I think we are up to our waders in you-know-what. I’m not going to recite any of the you-know-whats here. I’ve mentioned some (but not all) of them in prior posts. Suffice it to say I think the situation is serious — perhaps, from a financial and political standpoint, even dire.
That said, I remain incredibly hopeful. I prefer hopeful to optimistic because what we call optimism is too often untethered from reality — mere wishful thinking if you will. Too often it takes the form of a naive, childish outlook — a don’t worry, be happy persona.
Sometimes one should be worried (or perhaps concerned is a better word, as your great-grandmother prefers, Vera). Sometimes we need to acknowledge the clouds and gathering storms and work our butts off to prepare and avoid some of the disastrous consequences that might otherwise ensue.
Pure optimists aren’t very good at that. They’re generally the ones who get blindsided and take the full brunt of the blows.
So the whole optimist-pessimist dichotomy doesn’t appeal to me. Nonetheless, if I had to claim one or the other, I suppose I’d claim both, in the model of Antonio Gramsci: “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”
Hope, on the other hand, is a concept more to my liking. At least for me, it doesn’t deny reality. Hope isn’t afraid to talk about the clouds and to confront risks and danger. But it does so with full awareness of what shines behind the clouds. Hope, you see, allows you to see the sun through the clouds.
I see the sun. Here are some of the reasons why:
This world has survived just about everything that could be thrown at it and has come out of top. People are living longer. Fewer people are going to bed hungry. People have greater comforts. Fewer people are living under tyrants. People are not enslaved to the degree they were for much of our history. In many places on our earth, people are not constrained by their sex or the color of their skin to the degree they once were. There is a widespread belief that we’re all in this together — that we’re part of a global community and not merely members of insular tribes. It’s hard for me to see a sustained reversal in the forces that have brought us to this place. It’s easy for me to see the continued forward march of history.
- The Nature of Humanity
Humans are creative. We’re innovative. We possess hard-headed determination when it’s needed. I think a bet against the human race is a risky one. When the going gets tough, people usually step up their game and accomplish incredible feats.
- The Unique Character of the U.S.A.
Our country is unique. It isn’t perfect. It isn’t above making big mistakes and committing horrible atrocities from time to time. But it is uniquely special. We are a tribe unlike any other. We are defined by principles and not lineage. We are a magnet for talented, motivated, hard working people from around the world. We are almost entirely a nation of immigrants. Consequently, we are an unusually diverse country with a special capacity, drive and willingness to take risks that positions us for great things. We have done great things in the past, and I believe we will do great things in the future.
- The Bottle Is Still Full
We haven’t begun to explore the universe. We’re in the stone age when it comes to understanding the human brain. There is so much to discover, so much to explore, so much to learn. And humans have an insatiable appetite for learning. I have no doubt we’ll learn much and solve problems that seem insolvable today. People will look back on these times and marvel at our primativeness. Curiosity and an ever-increasing base of knowledge and understanding will propel us into the future. And, despite some of the nasty potential of advancements, technology will do what it always does: make life easier to navigate for all of us.
- Tyrants Are Having a Much Tougher Go of It
Due in large part to technological advances in communication, it’s much harder for tyrants and autocrats to maintain control then it used to be. In the years ahead, people in China, Africa and the Middle East will gain more freedom. The days of many of their despots are numbered. When people gain freedom, good things will happen, and we’ll all benefit from it.
- Alternative Energy Is No Longer Just a Dream
Clean energy is now a reality. And when we achieve a breakthrough on batteries, we’ll jump light years ahead and the days of polluting our environment with fossil fuel combustion will be numbered. It’s only a matter of time.
- The Old White Men Are Dying Off
Old white men are holding us back. It’s understandable. As a group, they’ve lost a lot in the past 50 years due to the women’s movement, globalization and digital technology (computers and robots), particularly those men who lacked the education, skills, credentials, mobility or desire to compete. Some of these men have been kicked unmercifully to the curb by their employers. It’s easy to see why some of them want to return to the good ol’ days, an era in which they dominated the economy and reaped the lion’s share of its bounty. But this group that was forged during WWII won’t be around in significant numbers for that much longer. They will be replaced by millennials (those born starting around 1980), which now make up the largest generational cohort in our country. I’m fairly certain that millennials will find far less appeal in hate-filled, bigoted misogynists and will be far less tolerant of obstructionist ideologues. Positive momentum should pick up speed as this generational shift matures.
- The Debt Overhang Will Be Dealt With
We are rapidly approaching (or are at) the end of a long-term debt cycle. One way or the other, much of our excess debt (personal, corporate and public) will be flushed out of the system, either by inflation, write offs, or defaults and bankruptcies. Sure, it will be painful. Many people won’t receive the pension checks they’re expecting. Many will lose money in their investment accounts. Some people’s standard of living will fall. Taxes will have to be increased. But once we get to the other side of this debt cycle, things will improve.
- Baby Boomers Are Aging
I belong to the largest generation in our country’s history. We propelled growth to unprecedented levels. But now it’s time to pay the price as we move into retirement and, eventually, the grave. The adverse impact from the aging of such a large cohort will take time to work through the system. But when it does (when we become a much smaller share of the demographic pie), the economic drag will be gone. And growth can be restored to more normal trajectories.
- The Pendulum Never Stands Still
Things are never static. The pendulum is always moving. And it tends to swing too far in one direction before reversing course. We’re approaching one of the extreme positions (what I think of as the ideological era of scarcity). It’s not a great place to be. But stupid self-defeating ideologies won’t last forever. The pendulum will swing back eventually. It always does.
- Despair Sucks
I can’t justify this one on rational terms; it’s purely emotional. And perhaps a tad spiritual. The fact of the matter is, despair isn’t fun. Indeed, it’s antithetical to happiness. Hope is a much better place to live. It’s a powerful force. It propels us through troubled waters. It shines upon the face of newborns. It excites grandparents like me. When I look into your eyes, Vera, hope leaves no room for despair. It’s not a choice. It’s a condition. A reality that the world imposes on me.
Things could get ugly between here and there. But that’s life. It is what it is. Good times never had a monopoly on our lives and never will.
Fortunately, life isn’t static. The earth and its people are dynamic. And adaptive. And smart.
Most importantly, the sun is shining, even when it’s obscured by the clouds. I for one think, long term, many of the clouds will dissipate, allowing the rays to shine more brightly upon our faces.
That’s my hope.