For centuries the word ‘optimism’ has been viewed with scorn by those who cannot think of a better way to describe what they are not. In distancing themselves from this word and defining others by it, they have opened yet another unnecessary void between those who are and those who are not, those who have and those who have not.
It was Voltaire who first satirised the burgeoning concept of ‘optimism’ in his novel Candide, ou l’Optimisme, in which Candide explains optimism as “the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best when it is worst.” But the modern notion of ‘optimism’ has evolved far beyond what Voltaire understood it to be. Perhaps the emergence of capitalism and industrialisation led it to be associated with progress, both economic and moral. It would come to be understood as “the obstinacy of maintaining that everything will be best when it is worst.” But then, perhaps Voltaire wilfully misunderstood ‘optimism’ all along.
Either way, ‘optimism’ has long been considered an inherently conservative trait; for Voltaire it concerns the conviction that nothing need be changed and for capitalists it concerns the prospect of monetary and material gain. Here we begin to comprehend what makes ‘optimism’ so objectionable to a population adamant that only the upper echelons of society can afford it. But ‘optimism’ is not so objectionable. Even if everyone made the claim that everything they had ever done and planned to do was simply for survival, they would still be admitting the desire to survive.