pessimismAlexandria, VA My last post has led some to conclude that I am a pessimist. Even Ross Douthat, among the most perceptive commentators in print and on internet, suggested that my post represented a pristine version of “deep, deep pessimism.” It’s true that I sought to provide a bracing evaluation of our condition, and I didn’t want to sugarcoat our situation with a “to-do” list of fixes that too readily suggested that everything can be made hunky-dory with a few sprinkles of better policy and wishful thinking. We have dug ourselves into a deep hole, and it will be a painful readjustment to our new reality. But, that new reality will (I think) have the necessary and salutary effect of making us live leaner, more frugally and more virtuously, so I guess I would agree that we are stuck with virtue. It just won’t be behind the wheel of an SUV.

That said, I am not a pessimist – certainly not in the technical sense of that term. Precisely what I reject in “Pessimism” is best expressed by reviving an essay of some years ago, in which I responded on a panel to the then-recently-published book Pessimism by Joshua Foa Dienstag. I think it aptly conveys my differences with philosophical pessimism, and even provides some intimations of hope about “what is to be done.” All that, without sugarcoating.


Wake Up and Smell the Coffee: A Response to Joshua Foa Dienstag

Patrick J. Deneen, Georgetown University

Joshua Foa Dienstag has written a remarkable and important book that, in my view, contains a persuasive argument about the existence of the underappreciated and under explored philosophical school of pessimism. I am so persuaded that Dienstag is correct about the existence, and importance, of this school of thought – represented by such various figures as Rousseau, Leopardi, Schopenhauer, Cioran, and Nietzsche – that I am simply going to concede that Joshua is right about its existence and its main features. In addition to reflecting my actual view on the matter, this concession also allows me to devote my comments to an exploration about why Dienstag’s correctness about pessimism’s existence should not obscure his more fundamental mistake of commending this philosophy to his readers.

But first, let me say some good things about Dienstag’s project. Dienstag is certainly correct to call into question all our modern optimistic faiths, ones that have proven to be so calamitous since the advent of the modern age. Advanced early on by such thinkers as Machiavelli and Bacon, modernity was inaugurated by the ambition to control fortune, and in particular, to master nature and apply scientific principles to politics and the whole of the human realm. Dienstag rightly notes the perils of this modern optimism, its rejection of limits that might moderate our grand schemes, its willingness to excuse horrors of the current moment in the name of progress (to name a few, the Terror, imperialism, Fascism, eugenics, Stalinism, medical experimentation on human subjects, napalm, doctrines of preemptive war, industrial farming, widespread acceptance of abortion, strip mining, accommodation with Mid-east tyrants, and the list could be expanded considerably). More existentially, Dienstag urges us to consider that the world may not be subject to our remaking in such a way that will result in our happiness. He seeks to lower our expectations considerably, to show us – in the spirit of the Stoics of old – that much of life is about endurance and a degree of acceptance of what cannot be fundamentally changed. We should eschew “global ambitions,” he writes at one point (198), a caution that surely should have special resonance and meaning in these days replete with efforts to remake the world in the image of a rapacious neo-liberalism, whether through commerce or war. Many will be drawn to Dienstag’s arguments, and for good reason.

But the alternative Dienstag offers – pessimism – is a false alternative, above all because it is no alternative at all. Pessimism, Dienstag essentially grants, is the flip side of optimism, its twin, born almost simultaneously in the modern era as a rejection of the ruthless rationalism and progressivism of modernity. Hobbes and Locke beget a Rousseau and a Vico; Kant, Mill and Hegel spawn a Nietzsche, a Spengler, and a Freud. Rather than telling us that we can expect that everything is getting better in every way, everyday, pessimism advises us – if not that things are getting worse, which Dienstag insists can’t be known (though, truth be told, the book recurs frequently to invocations of decay – 92, etc.), then, in an oft-repeated phrase, that we can “expect nothing” (5, etc.). The pessimist, most obviously, is a disappointed optimist, someone who is initially charmed by modern stories of progress and mastery, but who soon realizes that reality does not comport with these elevated expectations (if this doesn’t describe Rousseau, then I don’t know what). Dienstag relates a fable by Leopardi that traces this precise trajectory, according to which children begin life with an optimism that the world will fulfill their expectations, but that as they age, “seeing that the hopes which they had until then been putting off from day to day, had not been realized …, it seemed they deserved little trust…. Their ill-content increased so much, that they were not past their youth before a downright disgust with their being had universally possessed them. And little by little … some were driven to such desperation that, unable to bear the light and breath of life which at first they had so deeply cherished, in one way or another they of their own accord deprived themselves of it” (56). Dienstag understands this dis-illusionment to be the truer condition, and that we are right to expect nothing rather than expect everything. However, surely to expect nothing is to live with a kind of certainty as thoroughgoing as optimism’s belief in progress, to know that any expectations are false because they cannot ever be fully fulfilled, that it is the human condition to remain permanently unsatisfied. It is the falsity of optimism’s twin that Arendt likely had in mind when she wrote, in the Preface to The Origins of Totalitarianism, that she had written the book “against a backdrop of reckless optimism and reckless despair. It holds that Progress and Doom are two sides of the same medal; that both are articles of superstition…” (vii).

Both are superstitious because both deny reality, the reality of our given world and of human life in that world. One holds that humanity can craft its own redemption; and the other, that we inhabit a living Hell. Pessimism begins as a reaction against an extreme and false ideology, but is itself no less false for its rejection of falsehood and no less extreme for its eschewal of another extremism. In order to escape all disappointment, it denies the substance of the world, the diurnal and perennial renewal afforded by nature, the love of those in our homes, the good life afforded by flawed but potentially decent cities and the fellowship of fellow citizens, the fidelity of memory and memorial, and the hope – not optimism – we may properly hold for the future. Because any of these might disappoint at any time, they are all declared to be false and hollow, with our only recourse being, if not suicide, then withdrawal into a Stoic resignation or solitary resistance.

It is a false philosophy because it is false to the reality of our world, of nature, of the human creature. Dienstag rightly notes that many critics of pessimism will accuse him of a closet optimism since he has written a book, and I agree such an argument is “the last refuge of an optimistic scoundrel.” But, I would like to draw attention to one telling detail, drawn from a chapter of aphorisms with which Joshua concludes the book (258). He argues that it is not a “belief in truth” that most require to get out of bed in the morning, but rather “a belief in the existence of a future, that is, that our acts might lead to something.” For some, that might be “world revolution,” and for others, a cup of coffee – the very motivation that Dienstag acknowledges prompts him to arise each morning. But, he writes, “I simply can’t see how a verification of reality is involved in my anticipation of my morning coffee, only memory and hope.” Expect nothing – not even that there will be coffee. And why? Dienstag writes, “What if our memories and hopes proved false?” That is, what if we will be disappointed? And we know that we will be disappointed, eventually (if nothing else, one morning we won’t awaken anymore – even if the coffee is ready). And so, he writes, “[our memories and hopes] are always false, or at least imperfectly true” (and, still he gets up, like Sisyphus rolling the rock up the hill). But here Dienstag has elided an important distinction – that between something that is “always false” and something that is “imperfectly true” – and in this elision we can perceive the fundamental flaw of pessimism. There is a world’s difference between memories and hopes that are “always false” and memories and hopes that are “imperfectly true.” Only a disappointed optimist would confuse them – would make the “or” that separates them equivalent to an “and” – finding disappointment in any form unbearable, and thus insisting on the certainty that memory and hope are always false, rather than allowing that they may in fact be imperfectly true.

In my house, I get out of bed most mornings because my children won’t let me stay there (coffee is compensatory). This is a reality for much of the human race that is wholly absent in Dienstag’s account – the reality of love and sacrifice, life in home and polity, the diurnal rhythms of cultivation, and the hopes and even plans we make in light these facts of life – not with world altering ambitions, and in full knowledge of likely disappointment. Dienstag describes a world like that of P.D. James’s novel The Children of Men, in which we can expect nothing because there is literally no prospect for a human future, no children born of women (only those non-children of men). In that book, suicide becomes regimented and normalized; but in a world of children and love, it is properly the great exception. And yet, here and now, children continue to be born, they grow and fall in love and have children of their own. And yes, they disappoint – perhaps above all they disappoint! – but also they flourish and achieve, and perhaps bestow love as love was bestowed upon them. It would be as false to believe that children, spouses, friends, fellow citizens, polities, plans, dreams, memories and hopes always disappoint as it is to believe that they can be made never to disappoint. Because the world has some degree of predictability and rhythm, our expectations can be “imperfectly true.” Dienstag would have us build a wall not around our children’s soul – there are no children in this book, as there is no love – but around our own souls, separate and protected from the disillusionments that modernity seems to breed en masse, enjoying a sort of aesthetic individual freedom that relishes its independence but is in fact parasitic upon the necessary disappointments generated by an optimistic worldview that it otherwise appears to reject.

Linear time haunts modernity, and I think Dienstag is right to note its world-altering importance. Linear time is a creation of modernity, a portent of progressive ideology, and a marking of temporality that comes to mock progress’s failure. The pessimist – having rejected optimism’s belief in progress – experiences linear time as a burden, a torment of meaningless successions that lead nowhere, that create expectations of a forward trajectory which can only disappoint. But, here again, we should notice that the pessimist is as thoroughly in the throes of superstition as the optimist – the pessimist accepts the conditions laid down by the optimist and then declares his dissatisfaction with them. But he does not dispute the underlying premise of the conditions. We are stuck with all the burdens of linear time, and enjoy none of its illusory compensations.

In several passing comments Dienstag rejects out of hand the possibility that a more ancient “circular” conception of time is available to us moderns (16, 161). The modern mind is inescapably defined by the experience of linear time, he asserts. According to one of Dienstag’s aphorisms, we moderns experience time wholly as a creation of culture and artifice, a division of the days and hours that provides the “appearance of order and continuity” (244). Dienstag is particularly charmed by arguments that it is the invention of mechanical timepieces that inaugurates the era of linear time, that induces a belief in progress, that thrusts us into existential abstraction and alienation from ourselves and from nature. Linear time is the creature of mechanization, of artifices that “divorces the measure of time from nature” (13). I want to dispute this point, however. Here again, I think it is the case that the ideology of modernity obscures reality, not the clock – and reality is that terrestrial time remains fundamentally circular. Dienstag states that “the revolutions of the heavens were displaced by clock and by calendar.” This is mistaken: the clock and calendar mark the movements of the revolutions of the heavens; they are based most fundamentally upon those movements. Even in our digital age, most people wear watches or consult clocks whose shapes are round. Our methods of time-marking are an acknowledgment of the cycles and revolutions of the heavens, of the daily turning of the earth, the monthly cycles of the moon (one that exerts influence alike over the daily tides and the monthly cycles of a woman’s body, at least those not chemically altered), and the annual rotation of the planet around the sun. Yes, the manner of division involves some arbitrariness – why base 60? – but the standard governing the division remains the motions of nature. Our experience of time is one of beginnings and endings, and again new beginnings and new endings. Each day, each month, each year we return to where we have started and begin anew. A clock and a calendar do the same.

Linear time is not a result of clocks; it is the result of the ideology of progress that believes that it can master and dismiss the circularity of nature. To paraphrase Machiavelli, nature is a woman’s cycles, and must be straightened into submission. In turn, the exertion to master nature appears, if for a time, to render those cycles irrelevant: thus, we can plant certain crops in any season thanks to chemical fertilizers and pesticides, build roads without regard to terrain or topography, and wear shorts indoors in the winter and sweaters in the summer. The pessimistic instinct – to recognize the falsity of these presumptions and the ultimate and ironic failure of these efforts – is the right instinct, but it goes too far in asserting that, because the presumptions of progress are wrong, the opposite must be true – and, as a result, you should expect nothing. Indeed, because of its rejection of circular time and its acceptance of linearity, pessimism most fundamentally shares with its optimistic counterpart the same ultimate desire to conquer nature: it denies a rhythm in the natural world and seeks to live aesthetically – to turn nature into art, or, as Joshua puts it, to “emphasize how [nature] is a function of man” (268).

The reality of circular time, however, tells us we are bestowed with the privilege to expect something – the sunrise, the return of rain and sun for our crops, the birth of a child even as we mourn the passing of a parent, the seasons, the years, the centuries. We can expect the cup of coffee, because the coffee farmer plants his seeds in their season with the expectation of a successful crop. This does not mean that he will not experience disappointments – droughts and plagues, hail and pests – but memory and hope tell us that we can expect the return of our crops – that their reappearance is “imperfectly true.” Memory and hope, Christopher Lasch argued – and not pessimism – are the proper antidotes to optimism.

Memory and hope are also the proper resources and dispositions for politics. Politics should draw from the stores of memory of what has been possible and what has constituted hubris, and, so informed, becomes entitled to hope for appropriate and chastened aims. Pessimism, as described by Dienstag, invites us to think of the “democracy of moments,” fleeting combinations amid a more constant activity of individual self-fashioning. It denies the possibility of political communities as stores of memory and hope and rejects the idea of a democracy of the living, the dead and the unborn. But it is this latter kind of democracy that develops discernment and judgment drawn from the source of memory and prodded by modest hopes: it is informed by the kind of prudence that can distinguish between the appropriateness of hopes for world revolution and those for a cup of coffee. Throughout his book Dienstag equates hope and optimism as only a pessimist can, mistaking the chastened aspirations of the one for the hubris of the other (132). Hope, combined with memory, can go some way in distinguishing between those things that are “imperfectly true” from those that are “always false,” and perhaps most importantly, is able to retain the distinction between the two as defensible. And in maintaining that distinction, we can reject the superstitions of the optimist and the pessimist alike in order that we might find our proper place among imperfectly true human beings, creatures subject to, and grateful for, the motions of the heavens beneath whose rhythms we might together remember, and hope.

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  1. A powerful and thoughtful response, Patrick; thanks very much for sharing it. A lot to think about here. If I were to express my own thoughts about pessimism, and the “memory and hope” which allows us to vivify and make premises of action out of the “imperfectly true,” I think I would go the route of Paul Ricoeur and his “second naivete.” The naivete, that is, of the interpretative, hermeneutic thinker, who recognizes that the grounds of one’s beliefs or actions are not objective, universal, and definitive (the myth of all progressive philosophies), but who is able to affirm them through their substantive place in and through communities and traditions. I’ve written on this a couple of times before, but I wonder if addressing it in specific reference to pessimism and optimism would be even better.

  2. A significant response indeed… but I suspect you’re equivocating in a pretty big way. Douthat isn’t suggesting that you’re a rigorous philosophical pessimist; at least I can find no reason to think he is. He’s suggesting that you don’t think that many of our current problems can be fixed by any means which will be satisfactory to a modern liberal society. As this does indeed seem to be your position, I can’t say that he’s wrong, as this is on some level a “pessimistic” outlook in the conventional sense of the term.

    Insisting that “Hey, it’s not so bad! My kids get me out of bed every morning! Aren’t they cute?” may be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re rejecting any possibility of the success of the liberal project. And while I agree with you, most people wouldn’t exactly call that encouraging or optimistic in conversational terms.

    I say own up to your position. Yeah. You’re saying that things may well get “worse” before they get “better”–if they ever do. Why back down on that? It’s a legitimate position, and one whose time has probably come. Packpedeling into philosophical tangents confuses that somewhat. Granted, it’s important to recognize that our Hope has never been in this world, but in the next, but if anything, that’s all the more reason to refuse to use kid gloves about our current situation.

  3. My impression has been, for some time, that the sense of linear history & hence “progress” is a byproduct of Christianity. Depending on who you talk to, the secular concept of progress is the natural fulfillment of the Christian vision — or a distortion & corruption of it. The first view held by secular progressives who see Christianity as an idea which has outlived its usefulness, and also by anti-Christian neopagans who see it as an indictment of Christianity; the second view being held by Christian apologists, obviously.

    The optimism / pessimism duality is illustrated nicely by Lord & Lady Macbeth — the relentless pride of the latter directly leads to the despair of the former.

    Our own society’s absolute faith in a deconstructive approach to science — one which dissects the world in order to “understand” it and hence master it — is maybe not so different from misguided trust in the witches’ brew of newt’s eyes, frog’s toes, and dog’s tongues.

    In any event, I don’t understand how anybody who accepts that a fetus really is a human being can even talk about someone being “pessimistic” vis-a-vis America.

  4. Ryan,

    Patrick’s assessment of our current predicament stems from *realism* not from pessimism. I think Patrick’s point is that while he is not *predisposed* or *prejudiced* toward a pessimistic assessment of modern liberalism’s prospects, but a clear-eyed view of our predicament doesn’t make one sanguine about those prospects. Ross Douthat’s piece seemed to imply that Patrick is not sanguine about the prospects for modern liberalism because he is *temperamentally* a pessimist, when — in fact — Patrick would characterize himself as a realist instead, albeit one with the aforementioned reserves of memory and hope.

  5. J. D. Salyer, I’ve also heard that the linearity of time arose out of the Christian belief in creation and the eschaton.

    I wonder whether a better image of time would be the “helix” (or for those who like a biological analogy and know what “inaugurated eschatology” means, “double-helical”), having both the cyclical character of circular time and the directional character of linear time, yet with no intersections.

    It’s a fun thought exercise.

  6. Arthur, I don’t think you can get around this by playing the realism/pessimism distinction card. Let’s call a spade a spade, as it were. If we thinks things suck and we’re headed for a disaster sooner rather than later, why not just say so?

  7. J.D.
    Langdon Gilkey maintained that belief in progress was grounded in three things: 1. scientific consciousness at the heart of Enlightenment culture; 2. technology, and 3. the military and economic power of the West. All three of these are being shaken or have collapsed. What Christopher Lasch called “our last great superstition” is snuffed out with only smoldering coals remaining. Belief in progress was really a secularized version of Divine Providence. Our view of the world, our hope for it, should arise from the God who is outside it. Ultimately that’s why I am not pessimistic.

  8. But wait! History has ended and with it shall go linear time and so verily we shall all go happily into the pixelated busyness of Democratic Technonymphomania. If only their were a fishnet stocking garter belt attachment for my Iphone.

    At times like these, I resort to a process of apprehending reality through the “Devils Dictionary”, by that sweet-tempered aphorist, Ambrose Bierce. Henceforth, as I am of the sharing bent, I optimistically furnish a few relevant entries for your consideration:

    “Pessimism”, n. A philosophy forced upon the convictions of the observer by the disheartening prevalence of the optimist with his scarecrow hope and his unsightly smile”

    “Optimist”, n. A proponent of the doctrine that black is white”

    …and just to make sure we are on the right path,

    “Longanimity, n. The disposition to endure injury with meek forbearance while maturing a plan of revenge”

    “Manicheism, n. The ancient Persian Doctrine of an incessant warfare between Good and Evil. When Good gave up the fight, the Persians joined the victorious Opposition.”

    We might add that the sect has enjoyed a resurgence of sorts since Ambrose sauntered off toward the Mexican border, particularly along K Street in the New Babylon where eternal flames are burning in many a locked closet, particularly where a Gleaming Statue of the Deity known as Security decorates the inner sanctums, said deity consisting of a missile body surmounted by two heads, one a large sack of cash and the other redacted beyond easy recognition. It is shown hovering like a moth around a large and very spooky Black Hole. Listen closely upon the hour and you can detect the sound of what appears to be Basil Rathbone yelling “Boo!” emanating from said black hole…whereupon the Deity commences an aboriginal dance in grass skirt with spear, ululating various War Hymns in several languages, archaic and modern.

    “Man, n. An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be. His chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth and Canada.”

    I hope to be around in the funhouse when the Double Helix of time comes back around and dear old Ambrose can get a load of today’s history-averse optimists and perhaps update his dictionary to accommodate the Chamber of Commerce Level of Depravity we now must swallow by the pantload.

  9. Let’s hear it for D.W. Sabin people! Does anyone know someone who can obfuscate an underlying lack of content so beautifully? I mean, granted, most of us don’t have any more to say than he does, but most of us don’t bother to hide this behind rafts of unrelated strings of bizarre metaphors, so I suppose that’s worth the price of admission.

  10. Ryan,

    Pessimism about a particular situation is not the same thing as pessimism about situations in general. Someone like Patrick can be pessimistic about one situation and optimistic about others without committing himself or herself to either pessimism or optimism in general. There is no contradiction between being guardedly hopeful with regard to the human condition in general and being pessimistic with regard to the particular prospects for modern liberal societies within our own lifetimes.

  11. When I was a college undergraduate I wrote a paper, which the professor liked, in favor of pessimism. But really I couldn’t do that now, and one way of saying why is that since then I have gotten into the habit of making the sign of the Cross while facing in the direction of absent people of whom I’m thinking and while praying very briefly for them.

    This gesture isn’t a magical one, and something that, when I use it and accompany it with a prayer on (say) my nephew’s behalf, I’m seeking to budge a reluctant God. What it really means is that I’m praying for someone because we are supposed to intercede for others, and that I’m adding an “Amen” to what I know is God’s already-existing specific love for that person. That is the way things really are; at every moment of our time, it is right that we should think of the love God has for each person, even though we can no more imagine what the love of a Being Who is not bound by time would be “like” than we can well imagine what His love in itself is “like.”

    But the Triune God’s love of each person is a guarantee that pessimism cannot possibly be the last word about things. Although I’m “naturally” pessimistic, I can’t really embrace pessimism as long as I can make the sign of the Cross.

  12. This pessimistic scoundrel is optimistic that one day good-hearted, clear-thinking individuals will cease defaulting to the terms “liberal” or “conservative” whenever hoping to describe some vague death force that is hindering their vision for the world. A “rapacious neo-liberalism” is responsible for the mess we’s in? Oh. Why didn’t someone tell me this earlier? That explains it all!

    Pessimism is the correct outlook when a nation or culture is in a cycle of God’s judgement. Because things are going to get worse for quite some time. Repentance is the correct response. You don’t have to be Jeremiah to figure that one out. Speaking of which, you should be proud to be lumped in with the pessimists of history… Jeremiah kind of had it pegged.

    I am sure there was some other nice stuff in there, but Good Lord, you started to ramble and I lost interest.

  13. This is quite an edifying block of text, if you can be patient enough to read it. I’ll have much to reflect upon, considering some of it is news to me as a converted, former neo-pagan.

    And Dale Nelson, the power of that cross with which you (and I) bless ourselves is infinitely more simple and efficacious than any academic exercise about it’s position inside or outside of time.

  14. This discussion about the cross, hope and memory, and optimism/pessimism being “the superstitious denial of reality” reminded me of a short interview I just read of Hans Urs Von Balthasar, who said this: “Now, when asked about the meaning of existence as a whole, there are in the end two answers outside of Christianity. The first is that of religion – we can take Buddhism as concrete example . . . and the second is that of Marxism. Both are a flight from the present, which appears meaningless: either vertically through evasion or through inward meditation; or horizontally toward the coming messianic kingdom . . . At the intersection of a vertical flight and a flight into the future stands the Cross of Jesus Christ. And only on this point is the otherwise meaningless here and now of the present affirmed – namely through God. The Cross of Jesus Christ is the ‘pure yes,’ as Saint Paul says. And only God can speak this yes by responding to the Cross with the gift of the Resurrection, which is already hidden therein. Christianity is therefore the only true world-affirming world view. All others start from a critique of what exists, taking the form of a negation of a negation, and therefore contain the poison of ‘No’ and finally of sin. But to love a world that God himself loved unto death, that should be worthwhile.”

  15. BWilson – “Both are a flight from the present, which appears meaningless: either vertically through evasion or through inward meditation; or horizontally toward the coming messianic kingdom” – Hans Urs Von Balthasar doesn’t quite get Buddhism there.

    Everyone else, generally the essays I read here talk about how such-and-such a thing is wayward, and I don’t know that in general I’d call this optimistic reading. But I do think the distinction between realism and pessimism is valid, (whatever my opinion is worth) and that for the most part the FPR posters have two feet on the ground.

    It’s one thing to say, as my Dad used to chide me, that the way I’m constructing the cabinet is not structurally sound; it’s another to say there is no way to build a sturdy cabinet.

  16. Isn’t pessimism inherent due to the notion nihilism. I mean its pervasive thats why Nietzsche wrote so adamantly against it and offered the only real solution… which today presents itself in the notion of prosperity which is the most emasculating force out there. The only way to not be a pessimist is to be A. Very philosophic which brings about a type of happiness that Jefferson wrote about. B. Accept Nihilism and become power hungry which while in the end probably wont make you happy it will until you weaken just like philosophy. Or my personal favorite C. Religion! Of course you need a little bit of A and B to allow for C to make sense and actually make you happy… hence the pessimism inherent that choice to.

  17. The pessimist or nihilist reacts to the thesis that life lacks intrinsic meaning (existential nihilism) by accepting it and complain that it is horrible or revel in it (respectively).

    There are other reactions:

    Reject the thesis, then conceive (and preach) what the meaning of life is.
    Accept the thesis and claim that it is worth affirming. They are existentialists, who go on to claim that the only purpose of life is to live it (and create meanings individually and live an authentic life).

    I find myself an absurdist, in which I abstain from rejecting or accepting the thesis, by admitting that the meaning of life is unknowable, or ineffable. There are NO metaphysical or psychological consolations that are not trivial, because all we have are our own understanding.

    Where pessimists resign and chant that VANITAS, VANITAS, ALL IS VANITY, as an absurdist I revolt and establish my lucidity in the middle of what negates it. I exalt myself before what will crush me. In my freedom and my passion, revolt comes together in lucidity. No solution is possible; then again, perhaps no solution is needed.

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