In Praise of Lost Causes

Quixote didn’t charge the windmill because he thought he would defeat it, but because he concluded it was the right thing to do.

.. Likewise, if we want to be legitimate actors in the world, Unamuno would say that we must be willing to lose the fight. If we abandon the common-sense belief that deems only winnable fights worth fighting, we can adopt Unamuno’s “moral courage” and become quixotic pessimists: pessimists because we recognize our odds of losing are quite high, and quixotic because we fight anyway. Quixotic pessimism is thus marked by a refusal to let the odds of my success determine the value of my fight.

.. Contemporary windmills might look like a small town getting a Walmart, or like kindergartners getting free iPads. Common sense fails us in two ways: first and most often, it uncritically believes that technology equals progress, and second, even in cases in which people recognize the potential harm to the community, they generally don’t believe that they can resist it.

.. Cultivating moral courage amounts to learning to shift our attention away from those who confuse criticism for action toward our own judgment of what is worthwhile, based on thinking a whole lot about what kind of world we would like to live in and the kinds of people we’d like to be.

It is worth noting that Quixote went mad from reading books, and this is precisely the type of crazy that Unamuno supports. We may not be able to improve the world, but we can at least refuse to cooperate with a corrupt one.

.. We can similarly transform ourselves into quixotic pessimists — the kind who are called dreamers, idealists or lunatics — by reading more, rejecting common sense and reinterpreting what constitutes a waste of time.