By David L. Brown
I have failed to contribute to this blog in recent weeks, for which I apologize. It has been a time of chaos in the world, beset with financial doom, political uncertainty, growing threats from every side. No matter where you look—Wall Street, Pakistan, India, Detroit, Russia, Venezuela, Washington, Iran—the world is churning toward disaster. Anything I might have written about on any given morning would likely have been turned on its head by the time the six o’clock news came on the air. Thus I have been in a watch-listen-learn mode, an observer to the on-going collapse of the world as we have known it.
I have never been known as an optimist, and have proudly laid claim to that opposite position called pessimism. For two and a half years this weblog has reflected those darker interpretations of the facts, based on my study of science, politics, economics and other factors that have been in play. My pessimism has been well-founded, at least to my own satisfaction, the result of analysis, research, logical thought and plain old common sense.
But I am now denouncing pessimism because I no longer accept that it is possible to be pessimistic about the future.
What? How can that be? Well, don’t get your hopes up that I have suddenly consumed leftover Kool-Aid from the Jonestown Massacre and bought into the HopeyChangey optimism that is the present public delusion. No, I am seting aside pessimism because it is no longer adequate to define the seriousness of the situation in which we, the human race, now finds itself. I am forsaking pessimism in favor of realism, which is a far more rational response to the facts as they presently exist.
Pessimism is a vague sort of idea, usually interpreted as describing a general suspicion that the future might be worse rather than better. Such a position, although usually based on at least some fact, requires a level of doubt or uncertainty. The facts that are presently sweeping across the globe have become so indisputable that they preclude nearly all doubt about the direction in which our planet is going.
To put the differences between pessimism and realism into perspective, let us imagine a scenario in which a mountaineer is climbing on an unstable rock face high on Mount Everest. The situation looks dangerous and thus a certain amount of pessimism is an appropriate response. He is a pessimist.
Now let’s assume that the climber’s pitons have pulled out of the rock, his companions have cut his rope in order to save themselves and he is falling ten thousand feet to an icy glacier far below. Can we call him a pessimist now? No, for the facts are plain, there is no doubt. He cannot grow wings and fly to safely so his future is certain, if short. The only description that can apply to him now is “realist.”
A “realist,” according to one dictionary definition, is “a person who accepts the world as it literally is and deals with it accordingly.” A synonym is “pragmatist,” which is defined as “somebody who only considers things as they are or appear to be, and avoids ideals and abstractions.” (Sources: The Free Dictionary; Encarta)
The transition of the climber in our scenario from pessimist to realist is analogous to the world situation now. The problems we face are real, indisputable, and innumerable. Not only that, there are no practical solutions to most of the problems. It used to be said that every problem held within it an opportunity. That aphorism may no longer hold true in the post-growth world that we have entered. The old economic model of “progress” as defined by never-ending growth is crashing on the reality of resource depletion, acerbated by over-population, greed, political and religious strife and a multitude of other factors including, and far from least, the on-going collapse of the Earth’s environment.