Pessimistic Optimist

I have spent a substantial amount of time over the past few weeks digging into some of Peter Thiel’s most interesting philosophies on life, company building, etc. While I do not agree with everything Thiel stands for, I think many of his mental models are quite fascinating. There is a lot I align with.

Even if you have a bias against Thiel, I think you would enjoy watching / listening / reading many of his talks. There is a lot to learn.

One interesting thing I picked up on during this debate between Thiel and Andreessen was how Thiel is a pessimistic optimist.

I found this fascinating. In case you do not watch the video, the TL;DR is that Thiel takes the position that “the world’s progress (in terms of technology)” is decelerating. Andreessen takes the opposite side, saying how amazing the world is today. Both sides make compelling points, but what I find most fascinating is how Thiel frames his perspective.

He says, roughly, the he is the optimist in this situation. This, of course, is a contrarian viewpoint. Many would think Marc is the optimist here, as he is the one celebrating today’s progress.

Thiel, though, makes the case that he is the one who believes we as a society can and will be doing a lot better.

The pessimistic optimist. Today is bad, tomorrow is better. 

I think this is an interesting lens to view optimism. Optimism does not mean we are confident in today. All it means is that we are confident in the future. Optimism does not mean we avoid the facts of today. It just means we believe we can do better.

The best optimists are pragmatic. They are realistic. They are truth-seekers.

They aim high, really high, really really high – but they do not lie to themselves.

Here is another interesting Thiel talk: