Roger L. Simon

Pessimism Sells

James Wolcott has said a fair number of snotty things about me lately. I won’t link all them because, well, I’m a sensitive guy. [No, you’re not. You’re just too lazy to look them up.–ed. Okay.] Anyway, before I was so rudely interrupted, I have always been an admirer of Wolcott’s. He’s a witty writer and deserves his lifetime gig at Vanity Fair.

So I wondered why I stuck in his craw so much and at first glance figured it was the apostate thing–no one pisses off the club so much as the member who resigns. Of course, deep down my politics and his may not be so radically different as he thinks they are. I’m assuming we would both like to see a democratic Middle East with equal rights for women and so forth. On domestic social issues, though I haven’t paid that much attention to his views, we may not disagree much, if at all.

I think the differences between us are ones of temperament and, to some extent, economics. I have always been an optimist and, almost always, an interventionist, all the way back to my days in the Civil Rights Movement. I want to fix things. But as professional writer, up until this recent blogging “episode,” I have never written opinion journalism of any sort, only fiction and screenplays. Woolcott has always been a social critic–and a good one. They live off a pessimistic view of society, off snark, in the new parlance.

It is not therefore surprising that James drips his practiced vitriol on those of us who choose to take an optimistic view of the situation in Iraq. I say choose because I readily acknowledge I am deeply uncertain and worried about the results of this enterprise. Of course, Wolcott, I am sure, in his honest moments is unsure as well from his side. No one knows where this will end. Of course, in the greater sense it will never end anyway, but suppose five years from now–hardly a long time as these things go–Iraq is a semi-functioning democracy and the Middle East turning toward peace. What will Wolcott say then? What will I? Again who knows, but I imagine Wolcott will be grinding his teeth if Bush winds up on Mt. Rushmore. I will just be chuckling to myself at the amazing accidents of history, wondering what their contemporaries thought of the previous denizens of the mountain during their lifetimes.

As for that dumb pessimist/optimist dichotomy, I will make an even dumber observation. At least for us humans, planet Earth has been a helluva good place. There are tons more of us now than there were when we started and we have hugely longer life spans. Pessimism may sell in the short run, but, so far at least, it doesn’t make much sense over time.