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Five Ways to be Pessimistic, Or Not–Journal of the Plague


“Life is what you do while you’re waiting to die,” Donald Trump, then a real estate tycoon bound for bankruptcy, told Playboy* magazine in 1990. “You know, it is all a rather sad situation.” 

“This is who Mr. Trump is, who he always was. In a time when everything is changing, you can rely on Mr. Trump’s apathy to suffering.” **


**The plague of Donald Trump, by Sarah Kendzior, The Globe and Mail – 3/25/20.

Five Ways of Being Pessimistic, Or Not

Finding this quote of Trump by Sarah Kendzior got me thinking. Discussing this with Leah Houle, my editor, thoughts spilled out in all directions.

What paradigms in the history of thought address the musings of Trump? What would you call them?  Philosophies of fate, death, impermanence, pessimism? 

Within minutes we aggregated the teachings of Buddha, Stoicism, Friedrich Nietzsche, Existentialism, and Post Modernism.

Researching the topic in the internet, I found acknowledgement of our decease, and admission of dread and futility. But each in their own way puzzled out some form of acceptance, detachment, and also noble resignation, and bravery. There can even be found a highborn rejection of despair similar to Friedrich Nietzsche’s Dionysian “triumphal yes to life over and above all death and change.” (see Alex Ross below). But I will leave it to you, dear reader, to tease out my assumptions.

Regarding the Trumpian complaint that inspired this piece, I wonder if he is capable of anything more than what Kendzior suggests–his plagued funk (no pun intended).

I must add that regarding Buddhism, my preference for coping, I interpret it as ultimately liberating and realistic, sensible, and level-headed. Just my opinion, man… just my opinion, to quote Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski.

Please read on, and I hope there be comfort of some kind here.


…The world is afflicted by death and decay. But the wise do not grieve, having realized the nature of the world.” – Buddha

…“Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give whole heart and soul to it.” –Buddha

 …“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” – Buddha

…“Death carries off a man busy picking flowers with a besotted mind like a great flood does a sleeping village.” —Gautama Buddha

…“Here will I live in the rainy season, here in the autumn and in the summer: thus muses the fool. He realizes not the danger (of death).  —Gautama Buddha

…“We must be diligent today. To wait until tomorrow is too late. Death comes unexpectedly. How can we bargain with it?” —Gautama Buddha

…“Of all footprints, that of the elephant is supreme. Similarly, of all mindfulness meditations, that on death is supreme.”—Gautama Buddha

…“To be idle is a short road to death and to be diligent is a way of life; foolish people are idle, wise people are diligent.” _Gautama Buddha

… “Life is uncertain; death is certain.”— Buddha

…“Those who consider the unessential to be essential, and see the essential as unessential, don’t reach the essential, living in the field of the wrong intention.” Buddha

…“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” – Buddha

…“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.” – Buddha


…“I cannot escape death, but at least I can escape the fear of it.” —Epictetus

… “Let each thing you would do, say, or intend, be like that of a dying person.” —Marcus Aurelius

…“It’s better to conquer grief than to deceive it.” —Seneca

…“It is better to conquer our grief than to deceive it. For if it has withdrawn, being merely beguiled by pleasures and preoccupations, it starts up again and from its very respite gains force to savage us. But the grief that has been conquered by reason is calmed for ever. —Seneca

…“It is not death that a man should fear, but rather he should fear never beginning to live.” —Marcus Aurelius

…“About death: Whether it is a dispersion, or a resolution into atoms, or annihilation, it is either extinction or change.” —Marcus Aurelius

…“Don’t behave as if you are destined to live forever. What’s fated hangs over you. As long you live and while you can, become good now.” —Marcus Aurelius

…Choose to die well while you can; wait too long, and it might become impossible to do so. —Gaius Musonius Rufus

[ ]

Friedrich Nietzsche 

…”the celebration of Dionysian energy, the ‘triumphal yes to life over and above all death and change.’”  The Eternal Return, Alex Ross. The New Yorker, Oct. 14, 2019, p.34-39

…“Many die too late and some die too early. Still the doctrine sounds strange: ‘Die at the right time.’… Die at the right time: thus Zarathustra teaches.” Nietzsche

…”In a certain state it is indecent to live longer.” Twilight of the Idols, Expeditions of an Untimely Man, —Friedrich Nietzsche

… “To die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly. Twilight of the Idols, Expeditions of an Untimely Man, —Friedrich Nietzsche

…One never perishes through anybody but oneself.” Twilight of the Idols, Expeditions of an Untimely Man, Friedrich Nietzsche 

…That which does not kill us makes us stronger. —Nietzsche

…Necessity is not an established fact, but an interpretation. —Friedrich Nietzsche

…In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play. —Nietzsche

…He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.—Nietzsche

…In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.—Nietzsche

…In the consciousness of the truth he has perceived, man now sees everywhere only the awfulness or the absurdity of existence and loathing seizes him.—Nietzsche

…Beware you look into the abyss, lest the abyss look back at you.


“Existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes individual existence, freedom and choice. It is the view that humans define their own meaning in life, and try to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe. It focuses on the question of human existence, and the feeling that there is no purpose or explanation at the core of existence. It holds that, as there is no God or any other transcendent force, the only way to counter this nothingness (and hence to find meaning in life) is by embracing existence.

“Thus, Existentialism believes that individuals are entirely free and must take personal responsibility for themselves (although with this responsibility comes angst, a profound anguish or dread). It therefore emphasizes action, freedom and decision as fundamental, and holds that the only way to rise above the essentially absurd condition of humanity (which is characterized by suffering and inevitable death) is by exercising our personal freedom and choice, a complete rejection of Determinism.”  

[ www.philosophy – existentialism ]

—QUOTES:  Jean Paul Sartre 

…“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

…“Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal.”

…”Generosity is nothing else than a craze to possess. All which I abandon, all which I give, I enjoy in a higher manner through the fact that I give it away. To give is to enjoy possessively the object which one gives.”

…”It is only in our decisions that we are important.”

…“One always dies too soon — or too late. And yet, life is there, finished: the line is drawn, and it must all be added up. You are nothing other than your life.”

…“Man is a useless passion.’

…“I exist, that is all, and I find it nauseating.”

…“One is still what one is going to cease to be and already what one is going to become.”

…”One lives one’s death, one dies one’s life.”

…“God is absence. God is the solitude of man.”

…“Nothingness haunts being.”

…“Life begins on the other side of despair.”

…“Nothingness lies coiled at the heart of being like a worm.”

…“Don’t you feel the same way? When I cannot see myself, even though I touch myself, I wonder if I really exist.”

…”It disturbs me no more to find men base, unjust, or selfish than to see apes mischievous, wolves savage, or the vulture ravenous.

“”Man is not the sum of what he has already, but rather the sum of what he does not yet have, of what he could have.”

Louis: “Most of all I longed for death. I know that now. I invited it, a release from the pain of living. My invitation was open to anyone. Sailors, thieves, whores and slaves … but it was a vampire that accepted. —Interview with the Vampire.”  —Anne Rice


…”I proceeded to make the change. I cannot say that it consisted of any one step really — though one, of course, was the step beyond which I could make no return. But there were several acts involved. The first was the death of the overseer.” —Anne Rice, Interview with a Vampire.

…“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change. —Carl Rogers

…“The truth is that since childhood I had cultivated an existential independence. It came from perceiving the adults around me as unreliable, and without it I felt I wouldn’t have survived. I cared deeply for everyone in my family, but in the end I depended on myself.” —Sonia Sotomayor

…”Everything I do is somehow rooted in humanity. It’s always about people; it’s always about ego. It’s always about desperation. It’s quite existential. You know, ‘Am I leading a good life?’ That might be because I’m an atheist, and I think this is all we’ve got, so you better be nice. And have fun.”–Ricky Gervais

…”I was not popular in school, and I was definitely not a ladies’ man. And I had a very painful adolescence, because it was all very strange to me. It wasn’t like I got beat up, but the humiliation and isolation, and the existential ‘God, I exist, and nobody cares,’ of being a teenager were extremely pronounced for me.”–Joss Whedon


General Characteristics of Postmodernism

“Postmodernism is a late 20th-century movement in philosophy and literary theory that generally questions the basic assumptions of Western philosophy in the modern period (roughly, the 17th century through the 19th century).

“Many postmodernists hold one or more of the following views: (1) there is no objective reality; (2) there is no scientific or historical truth (objective truth); (3) science and technology (and even reason and logic) are not vehicles of human progress but suspect instruments of established power; (4) reason and logic are not universally valid; (5) there is no such thing as human nature (human behavior and psychology are socially determined or constructed); (6) language does not refer to a reality outside itself; (7) there is no certain knowledge; and (8) no general theory of the natural or social world can be valid or true (all are illegitimate “metanarratives”).

“Postmodern philosophy is characterized by broad skepticism or relativism and a general suspicion of reason. It also broadly asserts that Western intellectual and cultural norms and values are a product of, or are in some sense influenced by, the ideology of dominant or elite groups and at least indirectly serve their interests.”

…“There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.”― Harold Pinter

…“Postmodernity is said to be a culture of fragmentary sensations, eclectic nostalgia, disposable simulacra, and promiscuous superficiality, in which the traditionally valued qualities of depth, coherence, meaning, originality, and authenticity are evacuated or dissolved amid the random swirl of empty signals.”― Jean Baudrillard

…“The Postmodernists’ tyranny wears people down by boredom and semi-literate prose.”― Christopher Hitchens 

…“Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives.”― Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge

…”What exactly is postmodernism, except modernism without the anxiety?”― Jonathan Lethem 

…—[In the mind of Francis Fukuyama, “the end of history occurred after the Cold War (1945–1991) and the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991). Fukuyama published The End of History, writing: “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the cold war, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such … That is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”


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