Above the Mean: Issue 77

Monday, March 20, 2006 by Carl Japikse

Today is the day of the vernal equinox, the day which marks the midpoint between the shortest day and the longest day of the year. It is also the first day of spring and the beginning of a new zodiacal year, the first day of Aries.

This is a day for unbridled optimism, because winter is behind us and spring is upon us. The sun's rays are radiating, as though yawning after a long wintry sleep. The trees are leafing out; the ornamentals are in full bloom. The birds outside the window have been tittering and trilling all morning, welcoming the arrival of spring with every decibel of delight their tiny voices can muster.

The hackneyed symbol of the struggle between optimism and pessimism is the glass of water filled halfway. The optimist sees it as half full, the pessimist sees it as half empty. The evidence is the same in both cases, but the interpretation differs. So does the meaning to the individual.

A terrible pall of pessimism saturates the group mind of humanity. We wonder why the American public is tiring of the war in Iraq after three years, even though most wars in the past have lasted much longer--and the price paid has been far dearer. It is true that the twenty-four hour news cycle has made this war (and the war in Vietnam before it) much more "in our face" than, say, the 100 years war between the French and the English. It is also true that wars always read better in history books and lengthy novels than in the newspapers.

But I think the real reason why America seems to be tiring of the war in Iraq, or at least making noises to that effect, is the omnipresence of pessimism in our thinking.

It took a fair amount of optimism even to join the coalition of the willing and invade Iraq. Look at the nations that did: America, Great Britain, Australia, Italy, Poland, Japan, and a number of smaller players. They are optimistic nations with expanding economies and a robust gusto for living.

Look at the nations that shunned the coalition: France, Germany, Russia, and China. If you look at world thought, these are the wellsprings of pessimism and cynicism. With the exception of China, their economies are shrinking. They do not believe in themselves. They did not even have enough optimism to try to make the world better, by overthrowing one of the most brutal reigns the world has ever seen.

It takes a lot of optimism to want to make the world better. George W. Bush embodies this optimism. Those who thought it was wrong to even make this effort have been tainted by pessimism.

Instead of supporting the effort, and placing their pessimism on the shelf for awhile (in pralaya, as it were), the critics of the war have kept right on carping, spewing forth their pessimistic attitudes. How can we go to war, they wonder-it is all our fault in the first place. If we are at war to defeat terror, doesn't that make us terrorists, too? Isn't Bush the biggest terrorist of all?

Pessimism is a parasite that lodges in the value system of the person who entertains it, and slowly feeds on his or her thinking capacity, until it is fully destroyed. The collective mind of humanity has been under attack by pessimism for more than one hundred years. This pall of pessimism is the residue of one hundred and fifty years of Marxism, existentialism, the weltschmerz of two world wars, the Cold War, and the supposed threat of nuclear annihilation.

Normally, the optimists of the world are strong enough to dilute cynicism and neutralize pessimism, but it is becoming more difficult to carry this burden. The leftover media is almost completely infected by pessimism. So are the intellectual ghettoes of our college campuses.

We would normally turn to the churches for relief from pessimism, but they are too busy redefining themselves to meet the demands of gays and feminists to be of any use. If anything, they are adding to the problem of pessimism, not reducing it.

Is there any hope in sight? Well, of course there is. Today is the vernal equinox. The winter of our discontent has passed; we are now ready to revel in spring fever. Read some William Shakespeare:

Between the acres of the rye,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
These pretty country folk would lie,
In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding ding:
Sweet lovers love the spring.

Who can hum or sing "It Was a Lover and His Lass" and remain pessimistic for very long? If that doesn't do it, read Robert Frost:

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

If this is not enough-if you are a dyed-in-the-wool die-hard cynic-then read Helen Keller's remarkable essay, Optimism. Miss Keller was a woman who overcame blindness and deafness at the age of 6 and went on to be one of the world's great optimists. She knew optimism triumphed over pessimism, because she had done it! She wrote: "If it be true that optimism compels the world forward, and pessimism retards it, then it is dangerous to propagate a pessimistic philosophy. One who believes that the pain in the world outweighs the joy, and expresses that unhappy conviction, only adds to the pain."

Today, I invite you to join in my celebration of the return of spring by disavowing the power of pessimism in your life. Expel it from your mind. Let the seeds of optimism take root in your mind; purge the weeds of pessimism that threaten not only your own contentment but also the sanity of the world.

The media has been chattering about the national debt we each carry with us as a burden on our backs. The burden of pessimism that most of us carry upon our shoulders is one hundred times worse-and far more immediate as a threat.

This evocation is much more than a call for positive thinking. It is a call to each of us to win the battle that rages between pessimism and optimism. It rapes our personal values; it ravages the collective mind of the human race.

The pessimist is incapable of envisioning the answer to any problem; he is too immersed in his complaints and disturbance. The optimist sees the same problem, but likewise sees the key to resolving it-the key that lies above the mean.

Once more I ask: join me above the mean. Unlock the door.

Optimism, by Helen Keller. In production; due from the printer by mid-April. Sells for $13.99 plus $5 postage. Special pre-publication price: $15 postpaid through April 10.

"It Was a Lover and His Lass" by William Shakespeare and "A Prayer for Spring" by Robert Frost in Enjoying Poetry, by Carl Japikse. Price: $15.99 plus $5 postage. When ordering two or more books at the same time, the cost of postage is $8 for the whole shipment.

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