On becoming an optimist

Humanism, Modernity, Optimism, Philosophy

Well, I wasn’t going to blog tonight (sleeping being very preferable), but while reading in the bath I’ve just had a fascinating collision between three interesting writers, so I thought I’d do a quick post.

So – I’d been planning to start on a novel, but couldn’t be bothered, so took Adorno’s ‘Minimalia Moralia’ in with me. It comes in bite sized chunks that are always deeply thought provoking – perfect! And the paragraph I started on was profoundly and unexpectedly resonant with some other interesting recent reading.

Adorno is talking about the grandiose posturing of ‘spiritual giants’, and notes that it is built on ‘a sublimity ever ready to trample inhumanly on anything as small as mere existence’ (para 53). A page later, he describes the reductive nature of idealist thinking, commenting that it ‘reduce[s] everything in its path as unceremoniously to its basic essence as do soldiers the women of a captured town’, before positing an alternate, more humane way of seeing – ‘contemplation without violence’ – that ‘presupposes that he who contemplates does not absorb the object into himself; a distanced nearness’ (para 54).

That first of all resonated very profoundly with John Gray’s fascinating new book, ‘Black Mass’, wherein he criticises much modern political posturing as being spilt religion; a series of poses that aspire to disinterested, rational liberalism but in fact achieve and are built on a kind of dehumanising apocalypticness, one that redefines mass slaughter as moral good on the ironic basis that it’s eradicating evil from the world. Surely sublime and inhuman trampling in all its terrifying action?

Secondly, it took me back to therapy maven Carl Roger’s ‘On Becoming a Person’, that I’ve been using to (rather surprisingly) help me think about mobile phones. Roger posits an open and engaged state of being as a human ideal; his sense of a live lived fluidly and receptively is absolutely opposite to the kind of self-indulgent, destructive posturing that both Adorno and Gray identify so clearly, and is in some ways an exemplification of Adorno’s ‘contemplation without violence’ in action.

No sublime conclusions to draw beyond ‘how interesting…’ – and now that’s typed up I’m off to bed, feeling thanks to those three coming together much more optimistic than I did last night. Good night!