Optimism definitely is not just a sunny temperament, a kind of a blindness to the realities of the world’s problems or some kind of Pollyanna self-delusion. Instead, optimism is based on the fact of historical progress, that if we transcend anecdote and look at data in a scientific, rational way, that we can see that the evidence says that on average, on a global scale over time, over the last 500 years, there has been incremental improvement over time.
Here are the main ideas of the talk, but I strongly encourage to watch it in full.
Optimism is necessary for progress
It’s no guarantee, just because we believe something will happen that it will happen, but we do know that unless we believe that something can happen, it’s not going to happen inadvertently by itself.
Three reasons why people are pessimistic
Many times, progress is about what does not happen. Things that we take for granted and do not make the headlines.
Bad things happen faster than good things. Good things take longer to happen. The news usually reflect what’s bad. We need to change our timeframe to longer periods.
Civilization is about creating just a few percentage more good than it destroys every year. This small percentage is compounded, year after year. We don’t see it unless we look back into the past.
Three causes for optimism
- There is a long history of historical progress and it’s very probable that it will continue, at minimum, for the rest of our lives. These improvements rely on the fact that we are trusting others, which is a type of optimism. Trust allows us to make things beyond ourselves. Also, trust in future generations—the billions of people yet unborn into the future—allows us to accomplish things that trascend what we individually can do over time.
- We should be optimistic not because our problems will be smaller, but because our capacity to solve problems is greater than we thought. We can trust that future generations will have better tools and more knowledge, so they will be able to solve problems that we cannot solve ourselves today.
- Optimism is about embracing problems. Problems are the conduit of progress. Problems bring new opportunities, it’s problems that make us find solutions. Also, solutions create new problems. Most problems today are generated by solutions of the past. But those problems don’t impede progress. Even bad things that happen are possibilities to new solutions and opportunities.
We have a moral obligation to be optimistic
So we have a choice about optimism. It’s not a temperament. No matter what your temperament is you can still choose to be optimistic. And gigantic problems require gigantic optimism. We have a moral obligation to be optimistic, because when we’re optimistic, we can shape the future, we can become better ancestors, we can expand our reach – create things bigger than ourselves. And we can be a realist in aligning ourselves with this long arc of history and embracing problems as opportunities. With optimism, we can use it as a power to kind of create the future that we want. This is the way.