One interesting aspect of Dalrymple’s career is the difference between the image some have of him, through a misreading of his writing, as a dour and unhappy man and his actual personality, which is friendly and humorous. Daniel Hannan remarked on this in his interview of Dalrymple. People mistake his pessimism for bitterness, when actually pessimists are often happier people because they are less prone to disappointment. If your expectations are low to begin with, the world is not as much a source of constant frustration. In a new piece at the Library of Law and Liberty, Dalrymple distinguishes his own “existential pessimism” from both “catastrophist pessimists” like Paul Ehrlich and “radical optimists”, two seemingly opposed attitudes that both tend toward frustration and unhappiness. In so doing, he gives one of his most forthright explanations of his own outlook:
The existential pessimist is light-hearted, for he knows that human life is not perfectible, and can therefore enjoy what it has to offer without any sense of guilt that he is not spending his every waking hour averting disaster or bringing perfection about. He does not deny that many diseases currently incurable will one day change their status and that this is a good thing, for taken in the round more life is better than less; but neither does he expect that, when formerly incurable diseases have become curable, human complaint and dissatisfaction will become things of the past. Golden ages in the future are just as mythical as golden ages in the past (except, perhaps, in isolated fields, as exemplified in Dutch painting).