Two Washington journalists, George Will and Jeffrey Goldberg, wrote last week on the question of optimism and pessimism. They took more or less opposite sides, with Will advocating for pessimism (it “need not breed fatalism or passivity” but “can define an agenda of regeneration”) and Goldberg, in a piece for The Atlantic prompted by the death of Israeli politician Shimon Peres, mourning the loss of Israel’s “chief optimist.” Goldberg concluded his column by writing that “optimists and pessimists die the same way. They just live differently” and urging prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be more of an optimist.
While Will is counseling Americans to be more pessimistic, Goldberg is counseling Israel’s premier to be less pessimistic. Which one is right?
Ira Stoll thinks that the the optimism versus pessimism discussion is a false dichotomy. The point isn’t to see the world though rose-colored glasses or through a dirty windshield, writes Stoll, but to see the world as it actually is. Some situations merit cheerfulness; others merit gloominess. Unwarranted cheerfulness is a mistake; so is unwarranted gloominess.