January 5, 2010

Considering how old I am, it’s a bit of a problem that I continue to find the world so alienating. You’d think I’d have gotten over it by now. But I find most aspects of our culture excessively noisy, vulgar, unreflective, competitive, anti-intellectual, and badly designed. And I feel like we are hurtling heedlessly towards some frightening meltdown.

But being someone who shrinks from this world is not, generally speaking, appealing. Doubt and caution are not attractive traits.

Instinctively we are all drawn to those who project confidence and optimism, who can create an aura that answers are simple and achievable. We call this charisma.

The pull we feel for this trait must come from our social-primate ancestry: Groups motivated by an appealing leader probably survived better. Unfortunately it also makes people vulnerable to religious cults, political demagogues, and forceful egomaniacs in general. “Naysayers” can’t compete—even when their nays are accurate and needed.

Optimism may be a useful delusion; but it interferes with making difficult, necessary choices. Evolution favors the oblivious, right up until the edge of the cliff.

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