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.
Although few are yet ready to recognize it, the old world order is dead. Those who pay attention are beginning to glimpse the new world that is beginning to emerge in its place. This is not the glorious model that was being forecast a few years ago, the promise of a world blessed with universal freedom, wealth and happiness made possible by an ever-growing global economy. It is a completely different world that must emerge, one that will enforce drastic change. It will institute stark reductions in population, the necessity to create economies that are resource-neutral and sustainable, and the complete destruction of the old global economy.
The past world order that is now coming to an end was built on the shaky foundation of what was presumed to be an always expanding supply of cheap oil and other natural resources required to run the engines of commerce as they ground away in the creation of “progress,” a Utopian view that the world would always be a better, happier, richer place. All that despite ample evidence to the contrary that could be seen everywhere one might look, and had been pointed to since the days of Malthus and before.
We are now witnessing the end of that road called “progress” down which humanity has traveled for generations, and it leads to a breaking point, a distinct disconnect from the past. We are now experiencing that disconnect. We might visualize our present view of that road as a large sign reading “DANGER – BRIDGE OUT.” The facts are plain. We are no longer in the position of the mountaineer who is doubtful about his safety and can afford merely to be pessimistic, but that somewhat later realist version of him which is falling to certain doom.
The world has gone from a period of optimism that began with the economic boom following WWII, proceeded into a period of vague uncertainty during the inflationary era of the 1970s and ’80s, and declined more recently in the direction of pessimism after the tech stock market crash and 9/11. At last we have reached the final stage where even pessimism is no longer adequate to set the terms of the situation. We have arrived at the threshold of the Age of Realism.
Thus, I am happy to announce that I am now an avowed realist, or if you prefer, a pragmatist. We have passed beyond the age of pessimism and can never return.
Recognizing that, I have shed my cloak of pessimism to embrace the new reality of the world as it actually exists. It is a refreshing feeling, a kind of spiritual freedom to no longer be one of those gloomy pessimists, always full of party-spoiling observations about the bad things that might be coming down the road, often dismissed as a conspiracy theorist (and everyone knows that no conspiracy theory can be true) or worse. Now, as a realist, I can stand proud once more, content in my recognition of the world as it actually is and ready to act in accordance with that certain knowledge.
Unfortunately, there are too many others, particularly those in charge of things, who have been slower to recognize the sharp turning point through which human history is now passing. There are still too many mere pessimists in the world, and even (though it is hard to fathom) numerous ill-informed optimists. (As Claire Booth Luce once said: “The difference between an optimist and a pessimist is that the pessimist is usually better informed.”
These people who remain unaware of the fact the old world is passing away are playing the role of the king’s horses and men, trying to put back together an immense planet-sized Humpty Dumpty, the representation of our economies, political systems, and societies that lie shattered into a million pieces and scattered across the landscape from America to Zululand and all points between.
One of the signs of a system in decline or collapse is the evidence of denial. And indeed we are witnessed this to an almost shocking degree in current political events. Blind faith that something called “hope-and-change” will solve all our problems has catapulted into office a new President elect apparently believed by many of his followers to have magical, supernatural powers. Even before taking office he has been compared with Abraham Lincoln and even Jesus. His followers listen with awe and inspired if amorphous hope to his empty promises of some undefined thing called “change.” His words seem to promise much but upon a closer look signify nothing. The newly hatched optimists expect that the future will be bright and wonderful. This is denial on jet-powered roller skates, a prime example of mass delusion.
We see our once and future leaders acting as would-be saviors of the old world order advocating putting trillions of dollars into failed institutions in the apparent hope that if only those outdated corporations and other entities can be put back on their feet, things will return to “normal.” Well, here’s a hot tip: There is no more “normal” any more. “Normal” fell out of the nest some while back and was replaced by its evil twin, “Abnormal”. The idea that we can somehow transform the “abnormal” present back into the “normal” world we once knew is an impossible dream, a vain hope, and a disaster in the making. No, Humpty is well and truly broken and to spend trillions trying to glue and patch and stitch him back together is a foolish and pointless exercise in futility.
So here’s to realism, and here’s hoping things hold together for at least a little while longer as we gather ourselves to face the very serious challenges and dangers that lie ahead. That’s been the theme of this web site, and will continue to be our mission.