Tuesday, January 09, 2007

What are you optimistic about?

Edge, the quite-pleased-with-itself forum for "some the world's most interesting minds", has posed its 2007 World Question: what are you optimistic about and why? [World Question Center] And it's worth dipping into.

I particularly liked the contribution from Daniel Dennett, the American Philosopher, that combined urgency about real-world concerns like climate change and development, with inspiration from society's capacity to change attitudes and behaviours (drawing on experience with smoking), to justify a robust optimism about what he calls The Evaporation of the Powerful Mystique of Religion as knowledge technologies and communication blast away at the enclaves that can still shelter the strange systems of belief that constitute the main world religions. As he puts it, "eventually the truth will set us free".

It left me wondering what I am optimistic about...

Actually, I take a lot for granted that for most of human history (or even the last 100 years) would be regarded as optimistic. I don't expect to be sent off to fight a war, be bombed with nuclear weapons or die of an infectious disease - not even avian flu. I expect to be richer, and if not that will be by choice to achieve better well-being. I'm not expecting unemployment or worried about downsizing, even if its me that's downsized! Despite the slow-motion catastrophe of climate change, many environmental trends are heading the right way [UK sustainable development indicators indicators], though the big picture is quite gloomy [WRI Earth Trends]. More progress expected on the Millennium Development Goals, though with depressing exceptions in Africa. I'm looking forward to a decline in American and British adventurism in favour of a more multilateral approach to the new UN concept of the 'responsibility to protect'. I expect to enjoy a lengthy season of political theatre - with a new PM following a contest, bustle for Cabinet positions, overhaul of Whitehall, and an SNP victory that will spoil the fun for the incoming PM and create an excellent debate about the West Lothian question. I love the Internet and think that will just get better - who imagined Wikipedia, Google, Blogger, Skype and iTunes - to name a few - even just 10 years ago?

Like Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris I'm optimistic that religion will begin a precipitous decline in the face on a new knowledge-driven enlightenment, and I think it will start (or rather continue) with Christianity in Britain - see chart for the trend in church-going.

Above all, I'm optimistic that England's cricket performances will improve, though probably not until we depart from Australia.

What are you optimistic about?


Jeannetto said...

Wow. I agree. I cant wait until my mother has to confess religion was just all a bad joke.

Anonymous said...

I think it was Eisenhower who said whenever faced with seemingly overwhelmingly situations, he reassured himself with the words of his former grade school history teacher that, “despite setbacks, the general course of human history has been upwards”. It’s true that in almost ever field human progress has outstripped the conceivable expectations at the time. Few so called fears have been realised. Perhaps with the exception of climate change, it’s hard today to conceive of any area where things are likely to lead to falling welfare over a due period of time. So, some things I’m optimistic about….

- the capacity of Africa to lift itself out of poverty independent of the development planners. My prediction would be growth will be higher in the continent of Africa in 2007 than in at least 90% of all highly-industrialised countries; and that it will continue to be so, on average, throughout the entire period to 2020

- that material standards of living will continue to rise at pace throughout the industrialised world so that, for example, my present material standards will appear somewhat impoverished to my children, and distinctly unrecognisable to my children’s children. More immediately, average incomes will continue to rise; average working hours continue to fall

- that human longevity will continue to increase, decade-on-decade, both in terms of life-span and quality-adjusted life years

- that the UK will meet all its so-called crippling long-term financial liabilities – including on pensions and health care throughout the first half of the 21st Century– without any significant financial restructuring, fiscal catastrophe, or rise in tax take

- that there will be no crisis in democracy, but rather that there will be a evolutionary transfer of democracy to the public through new mechanisms and

- that, in the future, the present stage of development of internet will be seen as the ‘incubation period’ with the capabilities of current frontrunners (YouTube, Skype etc) taken to ever higher levels

- that, rather than us facing a future of crisis in office working, companies – driven by their competition for talented workforce – will increasingly shift to having smaller core areas of the business and outsource more of the non-core work. This will leave us ever more flexible and freer to make active choices about how, when and where we work, enabling us to enjoy power over how we divide our working lives in a way that has never been experienced before

- that internationalism, after facing a period of stress with rapidly shifting tectonic power plates over the more immediate period, will revive itself and become resurgent over the forces of unilateralism and isolationism by the time the next decade is out

- and, lastly, that a visitor to Britain well in the 2030s will still be able to experience rolling green hills, village cricket, country pubs serving great local beer, a unique satirical sense of humour, quaint antiquities, and oh, some rather dodgy sporting talents…


Anonymous said...

hold on, the english cricket team are playin against the kiwis, so there is hope yet.