Whereas in the past optimism had been regarded as rather shallow — because “oh well, it’s just your temperament, you happen to be just a cheerful sort of person” — what I wanted to do was to establish that in fact it is the pessimists who are allowing all kinds of errors to creep into their work.
Matt Ridley gave a talk at the Long Now Foundation’s Seminar of Long Term Thinking called “Deep Optimism”. Ridley is the author of a recent book, The Rational Optimist, where he makes the case that human culture was created not by language (conventional wisdom) but by the exchange of ideas. That’s a useful theory, but not upsetting. Much more provocative and powerful is Ridley’s larger thesis that progress is real, enduring, widely spread, and for the near future, unlimited. In other words, civilization as a whole is (and has been) experiencing real progress, in most dimensions, and for most people, not just the privileged. And further, this goodness shows no signs of stopping.
Every new year, John Brockman of the online intellectual powerhouse Edge (www.edge.org) asks its virtual community of scientists and social thinkers one question. In 2007, it was this: “What are you optimistic about?” To strike a less than despondent chord this January, I put the same question to a few people in the British book world who are best placed to know. Read their answers on these pages.
The first 10 years of the 21st century were humanity’s finest — even for the world’s bottom billion.
Africa may often be seen as a lost continent, but a new study reveals a completely different image. Africans are becoming increasingly wealthy—at a faster pace than most assume. The growth spurt started in 1995 and is increasing at a constant rate. “Africa is reducing poverty, and doing it much faster than we thought,” write American National Bureau of Economic Research economists Xavier Sala-i-Martin and Maxim Pinkovskiy.
You can always make news with doomsday predictions, but you can usually make money betting against them.
Natural gas . . . is selling for less than half of what it was five years ago.
There’s so much available that the Energy Department is predicting low
prices for gas and electricity for the next quarter-century.
Things are better than they seem. Honest.
The idea that America’s best days are behind it is no longer just a rhetorical device: It’s conventional wisdom…But is it true? America is characterologically, almost definitionally, optimistic. The country, after all, was founded on the idea that anyone could come here and make a better life for himself. And for 234 years and counting, millions of people have done just that.