Monday, February 22, 2010

Pessimism: A Darwinian Survival Strategy?

Dismissed by the extreme conservative right as the root causes of cardiovascular and other psychosomatic disorders, but does pessimism pose a definite evolutionary survival advantage?

By: Ringo Bones

Maybe it was those lucky coincidences in my reading roster that inspired to me to note some “bright-sided” insight about pessimism. Maybe it is one of the – if not the only – trait that allowed us humans to manage to last a few million years. From the 16th Century predictive quatrains of Nostradamus to the contemporary musings of Barbara Ehrenreich, it does seem that the human race as a whole gains much-improved problem solving skills when harboring a generally pessimistic outlook. Genetic science may yet prove the existence of a “pessimism gene” encoded into our DNA through Darwinian evolution, but there’s proof to show that there’s something to pessimism as a survival strategy.

For better or for worse, it seems like the pessimistic-flavored predictions of Nostradamus “might” had been used as a foreign policy tool whenever every Republican Party candidate gets voted into the helm of Capitol Hill. Glaringly so during the Reagan Administration where the indefinite postponement of a global apocalypse had engendered a somewhat minor – yet intransigent – conundrum of casting the Islamic World in a bad light since the 1980s.

While Barbara Erenreich’s more recent work titled Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Pursuit of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America documents how the Wall Street culture of a cavalier attitude towards financial and economic risk assessment had almost engendered a repeat of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The subprime mortgage crisis that came to light near the end of July 2007 which became the global credit crunch of 2008 could have been avoided if Wall Street fat-cats and their minions had a more pragmatic outlook on risk assessment. Especially on the inherent financial risks posed by overly complex credit derivatives. Instead of promoting an LSD-like state of inebriation called the “power of positive thinking” since the Reagan Administration. Even the US Securities and Exchange Commission could have learned a thing or two about pessimism when it comes to hedge fund due diligence. Hedge fund fraudster Bernie Madoff could have been caught early before he managed to swindle thousands of their life-savings.

From a biological perspective, humans are probably the only species of animal on Earth with predictive properties that can form highly intricate abstract mental maps when it comes to day to day survival. There are some challenges – natural or otherwise - that are just too great for the mere hard-wired instincts of lower animals to successfully tackle. Maybe it is high time for humanity to cherish our pessimism instead of burying our heads in the sand through the self-delusion handed down to us by the faulty logic of a number of organized religions.