Optimism      -           Hope
Utopian         -           Tragic
Inflation        -           Deflation
Puer               -           Senex
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.

'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

Electroshock owes its efficacy to paralyzing and annihilating the contents of the psyche. Its essential trait is negativity.

In contrast, neoliberal psychopolitics is dominated by positivity

Instead of working with negative threats, it works with positive stimuli. Instead of administering 'bitter medicine', it enlists Liking. It flatters the psyche instead of shaking it and paralyzing it with shocks.

Neoliberal psychopolitics seduces the soul; it preempts it in lieu of opposing it. It carefully protocols desires, needs and wishes instead of 'depatterning' them. By means of calculated prognoses, it anticipates actions - and acts ahead of them instead of cancelling them out.

Neoliberal psychopolitics is SmartPolitics: it seeks to please and fulfil, not to repress.

[Byung-Chul Han]
Psychopolitics, p.36


Liberalism pleases and 'fulfils' in superficial ways - quick fixes, CBT, etc. Real fulfilment would mean a slowing or damming of the Flow. And so everything becomes superficial; surface; spectacle; simulacrum.

Neoliberal psychopolitics is always coming up with more refined forms of exploitation. Countless self- management workshops, motivational retreats and seminars on personality or mental training promise boundless self-optimization and heightened efficiency.

They are steered by neoliberal techniques of domination, which aim to capitalize not just on working time but on the person him- or herself: all the attention the individual commands and, indeed, his or her very life. Neoliberalism has discovered integral human being as the object of exploitation.

The neoliberal imperative of self-optimization serves only to promote perfect functioning within the system.

Inhibitions, points of weakness and mistakes are to be therapeutically eliminated in order to enhance efficiency and performance. In turn, everything is made comparable and measurable and subjected to the logic of the market. It is not concern for the good life that drives self-optimization. Rather, self-optimization follows from systemic constraints - from the logic of quantifying success on the market.

The neoliberal regime is in the course of inaugurating the age of exhaustion. Today, the psyche itself is being exploited. Accordingly, psychic maladies such as depression and burnout define our times.

In contemporary American self-help literature, the magic word is healing. The term refers to self-optimization that is supposed to therapeutically eliminate any and all functional weakness or mental obstacle in the name of efficiency and performance. Yet perpetual self-optimization, which coincides point-for-point with the optimization of the system, is proving destructive. It is leading to mental collapse.

Self-optimization, it turns out, amounts to total self-exploitation.

The neoliberal ideology of self-optimization displays religious - indeed, fanatical - traits. It entails a new form of subjectivation. Endlessly working at self-improvement resembles the self-examination and self-monitoring of Protestantism, which represents a technology of subjectivation and domination in its own right. Now, instead of searching out sins, one hunts down negative thoughts. The ego grapples with itself as an enemy.

Today, even fundamentalist preachers act like managers and motivational trainers, proclaiming the new Gospel of limitless achievement and optimization.

It is impossible to subordinate human personhood to the dictates of positivity entirely. Without negativity, life degrades into 'something dead'. Indeed, negativity is what keeps life alive. Pain is constitutive for experience.

Life that consists wholly of positive emotions and the sensation of 'flow" is not human at all. The human soul owes its defining tautness and depth precisely to negativity

[Byung-Chul Han]
Psychopolitics, p.29-32

The imperative of boundless optimisation even manages to exploit pain. Thus, the famous motivational speaker Tony Robbins has written:

When you set a goal, you’ve committed to CANI (Constant, Never-Ending Improvement)! You’ve acknowledged the need that all human beings have for constant, never-ending improvement. There is a power in the pressure of dissatisfaction, in the tension of temporary discomfort. This is the kind of pain you want in your life.

Now, the only pain that is tolerated is pain that can be exploited for the purposes of optimization.

Neoliberal psychopolitics, with the consciousness industry it promotes, is destroying the human soul, which is anything but a machine of positivity. The neoliberal subject is running aground on the imperative of self-optimization, that is, on the compulsion always to achieve more and more.

[Byung-Chul Han]
Psychopolitics, p.31-2

The ego-libido rules over the performing subject. The better it performs, the more ego it gains. Freud, we know, associated the ego-libido with the death drive.

The narcissistic subject of performance breaks apart because of a fatal accumulation of ego-libido. It exploits itself voluntarily and passionately until it breaks down. It optimizes itself to death. Its failing is called depression or burnout.

[Byung-Chul Han]
The Disappearance of Rituals, p.14

To a society that declares bare life sacred, this ritual appears as pure madness, as a theatre of cruelty […] It is diametrically opposed to our form of life, which is dominated by work and production […] The totalization of production desecrates life.

A society obsessed with production does not have any access to strong play, to death as an intensity of life.

Strong play, whose principle is sovereignty, does not fit into the society of production, which aims at utility, performance and efficiency, and which declares bare life, survival, the continuation of a healthy life, to be an absolute value. Strong play suspends the economy of work and production. Death is not a loss, not a failure, but an expression of the utmost vitality, force and desire.

The society of production is dominated by the fear of death.

[Byung-Chul Han]
The Disappearance of Rituals, p.50

The forms of standardisation, conformism, democratic levelling, frantic overproduction, the more or less arrogant and explicit cult of the expert (‘brain trust’), and the petty materialism of Americanism can only clear the road for the final phase, which is represented in the same direction by the Communist ideal of the mass man.

The distinctive trait of Americanism is that the attack on quality and personality is not accomplished by means of the brutal coercion of a Marxist dictatorship and the care of the state, but takes place almost spontaneously, by means of a civilisation that does not recognise ideals higher than wealth, consumption, profit, and unchecked economic growth — an exaggeration and reductio ad absurdum of what Europe herself has chosen.

This is what the same motives have created there or are in the process of creating. On both sides we see the same primitivism, mechanical reductionism, and brutality. In a certain sense Americanism is for us more dangerous than Communism, because it is essentially a kind of Trojan horse.

Things are different when the same evil acts in a subtler manner and the transformations take place insensibly on the level of custom and a general worldview, as is the case with Americanism.

[Julius Evola]
‘Orientations’, V

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