Reality Bites

According to Cass Sunstein, studies in psychology and behavioral economics show that 80% of the population is “unrealistically optimistic.” When it comes to their own actions and life prospects, people tend to have unwarranted expectations that things will work out well for them. The other 20%? The realists? They “include a number of people who are clinically depressed.”


  1. prayerwarriorpsychicnot May 13, 2014 at 3:07 pm | #

    Reblogged this on Citizens, not serfs.

  2. Chris Harlos May 13, 2014 at 3:09 pm | #

    Is he reliable?

  3. Roquentin May 13, 2014 at 3:49 pm | #

    Something I saw in an Adam Curtis documentary (The Trap, I believe it was) that always stuck with me focused on how when the famed John Nash actually tried to test out his game theory on the staff, they did not perform the way he intended and chose to collaborate instead. He wrote this off as the nurses “not being sophisticated enough.” Make no mistake about it, being “rational” is an ethical command, something which you are required to do rather than some kind of law of how thought occurs. In such a system you are ordered to “be reasonable” which belongs more to the superego and reality principle, rather than allowing you to act on any impulse you see fit.

    Furthermore, it’s worth mentioning that Deluze’s Difference and Repetition (a favorite text of mine) demolishes this attitude in middle section “The Image of Thought.” For him, the vast majority of canonical philosophy texts had been erroneously conditioned by the idea that thought necessarily tended towards truth, accuracy, and coherence rather than it being an attempt to unify cacophonous sensory impressions in a violent confrontation with an impossibly complex and chaotic reality. You get this in Badiou’s Being and Event as well with the idea that what exists is a “pure multiple,” or the cardinality of the real numbers (or contiuum) kind of infinity. He’s more indebted to Delueze than most people realize as commonplace as it is to label him “anti-postmodern,” but I digress….

  4. msobel May 13, 2014 at 4:06 pm | #

    Yet in my experience, progressives are more optimistic than conservatives.

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    • s. wallerstein May 13, 2014 at 5:18 pm | #

      Are you sure that progressives are more optimistic than conservatives?

      Aren’t conservatives ridiculously optimistic about how so-called free markets work, about the wonders of the American way of life, about
      how healthy family values are?

      I think that progressives and conservatives are optimistic about different things and on different issues.

      • Rob Field May 14, 2014 at 2:01 pm | #

        Your points are accurate as far as they go, but fail to account for profound conservative pessimism about human nature, resulting in a Hobbesian outlook on society and the state. Not very optimistic.

      • s. wallerstein May 14, 2014 at 4:43 pm | #

        Rob Field,

        One could imagine a Hobbesian left, those who see human beings as basically short-sighted and egoistic, the strong tending to abuse the weak and thus, favor a strong social democratic state which strictly regulates the economy and assures social rights such as healthcare and education. I’d be the first to join up.

        However, I’d agree with you that one finds more Hobbesians on the right than on the left.

  5. Jim Brash May 13, 2014 at 4:30 pm | #

    I think the majority of white people in the US still believe in the illusion of the American Dream; that the ceiling is made of glass not Lucite; that the the ladder of success is has no slippery rungs; that everybody has opportunity regardless of race and justice is blind. While the majority of us black and brown people believe the complete opposite. Most Americans don’t view reality in the same way even if our actual experience are the same or similar.

    • musicis2words May 13, 2014 at 9:09 pm | #

      Not to mention the fact that most of those in the US have been programmed by Hollywood movies (complete with flicker-rate NLP), wherein they end up identifying with the hero, so the subtext of the movie makes them believe a lie about reality.

  6. Cade DeBois (@cadedebois) May 13, 2014 at 10:30 pm | #

    Walker Percy did once suggest that depression is just a rational response to how the world is. It was in Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, if I recall correctly.

    I’ve suffered from depression since a kid. I actually don’t see depression as that abnormal–a lot of depression is at its roots from anger that has no constructive outlet to go, and being a disabled women with a lot of empathy towards the suffering of others, I have plenty of valid reasons to be angry but depressingly (pun intended) few avenues to change the way the world is. If you’re a honest realist, this world is going to give you a psychological beating and you’d have been made of stone to not bear some injury from that.

  7. partisan May 13, 2014 at 11:00 pm | #

    I noted your tweet criticizing Christian defenders of slavery. It reminds me that Eugene Genovese’s last major work was a series of volumes arguing that these same defenses were a high point of American thought. I suppose the logic was that only Christianity could defeat Stalinism, and since slavery was part of the bible, any abolitionism was a sign of Enlightenment corruption.

  8. rly1987 May 14, 2014 at 7:21 am | #

    I actually think libertarian paternalism solves many major ethical dilemmas within the medical field. For example, the question is sometimes raised “should doctors/health professionals prescribe placebos? Is this ethical?”

    With libertarian paternalism in mind: yes, it is. By default, it is assumed that patients are okay with getting placebo treatments. That doctors are doing this is known to the public and doctors probably will not be prescribing placebos most of the time; thus, when they do, patients get the placebo effect. However, those who want to know exactly what goes into their bodies (which is completely understandable) can then opt out of this “default setting” and this preference can be placed on the patient’s chart or file.

    Having said that, I’m not sure I would want someone like Sunstein paternalistically trying to sort out my affairs for me. He’s made some questionable life choices himself, in my opinion.

  9. Glenn May 15, 2014 at 6:52 pm | #

    Is this a Sunstein conspiracy theory or a conspiracy to invalidate conspiracy theories like, say, that the NSA is collecting possibly useful personal information on everyone so they can later be discredited if they are later found to be challenging embarrassing government “truths”?

    “3. Can “cognitive infiltration” (an unfortunate choice of words, I think, with its unnecessary sinister overtones) really work? The idea is that anonymous government agents could penetrate chat rooms and answer craziness with reason. But conspiracy theories seem to answer a deeper need than the desire for truth. N.B.: I suspect that government officials, on their own time, and not as part of formal programs, already do this, leading one to wonder how often Man-Who-Was-Thursday scenarios erupt in these chat rooms.”

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