Two dimensional optimism

A rather nice sub-division of optimism in a vintage tome on The Image of the Future by one Fred Polak.

Any society, he argues is characterised by a particular image of the future, which defines it srelation with events to come. And optimism-pessimism here can be mapped in two dimensions – essence-optimism (or its obverse), and influence-optimism.

You get the idea. Essence optimism is for those societies where paradise is pre-ordained and we just get on with stuff until it arrives – probably in the after life. Divine harmony rules. Influence pessimism is then neither here or there, as the outcome will be fine. At another extreme is essence pessimism allied with influence pessimism – the view that the universe is basically chaotic, if not actually malevolent, indifferent to human striving, and all we can do is resign ourselves to our fate. (Original sin fits in here).

The dynamics are more interesting in the various combinations of essence pessimism and influence optimism. Existing reality sucks, but things might get better – either by making better arrangements with higher powers or by dint of our own effort (say, prayer or work). One option here highlights eschatology, the other utopia, though the two need not be mutually exclusive.

Quite interesting, this magisterial game of classifying all known cultures into a simple scheme. More difficult, perhaps, to place contemporary currents of thought in this grid, though the author – in a work originally written in Holland in the 1950s, seems convinced that Western culture had lost its influence optimism. Haven’t got far enough into this long, scholarly work yet to understand in detail why he believed that.

You can download the whole thing from this link at the futurefeeder blog.

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