March 16, 2009

Down With Optimism!

Back in 2007, when Massachusetts? newly elected governor Deval Patrick proposed a huge increase in state spending on public schools, he was asked a very simple question: since the state didn?t have enough money for the project, how did he plan on paying for it? His answer (I quote from memory): ?No one thought we could put a man on the moon either, but we did.?

When I first heard that, all I could manage was an incredulous laugh. Surely Patrick, a Harvard graduate, could not be so dumb as to consider that reply to be anything more than meaningless word vomit. It could be the textbook non sequitur that Intro To Logic professors teach their students, and could only be, I thought, a testament to either Patrick?s incomparable dishonesty or his incomparable stupidity.

But now this ?man on the moon? fallacy is making a comeback, as more and more politicians, unable to think of practical ways to implement their grandiose plans, resort to it. For instance, there?s the new commercial in which President Obama proclaims ?You can?t tell me that we live in a country that put a man on the moon but we can?t find a way to make clean burning coal!?

The problem isn?t only the fallacious logic. The man on the moon fallacy is also a symptom of what is currently one of America?s greatest problems: our excessive optimism. Good things, we have all been taught, just happen to us. That?s all part of the American birthright, and no economic catastrophe can teach us otherwise. As Bobby Jindal gushed, ?Americans can do anything!? Even the laws of nature don?t apply; how else can you account for a nation that makes a policy out of spending money it doesn?t have, and of creating permanent prosperity with the pull of a few magic levers at the Federal Reserve?

American optimism was once appropriate; under the system our Founders left, with power divided and private property relatively secure, there was room for individuals to innovate, to start new businesses and add to that rising tide that lifts all boats. But that was only an effect of our liberty. One hundred years (at least) of metastasizing State power and collectivism have stamped out the original causes of optimism. To think that ?Americans can do anything,? just because we once could, is like thinking that Queen Elizabeth is a potent figure in Canada, just because her face remains on their twenty-dollar bill. Times change.

Indeed, in times like these, an optimist is either a coward or criminally negligent. Either way, he?s unable to face the gloomy facts, and so he won?t have any realistic way of dealing with them. We?ve had enough of the ?America, Fuck Yeah!? crowd; we don?t need to hear that everything will go swimmingly because 40 years ago the federal government spent billions of dollars to send Neil Armstrong to walk on a distant rock. What we need is a healthy dose of pessimism.

Subscribe to Taki’s Magazine for an ad-free experience and help us stand against political correctness.


Sign Up to Receive Our Latest Updates!


Daily updates with TM’s latest