Optimising





Optimism      -           Hope
Fragile           -           Resilient




I think we’re in the grip of what I call the ‘Optimiser’ mindset, which can be understood as a form of problem-solving fundamentalism. 

The Optimiser thinks that every problem is convergent, and that really there are no such things as divergent problems (a belief that goes hand in hand with a malleable view of human nature). To the Optimiser, there is a fix for everything - if it can be solved, it will be solved; and if it can’t, then we’re working on a solution! The Optimiser is obsessive and zealous, and can’t just let things be. ‘Bad’ things are unacceptable and must be remedied: bacteria sanitised, odours eliminated, pain killed, sadness medicated, anger purged, violence quelled, risks minimised, wildness domesticated, darkness illuminated, and death defeated. It is fear of death lies at the bottom of the Optimiser mindset.

Nietzsche viewed tragedy as a humbling reminder that, in the words of Alexander Nehamas, “ultimately we are not different from the rest of nature, that we are part and parcel of it, and belong totally to it,” a realisation that he described as “indestructibly powerful and pleasurable.” The Optimiser views tragedy as a regrettable mistake and holds inquiries to make sure that it never happens again. Beneath this is the desire to negate tragedy by making everything completely safe, so that none of us have to suffer pain or loss, or be reminded that we are merely “part of nature.” As a result, the Optimiser seeks total control in as many domains as possible.

If every problem is convergent, it follows that there must always be a ‘best practice solution’ or optimal choice in any given situation. ‘Freedom’, then, is simply the ability to make the wrong choice, to err. The idea that, as Alicia Juarrero puts it, “all phenomena must be ultimately subsumable under a covering law” is redolent of the kind of deterministic thinking that Nietzsche criticised in Christianity; a one-size-fits-all approach that squeezes the “novelty and creativity” out of life. The idea that there is ‘one true path’ is the myth that underwrites the Optimiser mindset.

The world of the machines in The Matrix is the ab absurdum of such determinism. The human element has been more or less removed and highly optimised machines have inherited the Earth, programmed to take the right path every time. As we become more efficient we become more machine-like and conversely as we become less efficient we become more human-like. What makes us human, then, is our errors - indeed, we can define humanity as ‘that which errs.’ Our tech allows us to transcend error and become optimal - maximally efficient - which means a remoulding of the lumpen specimen to a more ‘universally preferable’ standard. The more problems we solve, the more machine-like and determined we become.

[LP]     
'The Problem with Problem Solving', Metaxy, Substack




Heroic pessimism, Sorel argued, had nothing in common with the bitter disillusionment experienced by those who blindly trust in the future only to stumble against unexpected obstacles to the march of progress.

The pessimist understood that “our natural weakness” obstructed the path of social justice. The optimist, “maddened by the unexpected resistance that his plans encounter," sought to assure the “happiness of future generations by butchering the egoists of the present.”

Humanitarians condemned violence on principle but resorted to a particularly brutal and vindictive form of violence when their plans went awry.

Pessimism rested on a love of life and a willingness to part with it. It expressed an awareness of the "grandeur and beauty of the world,” including man's own powers of invention, together with a recognition of the limits of those powers.

What Sorel called pessimism was close to what Carlyle, Emerson, and James called wonder—an affirmation of life in the teeth of its limits. Sorel understood that the modern mood is one of revolt, born of the growing impatience with limits that stubbornly persist in spite of all the celebrated advances in science, technology, and organized benevolence.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.308




From the wrong side of the tracks, the dominant culture looked quite different from the way it looked from the inside.

Its concern for creativity and self-expression looked self-indulgent. Its concern for the quality of human life seemed to imply a belief that life has to be carefully hoarded and preserved, protected from danger and risk, prolonged as long as possible. Its permissive style of child rearing and marital negotiation conveyed weakness more than sympathetic understanding, a desire to avoid confrontations that might release angry emotions.

Its eagerness to criticize everything seemed to bespeak a refusal to accept any constraints on human freedom, an attitude doubly objectionable in those who enjoyed so much freedom to begin with. The habit of criticism, from a lower-middle-class point of view, appeared to invite people to be endlessly demanding of life, to expect more of life than anyone had a right to expect.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.493



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