Friday 30 Sep 2016

From Pessimists
David Simmonds

Here's more good news for Wellington: the Pessimists are coming to town.

It's all happening thanks to the initiative of Hugh Doldrum, a new resident lured to The County by its 'creative rural economy' marketing campaign.

Doldrum is - by nature and by trade - a pessimist. "As a child, I was always intirigued by Eeyore," he told us. "He seemed to have far more depth than Winnie the Pooh or Christopher Robin. When I was older, in English I came across Ambrose Bierce and Oscar Wilde, and in Economics I came across Malthus and Murphy. So I had my idols established early in my career."

Doldrum's business card describes him as an 'adverse outcomes analyst'. In plainer English, that means someone who is paid to anticipate and plan for the worst.

Doldrum is currently consulting to the developers of the Picton sewage treatment plant. "You can't take risks with sewage," he noted. "For example,..." At this point, we stopped Doldrum short to assure him we agreed with him.

Doldrum is also guardedly optimistic ("I hate that phrase," he says, "but it's about the same as an optimist saying 'slam dunk'") that he will land a contract with with the County over waste and sewer development charges. Says Doldrum: "when you have no clue what you're doing in the first place, adverse risk management tends to become a high priority."

But is there any demand for the services of a pessimist? "Well, maybe you're right, maybe there isn't," said Doldrum. "Perhaps I should just pack it in and learn to serve double doubles."

After taking a few moments to compose himself, Doldrum pointed out that the federal auditor general had very recently bemoaned the overall lack of government disaster preparedness. And then he went on the offensive.

"An optimist sees the glass as half full and a pessimist sees it as half empty. But there's exactly the same amount in the glass either way. And studies show that any glass sitting around that's less than full or empty is more likely to be emptied before its filled than filled before it's emptied. So it beats me why there are more optimists than pessimists. Especially when it seems so obvious the world is going to hell in a hand basket."

Doldrum has persuaded the Society of North American Pessimists (SNAP) to bring its 2010 annual convention to Wellington. SNAP has some 500 members from across North America. Part professional association and part service club, its motto is: "Differentium minimus possibilis". Loosely translated: "I guess there's a small chance we might be able to make a difference."

Doldrum acknowledged that the membership numbers are small in relation to the number of potential members. "People tend to say 'what's the point - nothing will come of it'," said Doldrum. "So they tend not to be joiners."

Pessimists come from all walks of life, says Doldrum, although he acknowledges there is a heavy representation in his membership base from bank loan officers, blues musicians and actuaries. They boast a higher than average income, he notes, although they tend to be a little less gregarious and impulsive and - unless they are funeral directors, also heavily represented - whistle at work less frequently than in a normal population sample.

Wellington has been picked deliberately. "Wellington is a hotbed of optimism," says Doldrum. "People seem to believe they can do anything.

"Take the 'Rekindle the Spirit' campaign. Every week you read about some success or other in meeting their fund raising objective for the new Dukedome. They'll come to believe they're unstoppable. But something will come up. It always does. And then they'll find they need a pessimist or three to help them through the mess they're in."

Doldrum sees this potentially volatile combination as an opportunity for both hosts and visitors. Can the pessimistic visitors thrive in a relentlessly optimistic environment? Can they demonstrate their worth to the local populace? Will their carefree hosts seize the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the risks lurking in their adventures? Can they learn to live with the dampening effect of a bevy of pessimists?

"We'll be doing workshops with the Friends of the Library, the Woman's Institute, the churches and so on," said Doldrum. "We should be able to spread our influence right across the community. I suppose I'm anticipating this will be a modest success."

Which brought us to scratch our heads and ask Doldrum this question. If you think something will succeed, doesn't that mean you're no longer a pessimist? A pessimist thinks failure.

The printable part of Doldrum's reply was to the effect that he thought he was talking to the Wellington Times, not the Canadian Journal of Contemporary Philosophy, and that he was sure that the Times would do best sticking to its news knitting, if it wanted to remain optimistic about its future.

Wellington: get ready for it. Your well of optimism is surely deep enough to withstand and learn from a healthy dose of pessimism. Or at least, we sure as heck hope so.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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