Failure and being hooked to a positive outlook

Costica Bradatan:

We fail all the time, in things large and small, yet our biggest failure may be that, as a rule, we don’t understand failure. And since we are not equipped to think about it, we can’t grasp its broader significance in our lives.

A long evolutionary history has hardwired us to go blindly for whatever increases our chances of survival in the world, and therefore to chase immediate success. Brooding over failure, just as brooding over our finitude and mortality, doesn’t improve our chances of survival.

Failure is the sudden irruption of nothingness in the midst of existence, and contemplating nothingness, while spiritually enlightening, doesn’t make much evolutionary sense. That’s why when failure happens – and it happens all the time – we instinctively tend to move on, without paying much heed or studying it in depth.

This must be one of failure’s sweetest victories over us: on a deep level, we are designed to fail, and to fail badly (including our final failure: physical annihilation), and yet we are conditioned to remain blissfully unaware of failure’s darker message because our thinking can’t come to terms with it, just as it can’t come to terms with death itself.


Th[e] sugarcoating of failure is part of a larger societal process. Everything that is unpleasant, disturbing, depressing in our culture is neutralised, sterilised and promptly taken out of view. Not so much for mental health reasons as for economic and social ones.

To be productive members of society, to be able to make large amounts of money and to spend even more, to take loans and to pay them back with interest, we need to be hooked to a ‘positive outlook’.

Capitalism doesn’t thrive on loners, depressives and metaphysicians. No respectable bank will lend money to a client today who may snap and go Henry David Thoreau tomorrow.

Costica Bradatan. “Learning to Be a Loser: A Philosopher’s Case for Doing Nothing.” Psyche, Psyche Magazine, 19 June 2023, Accessed 28 June 2023.