The Case for Optimism

The Case for Optimism 1

Kevin Kelly is one of my favorite authors, writers, and Twitter accounts. He recently wrote an excellent long-form post on the Case for Optimism, which feels like it’s sorely missing from 2021. Here’s an excerpt –

However, progress is not the prevailing view in 2021. The ills of society are very visible and the future is assumed to be bleak. There are three reasons why people tend to believe things are getting worse rather than better.

1) Progress is mostly about what does not happen. Progress means a 92-year-old who did not die today, a boy who was not robbed on his way to school, a 12-year girl who is not married to a 30-year old man, etc. What did not happen does not make the news. The best parts of civilization don’t get headlined.

2) Bad things happen fast, while good things take longer. So when we ask what has happened in the last news cycle (the last five minutes) only fast moving things show up, which are mostly bad news. Good takes longer than a news cycle. So most news, in any media, even responsible ones, is bad news. If newspapers and websites were only updated every 50 years, they might report: literacy is up, longevity increased, violence is down.

3) The solutions to most problems will create new problems. But if we can create 1% more solutions than problems, that 1% compounded over decades equals civilization. However 1% of almost anything is invisible in the now, lost in the noise. Such a small differential is really only visible in accumulation and seen in retrospect.

Optimism is therefore inherently hard to see in real life. It is a deeper current that requires counting things carefully, not just listening to tantalizing anecdotes. Optimism is also assumed to be a future-pointed thing. But optimism also springs out of a deep look at the past. Optimism looks past the superficial to reckon with the essence of deeper change.

The Case for Optimism

The whole piece pairs well with Jim Collins’ idea of the Stockdale Paradox, which is that “you must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

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