A strange optimism

Posted by on March 19, 2011 in Thoughts | 4 comments

A strange optimism has overcome me today. With all the disasters and unrest around the world right now, you might call me crazy, but hear me out and you may agree with me.

We tend to be a very self-centred and self-interested lot, us humans, and we will always try to look after our own immediate family and community, forsaking the rest of the world in favour of our own interests and safety. We spend most of our time looking at our own lives, and the things that affect us. Rarely do we look outside the relatively security of our own lives.

Historically in times of world strife we have seen fierce nationalism and a tendency for insularity on a country level, people wanting to hole themselves up and protect their larger homes. This is fully understandable, also, after all the world can be a scary place, and it makes sense to protect what you have.

My strange optimism comes mainly from three things. Firstly, we are so connected to each other at this time, mores than at any time in history. We now can hear from people anywhere in the world, instantly, be it by 140 characters or video conferencing. At any time of day we have te ability to truly share our lives with abandon, across ethnicities, borders, geographies, creeds and cultures. We now have the ability to exchange ideas and information freely, without the constraints of location. This connection runs deeper than personal relationships with others on Twitter, or blog commenters, or chats, or World of Warcraft. These interactions are in business and home life, commerce and the media. These interactions have brought a richness to our communications like never before, and this is truly a thing of wonder. We are really only at the beginning of this journey, who knows where our future interactions might take place, what they might consist of, how we might interact and using what technologies?

Secondly, this ability to communicate has allowed those who might otherwise not be heard to get their ideas out into the public realm. People worldwide are discovering how to be publish their ideas via blogs, YouTube, Facebook etc. and I see a groundswell of voices coming from all sides of any given argument. The freedom with which we are able to get online and post our ideas is staggering, compared to only ten years ago. Within the ranks of people who are publishing content online, I see a growing voice of rational thought, people who are looking at the inequalities and injustices of the world and actually saying something. Where once those wishing to push rational discourse had no avenue to pursue this, we now have an open-table of ideas floating around, and the daily increases in the numbers of people taking up this cause is very heartening. On the flip-side of course there are just as many people willing to follow dogma and blind faith taking up their causes, but my hope is that when faced with rational responses to the dogmatic approaches to life, that some may get sway to rethink their position, or at least the audiences will call them out on their failings to come to the table with something workable. The beauty of what we have now is that nobody is unaccountable. If you are going to say something, you have to be willing to defend it and back up your claims, or you will simply be called out for it.

Thirdly, and this is a difficult one to explain because it doesn’t lie solely in the camp of the rational, we are experiencing a seemingly unprecedented amount of global strife at the moment. This in itself is not reasons for optimism, because many people are suffering, and many have died. In such situations as massive earthquakes and tsunamis, where people’s lives and livelihoods are destroyed, in the past couple of years we have seen a huge reaction from those unaffected worldwide. People have rushed to the aid of others in need in Haiti, Christchurch and now Japan, and the optimism stems from this fact. Natural disasters and crises like these give the world an opportunity to step back and reassess what we have done wrong. This is not to be confused with the religious stance of “what have I done to deserve this?” but rather, “what are we doing wrong on this planet, why are people suffering and what can we do to try and stem the flow of misery?”

I am of no doubt that humanity has caused many of the ecological and environmental challenges we face. Who knows, maybe in a closed system like the planet earth, with so many variables and so very many people, we are having an impact on the seismological activity of the planet. Maybe not (my personal jury is still out on this one). Regardless of this, regardless of whether humans caused it, regardless of whether human activity is partially to blame for the the current rate of climate change, global warming or whatever, what is patently clear to me is that without the buy-in from all parties involved we haven’t got a chance.

I hope you follow my logic here. Put simply I am of the belief that we are so caught up in our little worlds that it will take something big, something world-stopping before the ignorant, the stubbornly dogmatic, the blindly faithful and the irrational folks of the world to take a pause and say “Wait a minute, this is one planet, we are all here together, we really need to start working on these problems as a team!” Natural disasters are the only way we can hope to be shocked into action on this, because we can’t directly blame anyone for them (as opposed to the knee-jerk reaction to 9/11, where a culprit was named and sought out). Disasters like what is happening in Japan right now should bring it home that we are living on a fragile planet, that we are inhabiting unstable areas on the planet, that we aren;t as smart as we’d like to think and we can’t control everything, that maybe, just maybe, if we start now we can try for new ways to look to the future, new ways to see a future where we don’t have to worry about inequality between races and sexes and creeds, about overpopulation and the demands that brings with it, about religious dogma getting in the way of discourse.

The combination of my three points leads me to the idea that, since we can see just about everything as it happens (and the details which are presented via the media are ever more graphic and instant than before), since the voice of rationality is rising in society, and since we are now witnessing just some of the brunt that the uncaring universe can throw up against, that the outcome will be a more united international community. This is just a hope, unfounded in many ways, and it is just one of many of the possible outcomes from our current worldwide predicament.

There is a misconception that the Mandarin character for “crisis” is made up from characters meaning “danger” and “opportunity”. While this may be a falsehood, the idea is something I have lived by, for there is some truth behind it. In any crisis situation, there is an opportunity to learn, an opportunity to move forward, an opportunity to avoid the crisis situation from happening again. Let’s hope that if these kinds of disasters continue (which they undoubtedly will) that instead of moving forward as if nothing’s wrong, that it gives us pause to reflect on the many mistakes of humanity, and try to move forward toward a better future for us all.

If you think my words are just a pipe-dream, and that there is not a chance that this can ever happen, to you I say this. Nothing positive ever comes from people giving up. Nothing positive is aver achieved by inaction. Nothing positive ever comes from people who don’t try. I, in my own little way, am trying. I can’t not try, it’s not in my nature. What are you doing?

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  1. In answer to your question Martin…

    I’m going down the pub in about 10 minutes for a couple of pints of Bathams bitter & a banter. After that it will be fish’n’chips (with mushy peas) & watch the late film on TV. I notice down the pub, here in the UK, that concern for our ‘fragile’ planet is up front in the minds of all but the thickest of people & so I think we will leave a future for the coming generations. People are changing their habits.

    It’s the corporate bastards & their political puppets with vested interests in the old ways we’ve got to rein in

    I don’t find optimism ‘strange’ so maybe you mean it’s strange just for you ?

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    • Well not really, but whrn I write I usually come from that part of me that says “We’re all doomed!” Thanks for your comment Mike. I try to hold onto my optimism, just sometimes it gets shaken out of me.

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  2. Thanks for posting on this Marty. This sort of optimism seems more born of reality than the usual sort, and it gives me more hope for our species than I’ve had during the last week. Maybe these events are a sign of something interesting, and not just in the sense of the well-known Chinese curse.

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  3. Well written Marty, makes a lot of sense to me – such large scale events do manage to bring the best in a lot of people. It’s kinda like a huge thunderstorms, I love the feeling of insignificance they can instil, it’s an important feeling and something more people need to comprehend.

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