Tuesday, February 5, 2013


I'd like to be optimistic about the prospects for the future of the human race. (I think believing that the human race has a future of more than a hundred years or so, that we will not kill ourselves off by then nor will we be obliterated by, say, a comet, or an unexpected plague or something completely unforeseen, is optimistic.) I don't think that people can predict the future as accurately as many people have claimed that they could. A good meteorologist can predict the weather for a given location a few days ahead with 80% accuracy or so. Farther out than that, things become decidedly murky, except for the long-term probability that the weather will get much, much, much worse unless people change their behavior very radically. And the latter: how radically people's behavior will change, and how soon -- that I don't think anyone can predict. The factors involved are far too complex. I choose optimism because it's more fun, and also because it gives me more energy than pessimism, energy which I can expend on constructive behavior which makes my optimism a self-fulfilling prophecy to a certain extent. And I think optimism just feels better. Any statement about what any creature other than oneself, human or otherwise, actually thinks or feels, is ultimately guesswork, but let me engage in some guessing: let's look at the case of that arch-pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer.He had so many advantages: he grew up wealthy in Weimar. As a young man had Goethe,for crying out loud, as a mentor, but he broke off that relationship for no good reason at all, and told himself that he had good reason, that the break was inevitable, that it was his only honorable choice; he sabotaged what might have been a brilliant career as a professor, putting who knows how big a dent in the nonsense spread by his bête noire Hegel --a self-sabotage plain to see to anyone today, with our advantage of Freudhaving pointed out to the world in the meantime a few elementary things about how the human mind works; he never married, he had no known grand passionate flings, he always expected the worst of people and was seldom disappointed; he wrote many very wise things (and some stupid things), he's very much worth reading, but the thought of being someone remotely like him must send great chills of No-thank-you-PLEASE! down the spine of anyone paying attention.

Nietzsche,on the other hand, had such horrible health problems that few could have blamed him for being very gloomy, but instead he chose to think and write like a Superman bursting with every kind of health, and showed his readers a way toward greater passion and greater joy. Seems to me like it was fun to be him.

And so I choose to believe that we have a chance to change our behavior so radically that the weather will once again become less extreme, and there will no longer be wars started by shortages of drinkable water, and that high finance will change to something more humane and constructive than deliberate thievery and fraud -- that in general we have a chance to become smarter, and nicer to one another, and to thrive.

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