Intellectual Pessimism

Via Arnold Kling, I found this interesting question/answer from Matt Ridley:

6. What interesting question didn’t I ask that I should have? And please answer it!
You did not ask me why intellectuals are all such pessimists. And my answer is that pessimism gets attention – from funders, from the media, from governments. Also, for reasons I do not fully understand, it sounds wiser than optimism.

Some people might think that optimists ask this question when they don't know how to respond to the pessimist's concerns directly. However, there are a few reasons beyond attention why being pessimism might be the intellectual's preferred approach.

1. Intellectuals are more likely to stick to ideas than to get their hands dirty executing their ideas in the real world. The optimistic intellectual might be tempted to leave the ivory tower for opportunities elsewhere, leaving the intellectual profession full of pessimists.

2. There are always flaws to any plan/idea/project, so it is often easier to point out the flaws than help make it work.

3. There is a fine line between being optimistic on a subject and being a cheerleader, so it is easier to avoid the fine line completely and be a critic.

4. A continuation of the status quo or "these trends will continue" is often a rather boring point. Intellectuals need to be interesting in order to for people to pay attention to them.

5. Optimists who believe that a problem will be solved but who aren't quite sure how sound a lot less impressive than a pessimist who can give you the reasons why a problem is important and why each attempt to solve it will most likely fail.

6. Discussing why something won't work gives the intellectual the chance to raise his status relative to the people he is critiquing. Discussing why a certain group is going to do amazing things would lower his status.

What am I leaving out?

3 responses
i am the managing partner of a 5.7 billion dollar equity fund and would like to get in contact with the person who is doing the blog
i am the managing partnet of a 5.7bb private equity fund trying to get in touch with the person who is doing
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