of suffering?

How much attention should we give to world politics?

Do you meditate, why/why not?

Can words change our outlook?

Have you been lucky in life? Or do you possess a quality that attracts what some call luck?

Have you ever had a mental breakdown?

How can we be happy?

13 thoughts on “Letter from a Pessimist

  1. “What is the most useful influence religion has on coping with the unpleasant truth of the world? (that doesn’t require supernatural belief)”

    An old man answers:
    You have asked the right person! What gives me credibility? I was a janitor while in university.
    Cleaned the Unitarian Church in Santa Barbara. Spent many hours with the minister there at the time: Dr. Lex Crane. He became a life-time friend. Nothing super-natural about Lex. Just good clear thinking about human problems. I’ll let him speak for himself:

    After reading those sermons you will have a good idea of the way Lex thought about those deep questions. Yes, we argued about some stuff.
    Lex was a good man.
    A veteran of WWII, a lover of literature, science, and philosophy, a friend.


  2. 2. Is peace more than just absence of suffering? Some complicated questions, Jess.

    First, remember the useful distinction between necessary and sufficient conditions: In logic, necessity and sufficiency are terms used to describe an implicational relationship between statements. The assertion that one statement is a necessary and sufficient condition of another means that the former statement is true if and only if the latter is true. – need a refresher?
    Check this out: https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/wi-phi/wiphi-critical-thinking/wiphi-fundamentals/v/necessary-sufficient-conditions

    I wonder what you mean by “peace” – please say more.
    A state of contentment?
    An ideal?
    No conflict?
    An individual or a societal concept?

    What is peace? Is “absence of suffering” a necessary or sufficient condition for peace? Or both? Or neither?


  3. Good questions! And thanks, Bob, for posting those links to Crane’s works. He does seem to have been a thoughtful, caring man. Much like you!

    It does seem that there are several necessary conditions for peace.
    – health
    – reason
    – food and shelter
    – ability to live together in a non-warlike environment
    – love
    – tolerance (or #4)
    Put them all together and you get . . . .


  4. How much attention should we give to world politics?
    Approximately the same amount as one gives to the CFL; i.e., 4 hours per week.

    Do you meditate, why/why not?
    1. Don’t know how.
    2. Not part of my culture.
    3. Too engaged trying to answer these questions.
    4. Busy reading and reviewing books.


  5. Sorry for popping in like this after a long time of no participation. Today I opened the blog and found Jess’s pessimist post and I want to find reasons for not being so. The big picture Jess describes is certainly bleak: corruption, brutality; it is madness. But a picture could be taken from different angles. And you can zoom in too. And you can be part of the picture and be the photographer too. I guess the best reason to be optimist is to know you still have the freedom to take a picture you like. Be an artist. I don’t think that is delusion. It is freedom.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Have you been lucky in life? Or do you possess a quality that attracts what some call luck?

    Both. The two are not mutually exclusive. Keys to success:
    1. Hard work
    2. Pay attention.
    3. Follow your dreams.
    4. Work harder.


Please join the discussion!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s