Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Panglossian Imperative

It was claimed a while back in our discussion of global warming that it is better to be pessimistic and wrong than optimistic and wrong. This seems incontrevertible. By the same token, it is self-evidently better to be optimistic and right than to be pessimistic and right. This leads us to the tautological conclusion that if we expect to be wrong, we should be pessimists, and if we expect to be right, we should be optimists.

These useful guidelines, however, are only strictly applicable to situations that are completely beyond our control. Surely it is a bad thing to be pessimistic about Cephalopod United's chances in the Cup Final if we are their goalkeeper? Once we consider any situation in which we are a factor, to however small an extent, our atttitude becomes one of the factors that will determine the outcome. In such cases I believe we have a moral duty to be optmistic. By 'optimistic' I don't mean that we should deny that a problem exists, or that a potential problem will never come to pass, but that we should assume that the problem is soluble, and that it will be solved. We should not be 'realistic' and make our goal anything less than a solution of the problem- settling for the goal of containing communism rather than defeating it, for instance, or for limiting terminations to less than 18 weeks gestation. Once we assume that our true goal is unattainable, we have already lost.

But I am really advancing this not as a general theory- I have already argued in a few places that there are problems that we cannot solve, and must be endured in the hope that future generations will solve them- but as a prelude to answering Marco's 'home abortion kit' scenario with spurious meta-logic.

I, personally, must be inordinately optimistic in the ultimate victory of my cause, because doing so enables me to lead a normal life.

I could be pessimistic, and assume abortion will be with us forever. In that case I would have no choice but to retreat into a fantasy world, and spend all my time playing 'World of Warcraft'. (Hang on...)

Or, I could be somewhat pessimistic (or somewhat optimistic) and assume that the matter hung in the balance, so that my actions would play a part, however small, in swinging the matter one way or another. I could then either:
Live my life in an agony of guilt, because I am standing by and seeing genocide done; OR,
Seek to employ the formidable powers of Dr. Clam in the battle agaisnt evil, imperiling my comfortable existence as an employed non-fugitive.

Hence my refusal to seriously consider Marco's (perfectly plausible and logical) vision of the future.

2 comments:

Marco said...

Firstly, I want to demonstrate that Dr. Clam's efforts are not completely in vain. I for one having gotten involved in this discussion originally, would have considered myself nominally pro-choice. After considering Dr. Clam's bold yet logical arguments over several months, I now consider myself nominally pro-life. However, since I take a deliberately moderate stance, this is not saying much. In practice, I will take pride in educating my children about the sanctity of life including the unborn - and when I am at all associated with somebody contemplating abortion, I will pull out all the stops for an alternative. In practice this means all the support I can give to the parents, and perhaps a threat to withdraw generous support if they abort.
That being said, I still think there are insurmountable problems with outright prohibition as has been the case in some countries in the past. I also think that countries that have prohibited abortion are at a severe competitive disadvantage.

Dr. Clam said...

Thank you very much! I am very happy that my efforts have not been in vain.

Technically, I ought to point out that I also take a deliberately moderate stance, but within the context of 'idea space' as a whole- hence, I consider my position to lie intermediate between the lunatic propositions held by the majority in our place and time and the equally lunatic propositions that could theoretically be believed, but at the moment have no proponents at all...