Portal Site for Russellian in Japan
Once upon a time there was a derelict ship which drifted into the empty parts of the southern ocean and began to run out of provisions. Most of the crew took each day as it came, but there were two exceptions : one was a professional pessimist, the other was a professional optimist. The professional pessimist pointed out continually how low the stock of food was becoming and how seldom ships were encountered in such latitudes. He advised his comrades to meditate on their latter end and to prepare for death with fortitude. One day they turned on him and advised him to prepare for death with fortitude himself during the five minutes of life that they were prepared to leave him. When he had been heaved overboard, they gave a sigh of relief.
But in this they were mistaken. So long as the pessimist lived, the rest of the crew had been grateful to the optimist, but now they began to find him just as trying as they had previously found his opponent. Every morning he came on deck, rubbing his hands and smiling, pointing out how long the human frame can subsist on half a biscuit, and making elaborate calculations to show that on that day they would probably meet a ship. In the end they threw him overboard also and got on with the job.
The moral of this story is that believers in every kind of 'ism' ought to hang together, however opposite their nostrums may be. They differ from ordinary people by the fact that they have a nostrum. One man's nostrum is only endurable to the ordinary person when it is counterbalanced by another man's nostrum. If the believers in any one 'ism' could convert the believers in all other 'isms' to their way of thinking, the general run of mankind would find them so boring that they would soon exterminate them. This applies to the believers in optimism no less than to the believers in pessimism. The pessimism of our age is generally explained as being due to the bad state of the world, but I believe it is quite as much due to the boredom which we all endured in youth through the optimism of the Victorians.
The fact is that optimism is pleasant so long as it is credible, but when it is not, it is intensely irritating. Especially irritating is the optimism about our own troubles which is displayed by those who do not have to share them. Optimism about other people's troubles is a very risky business unless it goes with quite concrete proposals as to how to make the troubles disappear or grow less. A medical man has a right to be optimistic about your illness if he can prescribe a treatment which will cure it, but a friend who merely says. 'Oh, I expect you will soon feel better.' is exasperating. Most of the people who have talked optimistically throughout the last two years about the bad times have been in the position of the cheerful friend rather than of the medical adviser, and I doubt whether their cheerfulness has added much to the happiness of those who were starving. In every kind of trouble what is wanted is not emotional cheerfulness but constructive thinking. This fact is gradually, being borne in upon the world by the world-wide depression, and in this I perceive the only basis for optimism that our present troubles afford. These troubles can be cured by constructive thinking, not by ballyhoo.