Up From Pessimism

Thanks for visiting here! This blog aims to provide a forum for lively discussion of political, social, economic, and philosophical issues.

            To set the tone, I’ll start it off with a brief essay explaining my take on rational optimism. The next entry will be some hard-edged commentary concerning current politics.

           Many might question the sanity of optimism today: global warming, war, inequality, etc., you know the litany. Well, it’s true that we don’t live in Candyland. And I actually used to be quite pessimistic myself. What altered that was my gradually learning more deeply about life, people, and global realities, and how they are changing.

            What I see now is a world with more democracy, freedom, and human rights than ever before, more productiveness, wealth, and education, better health and longevity, less poverty, hunger, and illiteracy, more knowledge, conveniences, and recreation, less bigotry, violence, and unfairness, more cooperation, compassion, options, and choices. We in America are literally the envy of the world, enjoying unprecedented affluence and personal autonomy, the evil empire has fallen, and our medicines now come with child-proof caps.

            Yet America, which used to be the world capital for optimism, today seems mired in carping, whining grumpiness. Why so? Pessimists will claim to be realists; yet it’s surprising how often their views actually ignore reality. For example, some insist that poverty is worsening, as an article of faith, no matter how contrary to fact. Yet nevertheless, pessimism and even cynicism can still be attractive postures. Cynics consider themselves sophisticated and hip, profound observers, and feel morally and intellectually superior when they despise humanity and modern civilization (even while enjoying to the hilt its benefits).

            We also like to fancy ourselves independent thinkers, rebels, not followers of the herd. This in particular feeds the cynicism about America that afflicts many intellectuals. They believe this sets them apart from the vulgar masses (though it’s quite conformist within their own circles).

            We get marinated in all that negativity. Bad news fills the media because that’s what grabs attention. An air crash makes headlines, but the thousands of daily safe landings don’t make the news at all. Thus we become scaredy-cats. And it’s contagious; we often are herd animals. An experiment showed that when people stand in the street looking upward—at nothing—many passing by will also look up. It’s easy to be sucked into the quicksand of pessimism all around us.

            Further, the optimist is bound to be disappointed sometimes by how things turn out, whereas pessimism inoculates you against such a let-down. Expect the worst and you won’t be disappointed. There is even the satisfaction of “I told you so.” And if a hopeful prediction proves wrong, you may seem like a Pollyanna; while if a pessimistic forecast misses the mark, you may still appear to be a serious deep thinker, and (oddly) even still a kind of realist. Paul “Population Bomb” Ehrlich predicted billions starving, whereas world hunger actually plummeted, yet he’s still considered some sort of sage. For these reasons, pessimism can seem the less risky and psychologically more stance.

            Yet of course that’s a poor sort of comfort; pessimism and happiness are ultimately at odds. The satisfactions of smug gloominess are thin gruel compared to the hearty nourishment of a positive, cheerful outlook. And without hope, why even get out of bed in the morning?

            We need hope to find life worth living and face the future. We do that most obviously by creating the next generation. Nowadays, many question whether it’s right to bring a child into “such a troubled world.” My wife and I actually had that conversation. But, convinced that in fact people today have it far better than any past generation, we went ahead and put the condoms aside. We are very glad we did—and so is our teenage daughter, who understands what a blessing it is to be alive—especially in today’s world, which, for all its troubles, she keenly appreciates as the best ever. (Kids sometimes do listen to their parents.)

            Some say we need pessimists, to see what’s wrong with how things are, and push for positive change. Yet pessimism and cynicism actually foster resignation, despair, and a sense of powerlessness—a “why bother?” mentality. And, while modern social alienation is a staple of the pessimist litany, much of that is traceable to the psychology of pessimism itself. After all, you won’t likely feel a compassionate connection to your fellow man if you see him as basically selfish, violent, and guilty of making a terrible doomed world.

            Optimism, on the other hand, doesn’t mean ignoring human fallibilities, foibles, foolishness, and even crimes. It’s not that pessimists see problems while optimists whistle past them. The difference is that optimists don’t feel defeated by problems, but believe in our power to surmount them. And a shared belief that people can indeed do this, and are more good than bad, is a glue to bind us together, helping us to love one another, and to tackle together those problems. Thus optimism not only makes us feel better, it makes us do better.

            There will always be bad news, setbacks, failures, disasters, and horrors, our shining hopes will be splattered with muck, and we will almost despair. Almost. But a new day dawns, we pick ourselves up, clean off that muck, and resume our forward march.

 

 

75 Responses to “Up From Pessimism”

  1. Tony Stinsa Says:

    Frank,

    It is great to be the first to post a reply on this blog. I applaud your efforts with this blog and I enjoy your ancient coin auctions. I like your observation about the herd. It appears that you are not one who follows it.

    Tony

  2. Glenn Simonelli Says:

    I’m not sure what your purpose is here. You claim to espouse optimism, but the majority of this column is spent criticizing cynics and pessimists. I’ve always thought that one of most valuable characteristics of an optimist was the ability to see the good in everything. Your blog doesn’t seem very optimistic to me. Perhaps if you spent a little more effort articulating what optimism means to you and how it guides and impacts your life your blog might more effectively reflect and promote your philosophy.

    FSR COMMENT: Well, so far, I’ve only posted one essay. Certainly I hope to develop my philosophy more fully in future postings. However, I admit to “bashing” pessimism — duh! But I have love for all people, even pessimists.

  3. Dale Hallmark Says:

    I don’t see anything in your “Up from Pessimism” that I can strongly disagree with.

    Years ago, when one of children would ask me about the ‘good ole days’ I responded, “These days are the good ole days”. Of course I would tell tham what they wanted to know about the past but today is a good time to live in America.

    Dale

  4. Marc Breitsprecher Says:

    I recently attended a coin show and another dealer called out as I approached “here comes the guy that’s always smiling”. What a great thing to be known for…there is just not enough smiling these days. Life is hard but is a gift that we are each given for a time and when we draw our last breath and our heart takes it’s last beat we will not think of how bad the world is but how much we wished we had more time on it! Focusing on the negative and missing all of the good around us is destroying our once great country. People feel that America was once the land of opportunity…it still is!

    As modern people we are told to put our faith in money and what it can buy. Go to college, succeed, make lots of money and you will be happy. With this has come the advent of the ME generation. Self importance and career have taken the place of family and relationships resulting in a tragic and epidemic divorce rate. Homes are torn apart and children are scarred growing up with sour, angry spirits, not willing to trust other people. The result has been several generations of people who do not look at the community or the rest of the world as people they want to know. Looking through a veil of pain they shut the world out and become pessimists.

    I hear a lot of people talk about “the good old days”…they weren’t so good if you think clearly and honestly. Pain forces us to look back rather than forge ahead. When people ask me what the most exciting time of my life was I say “today, and tomorrow!!” If you look back and tell yourself that the best time of your life was before you got married…before you had children…before you took that new job…your life will be defined by bitterness and lack of hope. But if you wake each day and say “this is going to be the best day of my life” you will be amazed by the new direction your life will take.

    Some people forge ahead on the old American adage of “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps” putting their faith in themselves and their skills. Others put their faith in God and see Him as a guiding force in their lives giving them the will to continue on with hope. Others put their hope in a cause which keeps them moving forward. No matter what path you follow it is necessary that each and every person turn from a life of looking back and focus on the future to make this world a better place.

    Ignore the nightly news and focus on helping your neighbor. Forget the newspaper headlines and help an old lady living alone by offering to go grocery shopping for her. Forget the presidential race and go visit some lonely people in a nursing home or prison and suddenly your life will look a lot better, your soul will be enriched and it won’t be long before the whole world will look wonderful. A wise man once said “seek all of these things, but the greatest of these things is love”. Nope, it wasn’t John Lennon and it does not refer to the sort of selfish love bought and sold in the 60’s, it is a genuine love for other people that bring about optimism!!

  5. David Reskof Says:

    When you get to be an elderly geezer like us you more frequently wonder “whats it all about ?” just as you did during adolescence when the thought was just slightly different; “Why are we here?” Of course we can not come down with scientifically valid answers to these questions. But we learn through life that “stuff happens” ( Rumsfeld) often without rhyme or reason. However if we take the very long view we can see that there is indeed progress in human accomplishments but that runs in parallel with human capacity to be venal and destructive. Darwin did indeed have the right idea- things evolve to meet natural conditions in the natural world. In the social/political world things seem to run in cycles of expansion and creativity vs conflict and destruction ( is there such a thing as creative destruction as the Chicago economists tell us ?). So optimism is appropriate when it corresponds to the reality of the day but is delusional if it does not. The same for pessimism.

  6. John E Rieske Says:

    Frank,
    It has been my experience that pessimists do not want solutions to the problems they bemoan. The “be all” of pessimists is to be RIGHT. Therefore, if problems have solutions, there would be no reason to be pessimistic, ergo, there must be no solutions or they (the pessimists) would be wrong. It is useless to try to persuade a pessimist to turn from his viewpoints, because he will never listen to any other viewpoint anyway. Pessimism is a very self-centered philosophy.
    Optimists, on the other hand, tend to be focused upon the needs of others, seeking solutions for the things that can be changed and let those things that cannot be changed go their own way.
    That is not to say that optimists go about in a haze of happy feelings and are blind to problems, No, optimists are aware, but in seeking solutions where they might be, they no longer become bogged down in the negative feelings that have become so pervasive in the world today. An optimist is not the one fearing the unknown, because basically they realize that the unknown is another problem that will require a solution, and that is where the fun begins.
    John

    FSR COMMENT: John, thanks. Well said!

  7. Yahya Says:

    Frank, wonderful to see you blogging, sharing your thoughts and experience on why it’s smart to think optimistically.

    Like calls to like. All but one of your respondents so far clearly consider themselves to be active, concerned, involved optimists; as do I. I’ve been saying for years that I’m an optimist by choice, and I hope that’s made a few people think: why does he think that he’s got a choice in this matter? But I’ve seen firsthand the effects of making the opposite choice: while they live (and that isn’t as long as us optimists do), pessimists actively make their lives, and those of the people around them, worse, until in the end, it seems they only derive pleasure from their troubles and pain. There’s some evidence in the psychological literature for the positive health benefits of optimism.

    The exceptional respondent is David Reskof, and he has articulated one of the few telling arguments against optimism as a life choice – the fitness of optimism and of pessimism to the prevailing environment must necessarily wax and wane with changing times and circumstances. Whether that makes an optimistic stance “delusional” is perhaps a matter of degree – it’s certainly less fit at times like the Great Depression or in places like Stalinism’s gulags.

    A related argument against optimism goes that human philosophies are largely a matter of fashion (those who can’t or won’t think for themselves simply aping and adulating those who seem to, by getting themselves published and publicising their achievements); and that like all fashions, they are like a pendulum – subject to extreme swings, and never changing so fast as when they approach a happy mean. The changes of direction are thought to be caused by reactions provoked by the very extremes of the former fashion. On this theory, we can expect to see the decades of existentialism, solipsism and “deconstruction” followed by at least a few years of expansive, neo-progressive thought and of increased justification of our actions in terms of their social contexts and consequences. Perhaps the time has simply come for us to feel good about ourselves again? Attractive though it may be, all this line of argument seems highly speculative, I think.

    But there’s another argument against optimism that I find myself unable to dismiss so readily, and that’s that I’m really only an optimist because I am privileged – grew up in a stable environment, have never starved, been enslaved, fought in a war, and have usually had plenty to eat and more material possessions than a whole townful of folk in my grandparents’ day or in almost any African household today. My wife, born a few years earlier than I during the Second World War, knew privation and hardship early on; consequently her life has taught her that good things are hard to come by and don’t last anyway, so it’s only to be expected she’s more pessimistic than I. But does that really mean she ought to suffer clinical depression? There are many notable examples of courageous people, like Anne Frank, who grew up in terrible times and circumstances yet never allowed life to defeat them. Do we perhaps only regard them as courageous because they are “the exceptions that prove the rule”? And if so, is it cynical to suggest that their bravery is impossible to distinguish from foolhardiness (after all, Anne Frank died in the Holocaust)?

    I’d really like to know how I can tell whether my optimism is, as I would like to believe, my own choice, or merely the consequence of having a pretty good life. Has anyone any ideas on that?

    In “The User Illusion”, Tor Norrestanders, a popularising science writer, argues that consciousness is an illusion, that it is a mere epiphenomenon arising from the fact that our unconscious brain has already decided to act. As evidence for his claim, he describes experiments purporting to show that the body may act on a decision many milliseconds BEFORE the person is aware of making that decision. So do I only feel optimistic about the future because my brain has been taught by experience to imagine mostly good consequences from the kinds of situation I observe?

    Thanks for providing a forum to discuss such questions as these; I feel they matter a lot.

    FSR Comment: Some excellent points. Very quick response: Re Stalin’s gulag, I would refer you to Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which I discuss in my own book. In the concentration camp, he found that a positive attitude was not only justified, but essential. And I quote Anne Frank on the first page of my book: “In spite of everything, I believe people are fundamentally good at heart.
    Your final paragraph raises the issue of free will — a very important and very difficult topic. I do believe we have free will in a meaningful sense. (I wrote about this too). Perhaps I will try to address it in full in a future commentary.

  8. John Pennock Says:

    Where’s the ‘red meat’ that was promised? I’m hopeful that future blog posts will have more substance. Is the world really fretting over optimists vs. pessimists? For me, it’s about solutions to problems and whether your solutions stems from pessimism or optimism it doesn’t matter. Great, I’m glad you’re optimistic so what does it mean to our problems? What should we do about our worthless currency? How do we leave Iraq without causing a worldwide catastrophe? How can we conserve more without lowering quality of life? Skyrocketing gas prices? Massive illegal immigration? Religious apathy? Lack of hard education? Too many lawyers? Not enough Drs. Crime? Loss of Manufacturing jobs? Trade deficit? Pornography? Drug use? No real journalism, just opinion. etc.

    It’s my belief that we are living on ‘borrowed’ greatness and it is not a foregone conclusion that America will continue to prosper as it has. The success of the depression/world war II generation has almost worn off. We are standing on the shoulders of giants. I’m afraid that we are pygmies today and our children will have very little to stand on. We are in Rome just before the barbarians break through our pathetic walls. Culturally we tamper with the very bedrock of past American success. – disdain for religion, marriage, life, government, language, history, prosperity, etc. Our government is completely ineffective ‘bread and circuses’ to get folks re-elected. The only ‘real’ government we have is the supreme court and judiciary. They decide almost everything of meaning in our country. We think that liberty is about descrecation and exploration into perversion. Do we have a hard work ethic? Do we recognize how our very way of life is at risk? Do we truly value education? Do we graduate more engineers or more lawyers? Do we need another depression to wake people up? Will it be too late?

    While I hope, work and pray that the direction I see can be averted, I’m very very worried for our future. I guess that means I’m personally optimistic but collectively pessimistic.

    FSR COMMENT: The litany! As I said — we don’t live in Candyland. Yes, we have problems. There have always been problems, always will. Our problems today are not somehow worse than in the past, they are different. Humanity has a very good track record on the whole, of surmounting challenges, and progressing. That is why today’s world is so much better for the average person than in the “good old days.” And the tools that gave us that progress are not slipping out of our hands, on the contrary, THEY ARE MULTIPLYING.

  9. Peter Blaisdell Says:

    Right on! I’ll be looking forward to future entrys.

  10. Bert Sledge Says:

    Frank (et al),

    I consider myself to be both an optimist and a cynic (searcher of the truth). I have been pondering these ideas for over 35 years. I have been writing about them for the past 3 years.

    I believe when we get to this age, we are sometimes ready to just cash it all in, but that’s not the human nature.

    We definitely have problems, but for every one of them there is a solution if we have the energy and fortitude to search for it.

    These discussions can not help but be political in nature, so it is sometimes difficult to navigate without someone losing it. That too is just human nature.

    Glad to be on board and hope you and your friends will stop by my place.

    Bert Sledge, The Hammer

  11. tom barkus Says:

    you hit the nail on the head. people today (specifically young people) have
    it better than prior generations. in my teens, i either walked,ran, or drove
    a rust-bucket to work. kids today insist on a brand new sportcar ever year.
    i think the economy should be fantasic. every citizen with a computer can
    buy anything they can afford. i think the people and government should
    stop being “nancy-boys” and quit their croakings of doom.

  12. Aaron Lancaster Says:

    The difference is that optimists don’t feel defeated by problems, but believe in our power to surmount them.

    That pretty much sums up why I don’t let myself get bogged down in the mire of life’s petty problems. I think the key to life is to be polite and honest! To do this when dealing with other polite, honest people is easy, but to keep it while successfully refusing to take shit from anyone is the real key. And getting rid of your TV doesn’t hurt any either – lookin’ at you, John Pennock!

  13. charles r carlson Says:

    Mr. Robinson,
    Thank you for your blog, and the thoughtful comments posted so far. I don’t know if I am an optimist or pessimist. I like to think of myself as a realist, although that term has its own political baggage. I read your comments with some interest, and was somewhat amused to see as your first specific problem for the world to be global warming. I find myself a pessimist on the subject, and opposed to Chicken Little’s bemoaning of “the ice is melting, the ice is melting.” Maybe it is, but I hardly think any human activity could cause such a phenomena. Where was Chicken Little when the northern hemisphere, as far south as New York City, was covered with one mile thick ice? What human activity caused that ice to melt? Did the Neanderthals or Cro-Magnons or those pesky paleo-Indians in North America light so many fires that they melted all that ice? Must have been human activity if Chicken Little’s hypothesis about human activity causing global warming today has any validity. I’ve read of thirteen or so Ice Ages over the last million years or so. What human activity caused those ice sheets to melt? What does Chicken Little want? A new Ice Age perhaps? If anyone thinks a degree or two of warmer climate is a problem, where will humanity find the food or energy resources to survive the next Ice Age? Rather than blaming people entirely for global warming (I’m willing to concede human activity can, maybe has, exacerbated the problem), we need to look into unexplainable natural cycles of warming and cooling as the chief culprit. We, humanity, are no more than a pimple on the problem.
    Next you talked about inequality. Certainly a bad thing, but as natural as warming and cooling (in geological terms). Certainly, we today, at least in North America, and most of “western civilization”, have never had so much equality, albeit not yet perfected. It is an admirable goal. The rest of the world needs to try it. I frequently think of Milovan Djilas and his “New Class” as perhaps the ultimate hypocrites in preaching/practicing equality.
    Then we come to your problems of democracy, freedom and human rights. All admirable, even necessary, but perhaps not everyone is ready for them? It certainly took this country several generations to get where we are, and perhaps we are still perfecting our attainment of them. Trying to impose democracy on Iraq and Afghanistan has been an admirable goal, although hardly successful. Should we stop trying? No. We would be hypocrites if we stopped, but perhaps we need to tone down our expectations, and lengthen our terms of reference. Perhaps there are places where democracy, freedom and human rights may not work at all. Perhaps there are places where a top-down SOB can promote more human satisfaction than letting people run amok. Again, Yugoslavia is the poster child. Tito was an SOB, but the people of Yugoslavia had more personal safety, food, comfortable housing, consumer goods, under him than the two decades afterward. When the controlling presure was lifted the place fell apart in a decade long blood bath of ethnic hatred. I still think of a senior US government employee, who took a 6 month long leave of absence in 1992 to go “home” to fight for “his people”, and returned to our office with a pair of human ears as his souvenir of what he did. He was proud of it. Don’t forget, it was democracy that brought us Hitler, and a total absence of freedom and human rights. There is no democracy in China today, but many have a full rice bowl, if not much equality. Still, more Chinese today are materially well off, in the absence of freedom, human rights and equality, than ever previously in their long history. It is a trade-off for them, and for most, a better life than they would find in the anarchy of freedom. I think that in ex-Yugoslavis, China, Iraq, Afghanistan, democracy and freedom will eventually triumph, but I wouldn’t want to try and hold my breath that long. In that I think I am ultimately an optimist, but circumscribed with a tinge of reality.
    C. R. Carlson

    FSR COMMENT: Stay tuned — we’ll get into global warming, inequality, and democracy! (Yes, there should be some “red meat” there.)

  14. Dan Pon Says:

    I’m going to have to order your book, Frank! I’d consider myself an optimist, too. On the whole, both personally and society-wide, we have it pretty good. I recognize that there are pockets where things are not so good and certainly we face challenges, but I have complete faith that we will meet these challenges head on and find solutions. The human race isn’t just going to throw its hands in the air and give up. I intend to enjoy the rest of my life and leave the world better for future generations.

  15. Brian Holland Says:

    My comment is actually just a question for Frank. I’m posting here because I suspect others may be interested in the answer if new information is available. Frank, any idea yet when David Sear will be ready to release the 4th edition of his Roman Coins tome? Given his age and multiple other committments, there’s always the fear that he might just not get around to completion.

    FSR: Sorry, I have no information on this.

  16. LewisJaffe Says:

    Thank you for sending information about your blog.

  17. Steuart Bowling Says:

    Don’t be swayed too much by the flood of pessimism flowing from the media today. It’s an election year and there’s plenty of political blood in the waters. They sense a sea change ready to take place and they need the opposition to feel as pessimistic as possible. Although there is plenty of pessimism to go around, the depth is distorted.

    Pessimism is a useful political tool and we are being bludgeoned with it day in and day out. But it is really optimism that is used to motivate the voter to actually cast a vote. The pessimistic drumbeat coming from much of the news media only sets up the voter for the hopeful message of the candidate. The ray of optimism that says your vote will help a candidate to actually change things is what gets people into the polls on Election Day. The trick is to figure out ways to make your party’s pessimists feel some ray of hope while grinding down the optimism of your opponents to the point where they will sit it out, hence the biased media’s endless flow of distorted pessimism.

    Far too often politicians adhere to the notion that an issue is more powerful when left to fester than it is when it is resolved. Only meaningless “feel-good” solutions are offered while the underlying problems grow worse. Party A can’t let Party B solve the problem, so each side undermines the other until no solution is politically viable. Pessimism grows as the same old issues haunt us year after year. Thus, the cycle is set to repeat itself for the next election.

    In an odd way pessimism manages to control the influence of optimism by the weight of its own inertia. Aside from the relative few motivated by vengeance or anger, the average voter must cling to some bit of optimism to accomplish his or her task. Only optimistic voters acting in concert with a group of optimistic candidates across several election periods can break this cycle. If too many fall prey to the pessimistic mindset, the status quo remains immovable.

    Pessimism is a safe mindset for the insecure. If you expect the worst and it happens then you are emotionally protected because it was what you were prepared to accept to begin with. If the outcome is better than expected, you can still enjoy the result without having risked disappointment. Pessimism is also a convenient excuse for inaction. Why expend the energy on an effort that is doomed to fail? Pessimists cannot challenge the status quo, but they can spend endless hours complaining about it. They cannot accept that initial defeat does not mean continuous defeat. Surrender is not the only option.

    Pessimism cannot lead to greatness. A prevailing pessimistic view would have prevented the American Revolution or forced an early end after any of the almost continuous defeats suffered by the Continental Army. It would have led to surrender of Midway Island to Japan without a fight during WWII, which likely would have led to a negotiated surrender of America’s Pacific interests. Pessimism would have led Mother Teresa to a quiet mission in an unremarkable convent with little result–or perhaps prevented her from becoming a nun at all. It would have led Martin Luther King to accept the institutionalized bigotry of the day, Abraham Lincoln to accept the division of the country and the continuation of slavery and Ronald Reagan to accept the inevitability of Soviet domination over the west.

    The world is far better off because each generation has produced those who dared to be optimistic. Optimism requires the willingness to suffer disappointment and defeat in the wider struggle to achieve success. Optimism is the catalyst of change, but to be effective it must be rooted in faith. Pessimists often hold agnostic or atheistic views. Without belief in a Loving God whose Spirit exists within the human soul there is little to rely on beyond the selfish animal nature of evolved apes. Optimism requires hope, and hope requires faith. Faith opens the door of the soul. Optimism becomes an expression of the soul. As the soul grows, so does the optimistic view that problems can be resolved if we only work together hard enough.

    FSR COMMENT: Thanks. I love what you say — except, sorry, for the last bit. People of faith seem to often have a very mistaken view of what the mind of a nonbeliever must be like. I know a LOT of nonbelievers — and they are, by and large, highly moral, ethical, compassionate people. And, yes, often highly optimistic. As to the latter, I offer myself as Exhibit A.

  18. Jerry Robinette Says:

    While I like the general tone of the post, it seems to me to espouse not so much “rational optimism” (which I agree with) as “blind faith.”

    To say that any one individual is always and only optimistic or always and only pessimistic is to over-simplify us all.

    To say that some degree of pessimism (or of optimism) in never justified is to paint with too broad a brush. I am very pessimistic about many aspects of the world situation, generally optimistic about my own personal future, and open to reconsideration on both, as circumstance change.

    To assert something (that poverty is declining, for example) does not make it so. Looking specifically at figures for the U.S. economy, I don’t see any evidence to support this statement. What I see around me is a growing class of frustrated people who are being sold myths about American economic “freedom” but shrinking prospects of joining the ranks of those who are able to enjoy those freedoms. Look at median incomes, “under-employment”, the number of people living below the poverty level and the number of children being educated in sub-standard schools.

    To say that the United States is “the envy of the world” is to ignore that fact that we are more broadly despised internationally right now than at any point in our history.

    Optimism is fine, and I am a believer in the ability of the human race to improve its condition and rise above its problems. But that’s hardly the same as blind faith, which, ultimately, only makes us blind.

    This is all said in a respectful tone, with the intention of sparking discussion and a willingness to listen to what is said in response. I realize that only so much can be covered in one post, and will follow with interest the exploration of the details of your philosophy.

    FSR COMMENT: I, too, am “very pessimistic about many aspects of the world situation.” One would have to be very stupid otherwise. However, I try to step back and look at the BIG PICTURE. And, in that big view, I see so much more that’s going right in the world than going wrong! (Again, specific issues will be discussed as time unfolds.)

  19. George Foster Says:

    Hello Frank,
    I have just read 17 comments from people who would claim to be optimists when in fact I would judge from their ‘thoughts’ that they were the complete opposite. To take two examples, Brian Holland and Dan Pon, what a pair of super pessimists. As for the other fifteen, they are only ‘moaners’.
    Voltaire when visiting a close friend who was dying with TB commented
    ” you can’t be dying! You don’t drink or use drugs. You have never visited a brothel and you are only 32 years old.’ Food for thought for the pessimist!
    My grandchildren recently put a glass in front of me which was half filled with water and asked ” Grandad, is the glass half full or half empty”. I had to think for a few seconds before replying, “that would depend on what is in the glass, if it is water I would say it is half full but if it were good Irish whiskey I would say it is half empty”. The kids were really impressed.
    I am seventy years old and a fan of Franks for a good number of years.
    His auctions must require a great deal of concentration and I admire his attitude to grading.
    A quick story to cheer up the 17 contributors;
    Wife ” That Mercedes car would not be there were it not for my money and neither would that 52″ TV be there were it not for my money. Everything of value in this house would not be there were it not for my money.
    Husband. ” Darling, I would not be here were it not for your money”.
    Just trying to make light of all the heavy stuff above.
    Frank, you have one Irish fan at least.

  20. Kern Lunde Says:

    Frank, glad to read your first blog! It’s good to know that I’m not alone as an optimist! I look forward to being a regular reader. Like you, I do see the problems, but when I consider the vast benefits we enjoy today as compared to years past, I can’t help but look forward to a bright future!

  21. Ed Moore Says:

    HEY!

  22. Ed Moore Says:

    Don’t know how that last HEY! got submitted, something to do with a key combination I think. Great Frank, you have a magic blog! Anyway, I was only going to point out the fact that if you all think back to your Winnie the Pooh days, and apply our current old fart attitudes, we would now like to stomp on Tigger, and give Eeyore a big hug. Eeyore needs a hug.
    Ed

  23. Allan White Says:

    Thanks for being optimistic. We need more like you. Sure, there are some things wrong with the world (always have been; always will be) but that’s what makes this a great place to live. It is the fashion (of late) to dump on everything (and everyone). There is money in that kind of thinking… just ask the news media, or the paparazzi, or the crooks who write endless books about conspiracies, aliens, tell-alls and the like. That stuff is just as addicting and harmful as the buzillion McDonalds franchises that take your money and give you health issues in return.

    Here is a dose of realism. One of the great pessimisms of today is global warming. There is a lot of jobs and a lot of money and a lot of political edge with global warming. Now, let me start by saying that I truly believe we must decrease fossil fuel emissions, conserve water, and recycle effectively, but this is not causing global warming. Stop worrying about the glaciers melting in Greenland. Listen to what I just said… GREEN-land! Yes, not too long ago, the island was friggin’ GREEN! It is just trying to be green again (by itself). It is a natural flux. After a while, it will become a glacier again (by itself). The lobbyists will take the credit (and your cash).

    Here’s another confusing thing… Why did the terrorists attack on 9-11? They say we need to change our “policies”. Okay, what are those policies? I need to see a list. The Democrats will have you think it’s because we are in Afghanistan and Iraq, which is absurd, because we weren’t there before the attacks. The Republicans would have you think it was because Clinton was weak when the terrorists tried to attack the WTC the first time, but that is nonsense as well. Some want you to think it is over oil. I strongly doubt that (Our consumption makes them rich). Some want to have you believe it is because we are war mongers. I strongly doubt that as well. It will probably come down to the simple issue that we support Israel, but nobody really wants to talk about that. They just make up nonsense to have you believe instead. It’s time to get an accurate description of what the “policies” are then go from there. If we defend Israel, then we must stand strong. If we decide to bail, then we will have to learn to live with guilt for allowing genocide (either way, the lobbyists will get your cash).

    Okay, here’s my last point. America was never prouder than when it ran a true space program. Let’s think about going back to the Moon. Let’s think about going to Mars or Europa (moon of Jupiter). The money spent on that trickles down to all of us in more ways than you know.

    Stepping off the soap box…
    Allan (AstroRaider) White

  24. Brad Isbister Says:

    Hi Frank, great idea to run this. I guess I agree in principle with your notion of rational optimism. I also like to pay attention to stuff going on in the world that may not be so rosy.

    Depending on what’s going on determines how optimistic I feel at that moment.

    Here’s a thought…… if we end up disagreeing on a topic are you still going to sell coins to me?

  25. D. Pichler Says:

    Where to start?
    I’ve lived and worked outside the US over a third of my life (I’m now 60, you do the math) and wholeheartedly agree with you that Americans don’t properly appreciate what they have. And, contrary to what you hear in the media and by opposition politicians, America has not lost popularity in other countries. America is still the country most other nationalities admire and aspire to. Not only in developing countries, but even most Europeans on the street envy the quality of life and freedoms we have and our strong resolve against world terrorism.
    I believe much of the country’s pessimistic attitude is politically inspired and promoted for those amongst us with “the herd” mentality. For without crisis there would be no need for a savior – I call it politics 101: if you haven’t got better solutions create an illusionary crisis only you have the solution for, then get “the herd” to believe in it and your in. (I personally suspect that the THEORY we are responsible for a global warming may be a created crisis)
    Today, in the political arena we are hearing the call for change though I’m unclear as to exactly what GREAT changes are proposed. Maybe, I would hope, we could do away with bleeding heart liberalism and get back to basics like enforcing discipline and inspiring competition in our schools. Awarding individuals for participation does not inspire them to do great things! This is one area I have some personal concerns over. It seems at times that our schools are dumbing down the next generation and preparing them for a world where socialism is the order of the day.
    Though it’s not ALL roses and we could do a few things better, it’s still the greatest country in the world to live in.
    Today’s politicians with agendas and our too oft biased and liberal mainstream media have done much to indoctrinate “the herd” and we need to find an affective way to counter this. We need to emphasize more of the positive and re-inspire individuals with patriotism and love of god and country. There are plenty of reasons to be proud Americans. If you aren’t a believer, just go live and work outside this country for a few years and you’ll become one

  26. Tom Lovelace Says:

    I noticed years ago that the people who seem most concern with the future are octogenarians! They seem more involved in changing the world that anyone else.

  27. Jim Martin Says:

    Keep up the great blog, Frank! I don’t know how you find the time…

    Liberalism is the source of most of the negativity and pessimism in world. It’s always doom and gloom with them and the vast majority in the media are Liberals and infuse almost any subject with pessimism. Being conservative, and no doubt biased in my own way, I see Liberals as pseudo-intellectuals and willing to grasp any belief that seems to advance their agenda. Optimists must struggle against this constant drum beat, yet retain the ability to honestly evaluate and deeply study the many problems and solutions that are practically available to us to make the world a better place for our children.

    I hope a rational discussion can be enganged in here on your many subjects of discussion. It’s difficult to maintain civility in a forum like this. It’s also difficult to keep the discussion on subject and finely focused. I wish you, and us, much success in this noble endeavor.

    Lets have some fun…
    Jim Martin

    http://www.Moneta-Coins.com (museum and research, nothing for sale)
    http://www.Numis.org (world numismatics, periodical, library, etc. – no sales)

  28. B. Peterson Says:

    Frank,
    But how do you know that I know that you know that I know?
    25 semesters of college will do that to a mind…

    Is it optimism or pessimism that causes mothers with children in their cars to speed through a school zone at 38 MPH?

    Is it optimism or pessimism that causes corporations to invoke sexiness to sell products to 5 year olds?

    Is it optimism or pessimism that causes the USA to sell weapons to the Chinas of the world?

    We, the blessed of America, are in for a rough short term future. Millions of Chinese and Indian young men need female mates, which they can not get over there because of infanticide of girl babies. Our enemies have learned that we can not function without money that has a stable value, and they are actively engaged in the destruction of our monetary system. If China sold off all it’s American bonds and we let it happen, the good ol’ days of the Great Depression are just around the corner. I’m not very optimistic that our government understands the “war” against us. Jets crashing again into a few buildings is optimism. Hyperinflation is …

  29. Al Barnes Says:

    Enjoyed your blog Frank. Dealing with you and now getting to read your philosophy does infect me with more optimism.

    You are correct on all points: This is the best time to live in America. Pessimests with all their complaints and litanies fail to see the great achievements that our society has overcome.

    But did we overcome these obsticals of racism, sexism, rampant greed of the 19th century robber barons, rampant pollution ect…, by saying “everything is just great”!!! Or “what is there to complain about, life is much better now than in past times”???

    I think the people responsible for the changes that made our society as progressive as it is, could see both sides of the coin.

    I love and embrace your optimism, but it’s important to address negative issues and fight injustices and not just look at the good things. And not just focus on the negative.

    Cheers,

    Al

  30. jim burdick Says:

    Interestng…I think I will be a silent lurker here.

  31. gordon dickinson Says:

    Ah, life is definitely too short…..all these comments weighing in on your first blog. So much to write, and so little time.
    Bet the median age of us writing is above that of 99% of blogging.
    How can one not be optimistic and pessimistic ….reality requires it. I think you, Frank, and many of your respondents, clearly point out that the key to a happy and successful life is the optimistic force within that carries us along both individually and collectively. That said, i know some inherently sad, pessimistic individuals who are highly productive and helpful.

    I confess to being pessimistic about representive governance that relies on the citizenry to guide. This is hard work, this being informed on issues and then voting an informed vote. The question for me is: how badly can citizens perform and the country continue to thrive? I fear that through our inaction, in attention and pursuit of happiness our country is going to learn the answer.
    g dickinson

  32. Bert Sledge Says:

    To clarify a point so as not to be judged a “moaner”, I believe in be prepared for anything and everything. I believe that the future will be one of great change as has been the recent past. As we have always be told, change is the only certainty in life other than “death and taxes”.

    Also, acceptance of ones own shortcomings, and of the same in others helps us stay on the road of optimism. I see that more in my children’s generation than I do in my own and place a great deal of faith in their future.

    Because I am a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, I can stir the pot on both sides of any discussion, and can tick off almost everyone.

    All are welcome to my blog Bert Sledge, P.I. http://www.sledgeforlife.blogspot.com/

    Be Alert, Be Prepared, Be Hopeful and Respectful,

    The Hammer

  33. D. Frank Robinson Says:

    I’m looking forward to visiting and participating. In case anyone wonders about the similarity of our names, I doubt we are related. My paternal grandfather’s real name was not Robinson. He was adopted as an infant. Family legend has that he was from a Jewish family in Arkansas in the 19th Century and something happened to his parents; he and his sister were adopted by separate Christian families. He never found out what became of her. So I am not doing a family favor for Frank.

    I can tell you are a very good writer already.

  34. Bill Smith Says:

    Frank, Thank you for informing me about this blog. I look forward to reading/contrasting/contributing (limitedly) to the thoughts presented here.
    I have enjoyed receiving your coin lists, and doing business with you over the past number of years.

  35. Charles Baird Says:

    I agree that we are a lot better off, in almost every dimension, than we were, say, 25 years ago. However, I am a local pessimist. That is, the US itself is declining in personal and economic freedom. While many other countries, especially in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states, are moving to freer markets, flat taxes, and more personal freedom the US is moving in the opposite direction. For example, the same political and economic superstitions that created the energy crisis of the 1970s are now considered “change that we can believe in.” It seems we never learn.

  36. kay Says:

    did B. Peterson disagree with you? Is that why his response was cut off?

    FSR reply: No, I infer he intended to end there. I do NOT censor anyone! I am a true believer in free speech!

  37. John Howard Says:

    Nice post! Thanks for announcing your blog to me, though I am not sure how you found me. (?)

    I have observed that the most pessimistic people I know are either childless or at least very detached and distant from their adult children. It is obvious from your picture with your lovely daughter that you have plenty to live for, and you have a constant reminder of the promise of life and hope for the future in your daughter. I share your optimism with my teenage son who seems to be coping quite well to the challenge of life and to being his sometimes difficult age.

    I plan to visit your blog frequently and look forward to reading some interesting ideas.

  38. Scott Semans Says:

    (deleted at the request of the one who posted it)

  39. David Hoxworth Says:

    I think the blog is a noble idea, but I guess I can’t be like the great boxer Ali who said,”It’s hard to be humble when you are as great as I am”. I’m not so certain I think things are so “great” and know my children and probably my grandchildren will not enjoy the ability to rise from a sharecroppers family to a Ph.D. Empires rise and fall, some more slowly than others. Ours may be on rapid decline with only 7% of our college students going into Math and higher sciences, while China and India are enrolling over 40% of their students in those areas. And like one of the respondents said, we are not really admired all over the wold today, but I have hope some of that might change come Nov. However, I am reminded of a Poem by Burns
    “Ah but would I the Gift the Giver to Gie us,
    To see ourselves as others see us.”
    I’ll keep readingthough as to use another old saying, “Hope springs eternal”.

    FSR COMMENT: I am a GLOBAL optimist. I think America is a wonderful country, but I do share some of your particular concerns about its future. The world, however, I believe will continue to progress, even if America falls behind. A big subject — more about this in future!

  40. Lee Newberg Says:

    If we label as “optimist” those with a positive attitude who ignore failures, and label as “pessimist” those with a negative attitude who ignore successes, what does that make me? I find excitement in adopting a positive attitude towards solving problems. Although you may often find me talking about problems, please know that it is because I am optimistic that I can help to solve them.

    FSR COMMENT: As I said, it’s not that optimists don’t see problems; they see solutions. And as one of the other responses said, pessimists don’t WANT solutions; they want to be right; and if there’s a solution, they’re wrong in their pessimism!

  41. Dan Wilcox Says:

    Somehow being a “rational” optimist takes all the fun out of it!
    DWx

    FSR COMMENT: Hi Dan — don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!!!

  42. Elizabeth Reid Says:

    Quoted from an earlier post:

    “I’d really like to know how I can tell whether my optimism is, as I would like to believe, my own choice, or merely the consequence of having a pretty good life. Has anyone any ideas on that?”–Yahya

    My experience is that having a pretty good life makes a world of difference in our capacity for hope for solutions. The process of coming to see or feel that one has a pretty good life is complex and varied. And often those who have not had good lives offer a depth of perspective that others have missed.

    Psychological wisdom says the we project onto the world through our own internal filter. We see what we already know and understand. I have learned to say in response to others who are sure how things are that “in my imagination the world is this certain way.”

    I have read a bit of Frank’s most recent book, Life, Liberty and Happiness. The sweet purpose of writing letters to his Elizabeth, of sharing his knowledge and wisdom and hope for the future is in my imagination (and I imagine in many other’s imaginations) very optimistic and generous. I imagine it will give her great possibilities of a life full of creative and productive thinking.

    There are so many multitudes of ways of thinking. I think instead pitting optimistic versus pessimistic rational thought, our desire should be to be open to more and more varieties of thought that contribute constructive solutions to whatever life brings.

    I am grateful to Frank for his thoughtful beginning of a complex discussion.

  43. Steuart Bowling Says:

    Frank,

    I wanted to comment a little more about your remarks at the end of my post.

    Thanks for the compliment-I do appreciate it.

    I never linked religious faith with morality, compassion or ethics. History has plenty of examples showing “religious” people displaying everything but these qualities. My assertion is that the soul exists and is the source of optimism–whether the conscious mind is aware of it or not. The need to be moral, ethical and compassionate also emanates from the soul even if the conscious mind refuses to accept the existence of that soul. The difference between the pessimist and the optimist is that the optimist is aware at some level of these feelings and draws from them to face whatever problem must be overcome. The pessimist is so disconnected from their own soul’s influence that they cannot perceive any positive outcome is possible.

    I believe a person can acknowledge and be influenced by their soul and deny the existence of God at the same time. Guatama Buddha certainly felt so. Personally, I do think a Creator exists and the soul is inherently aware of Him even if it never grows strong enough during life to make an individual conscious of it. It’s the source of the happiness underlying the optimistic mind. It’s wonderful when people discover this and develop it to a higher level of consciousness, but whether or not that happens has little bearing on the quality of the contributions to society that individual makes.

    Growth of the mind and the intellect is not necessarily linked with growth of the soul. We can become very intellectually developed while our souls remain in infancy. But even an infant can still express itself well enough to be understood at some basic level to those who seek to understand it. An agnostic or atheist who is also an optimist may never sense their souls well enough to hear it say “God exists!” but they can still sense the positive influence of the soul. Just like a baby happily gurgling; it provides confidence; allowing the mind to hold fast to the belief that everything is going to work out fine.

  44. Chip Vaughn Says:

    I feel better after reading all the optimistic posts here. What a difference in outlook between reading about good attitudes and successful people than reading about the naysayers and complainers in the daily news or watching them on TV.
    Good positive attitudes yield results, while bad attitudes yield
    negativity and failure !

  45. Barbara Branden Says:

    Why not realism?

    FSR COMMENT: I tried to convey in my posting that what I mean by “rational optimism” does mean realism. I believe that a REALIST — that is, objective — view of the world is optimistic. I actually don’t think “realist” pessimists are truly realist.
    Anyhow, you get the prize for the most concise comment–excluding the guy who accidentally posted “Hey!”

  46. Howard A. Daniel III Says:

    Frank,
    When I had my adopted niece and nephew living with me (they are now in college), I taught them that after they read someone for the first time, do some research on them. Find out what they have previously written; what political party they belong to; how old are they; where were they born and raised; what is their religion; who do they associate with; etc., etc.
    One example I give them is about a stock broker/analyst who was regularly coming on a particular cable TV program and talking down certain stocks and/or the market as a whole. After I listened to him a couple of time, I did some research on him and found he makes money when the market went down. So he was telling people the stock/market was going to hell and if they believed him, he made a lot of money, and they might have sold in a hurry at a loss. He was optimistic about making money on other people’s believing in him!
    You can be optimistic about you and your situation but when it comes to others, you must check them out because they might have an agenda you do not see from what they are saying or writing.

  47. Jim Lawton Says:

    Whether one is an optimist or a pessimist or somewhere in between, it does little to change anything. I am too much of a pessimist, and it is not doing me any good. I need to find a way to change something small and the optimism will come naturally.

  48. Gregory Kipp Says:

    Optimism vs pessimism — and interesting topic. Overall, I am an optimist because I believe the human race has a lot of potential and can accomplish great things. On the other hand, the seeming decrease in civility and lack of empathy in our society is cause for pessimism. Whatever approach one takes (and there is some evidence a person’s tendency towards one or the other is genetically based, at least in part), one should still conduct one’s life in a way to improve conditions for everybody. One would think pessimists should try harder to change the world for the better, simply because they have the most concerns.

    Perhaps the bigger question is “what is the meaning of life?” I’ve been trying to answer that question all my life, first by studying Anthropology and Environmental Management in college, and later through studies of Physics, Biology, Cosmology and other sciences that describe the world and universe we live in. So, what is the meaning of life, you ask. The only answer I’ve been able to come up with is that the meaning of life is to create meaning. In other words, we create our own meaning and purpose in life, both as individuals and as a society. It’s kind of like that old joke; i.e. Why did God create physicists? Because he needed someone to appreciate his work. We create meaning and purpose simply by being who we are — by growing mentally and spiritually and by fulfilling our potential as human beings. And I’m not talking about religious spirituality here, although religion can be important for some people in certain contexts. Personally, I’m thankful I wasn’t indoctrinated in religious dogma as a youth, as I’m sure this would have blinded me to the truths my actual studies have revealed. You can’t learn anything if you are taught you already know everything if you read one book.

    So, be you an optimist or pessimist, you can better yourself and society by creating meaning and purpose in your own life. Find a cause and do something to make it become a reality in our world. Whether your efforts succeed or not, the purpose and meaning you create in the effort is worth something and may cause people to think — something we need a lot more of on this little, lonely planet of ours.

  49. Oliver Mackson Says:

    Thanks for including me – don’t know how I wound up here, either, but I’ll be interested to see what kinds of threads develop. I like the tone, too.
    I’m a skeptic by training and occupation. Does that make me a second cousin to a pessimist?

  50. B. Peterson Says:

    Just a note to a previous poster – Frank did not cut me off.

    I’m skeptical that presenting our choices as people are to be either optomistic or pessimistic.

    I want to solve the problems… labels are unnecessary and confusing.

    Final exam question in a philosophy class I took in college two decades ago “Why?”

    I earned my “A” by answering “Why not?”

  51. DaveP Says:

    I admit I have not read the previous comments…there are far too many. I consider myself a 51% optimist and 49% pessimist. The old joke is that I am either right or pleasantly surprised (which I think is kinda true). This means that I don’t consider being “right” necessarily a good thing…I’m VERY happy to be proven wrong about my worst fears…who wouldn’t be?

    I present to you a thought problem: An Optimist (let’s call him GWB) and a Pessimist (let’s call him ANYONE WITH A BRAIN) are in a car at night. The car is hurtling toward a tree/cliff/quagmire. Warnings from AWAB are ignored by GWB who replies “Why do you hate me/US?”. At the LAST MINUTE AWAB grabs the wheel, spins it, and averts total disaster. All is well.

    GWB is able to completely bypass the fact that he was steering us to total destruction. The fact that things worked out is Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc that everything was always brilliantly planned and therefore OK. This does not mean that AT THE TIME we were not in Great Danger, just that we aren’t now. And now GWB can poke fun at AWAB for being such a scaredy-cat. Sad. Used to be that there was a Fourth Estate that used to look into these things.

    Now, substitute GWB with FED and AWAB with…ummm…Anyone With A Brain, and you have an analysis of the current financial crisis.

    -DaveP

  52. JCErnharth Says:

    DaveP: Analogy broken. Car is not a car, but a train, and its steaming along at a pace that is well past the point of no return towards the cliff. The only question in my mind is how many cars go off the edge along with the engine, and will a handful of us be able to feverishly decouple a few cars from the rear of the train, or will the goofballs driving the thing force us all over in a cacophony of collectivist world order.

    No matter what, we can be assured that those driving the train will be quick to reassign blame to the generally clueless masses, and one guaranteed scapegoat will be the ones at the back of the train attempting to decouple themselves for the carnage at the bottom of the cliff, or others who managed to get off the train earlier. Its always the case that the incompetents generally lead the rebuilding of their the very rubble they created.

    Really, I’d prefer to be an optimist, but then there’s something called sober reality. Our economy has jumped from the 85th floor of a building, and because we’ve not hit as we pass the 25th floor, it does not mean we still don’t have a huge problem. (Kudos to Mr. Charlie Munger)

    FSR COMMENT: Our economy has problems. There are ALWAYS problems. ALWAYS. We always get past them. That’s why I’m an optimist. And, re the economy, the bottom bottom line is this: the US is a fantastically productive economy. As long as we continue to be fantastically productive, we’ll be okay.

  53. JCErnharth Says:

    Oh, and I disagree that pessimism and happiness are at odds. One can indeed be pessimistic about the outcome of a certain collective situation, yet find tremendous opportunity to be available because of the problems correctly diagnosed.

    Crisis, I’d like to introduce you to opportunity.

  54. JCErnharth Says:

    “Our economy has problems. There are ALWAYS problems. ALWAYS. We always get past them.”

    Yes, the way we got through the great depression and the 1970s / early 80s. However, it is my estimation that this is as if those two eras got together, took fertility drugs, and had sextuplets. All economic environments are not equal, especially when one considers the broader, long term cycles through the lens of credit and money.

    ” That’s why I’m an optimist. And, re the economy, the bottom bottom line is this: the US is a fantastically productive economy. As long as we continue to be fantastically productive, we’ll be okay.”

    That’s, indeed, optimistic. However, I’d point out that we’ve not been terribly productive, and that productivity measurements are largely a facade. The productivity miracle was actually a vast exportation of our productivity to foreign producers over several decades, enabled by the vast expansion of credit and money. We’ve gone from net lenders to massive borrowers, our economy entirely depending on financing growth at 50 year low interest rates. Most of what we’ve been measuring in GDP as of late has been inflated asset prices and activity entirely accustomed to having wealth syphoned off the productive sectors and redirected, via this money printing, into bubble sectors, which themselves are nothing but vast distortiosn and dislocation of our limited source of real funding. This is the greatest dislocation of wealth we’ve experienced, from real producers and to those who engineer financial alchemy, which itself is now exposed as fragile and dependent on ever more printed money as a meth addict is dependent on more and more of his junk.

    Either way, the way out of the woods is through the abyss of withdrawal, and to recovery. In both cases, the addict fights tooth and nail to avoid the obvious since it is so painful. But there is only one way out of both situations, our economy being in a credit trap.

    Savings is the healthy horse leading a consumption and productivity cart. In our case, we have a horse of debt pulling consumption, and that horse is collapsing under his own weight. Without savings, and with a system that sucks savings from savers via money printing — which caused the problem and it now the official prescription to solve this crisis, well… Productivity is a myth in this country, at least until balance is restored. In the meantime, our friends at the Fed banking cartel are more interested in saving banks, who have leveraged themselves up on assets backed by 580k home prices in CA and $3 mil condo prices in Miami. Problem is, CA home prices have dropped already by $140k and the empty Miami condos won’t sell at $2.0 mil. Nobody wants price discovery because it will daisy-chain through Wall Street, and so they rip $$$ from the truly productive sectors of the economy and redirect it in futile attempts to restore overpriced real estate in CA and Miami.

    And Congress wonders why (and blames the wrong parties for) all those dollars are suddenly flooding into commodities — items that can’t be printed so easily as fiat $$s and other currency.

    We are indeed paying for decades of money and credit expansion, which always destroys productivity by creating a parasitic Frankenstein economy in its place.

    FSR COMMENT: Well! Sorry, I can’t resist saying it — this is exactly the kind of Chicken Little pessimist mindset that I find so out of whack with reality. It’s quintessential conspiracist thinking. USA not really productive? Our GDP is $14 trillion. And, sorry JC, but that ain’t fluff or accounting chicanery. It’s $14 trillion of goods and services that people are willing to pay money for. I repeat: as long as we keep churning out that $14 trillion of VALUE, we will be OK.

  55. JCErnharth Says:

    Oh, and I believe we will get through this, but much like an addict gets over his addiction.

  56. Darcy Downie Says:

    Dear Mr. Robinson:

    I am happy you included me in this list of folk. I found your post interesting and provocative. It is little wonder that your daughter
    is such a lovely and insightful young woman.

  57. Sharon Donegan Says:

    Hello all,

    Interesting comments. My take is that I don’t care if you are “religious”, “Democrat”, “Republican”, etc. Who are you? and what will you do? are the two important questions… and answers for me.

    If we tell each other who we are without labels, there will be points on which we can agree at basic levels and so work up toward solutions.

    I would posit that we are much the same at core and if we can find a way to reach each other’s most primary beliefs, we have a chance for coming to some accord.

    Of course the ‘devil is in the details'; in this case, how do you “reach” others, and then as would follow, what about the actions people take in support of their beliefs?

    So, after learning what most deeply motivates us, we would estimate the likely consequences of the path we choose to take. To do that we must look at other paths.

    This is the tough, uncomfortable part as we have many and conflicting beliefs. At the least, we ought to know which of these beliefs we are choosing to indulge.

    To determine the efficacy of the stated consequences of a particular path – ah, that is a conundrum. But it does get better with practice. And as others have pointed out: (1) follow the money, and (2) how many times have those who advise a particular path been correct in predicting consequences. Again this can be uncomfortable and takes a prodigious amount of time to research – at the start. Best start young.

    Here’s to clear and careful thought…and joy in the process.

  58. FrankH Says:

    Congratulations on starting a conversation. That’s a huge accomplishment in and of itself. I’m interested to see where it goes from here.

    I had many thoughts while reading through the comments. But the thought that remains with me in the end is a question, really. Is the primary distinction you’re making between activity and passivity? Optimists, under your definition, seem to act in the world (whether that action takes the form of speech, creation, procreation, working for political reform) while pessimists merely point to problems without any gesture toward what might be done to solve the problems.

    In other words, it seems the distinction you’re making is that it is hopeful (optimistic? do they mean the same?) to act in the world – to take steps toward problem-solving. The pessimist, on your terms, problematizes but does not problem-solve while the optimist both problematizes (in the sense of questioning the status quo) and seeks to solve those problems. You seem not to be saying that optimists see clearly while pessimists do not, but instead that both may see clearly, but the optimist acts while the pessimist stays stuck, the optimist embraces the world while the pessimist retreats from it. Do I understand you correctly?

  59. Hank Fox Says:

    It would be interesting to hear the take of some of the commenters here on a question that comes to mind:

    If you see something bad about to happen, or already happening, and you point it out, does that make you a pessimist?

    I think we may be demonizing with a simplistic label something that’s more complex than we want to recognize.

    Sure there are implacably negative people. I’ve dealt with them all my life.

    But I wonder if everybody who expresses what we perceive to be negative is necessarily a pessimist.

    I’m an optimist myself, but I also know that some problems really are unsolvable … and that sometimes a positive outlook can greatly contribute to failing to clearly see, or deal with, a looming disaster (smokers come to mind, as does the classic SF short “The Cold Equations”).

    Religious people, for instance, those who think a supernatural superbeing is going to fix everything, can continue to proceed toward a disaster that might have been averted if they’d only looked at it rationally early on.

    FSR COMMENT: In distinguishing between optimism and pessimism, I was speaking globally. There are, again, many particular issues I’m pessimistic about; but my overall global outlook is decidedly optimistic. By “pessimist” I really mean someone who really has an overall negative outlook, who PREFERS to see the negative, and rejects the positive — like JCErnhardt, above!

  60. DaveP Says:

    Well, FSR, I don’t know that you can assert what JCErnhardt “prefers” and what he “rejects”. I know him, he’s in finance, so consider this: When you buy a stock, you are convinced that it will go up (unless you *want* to lose money)…but you are buying from someone equally convinced that it will go down. Is your counterparty a pessimist, or someone that has correctly analyzed the company? Sometimes a perfectly workable model (oh, let’s say real estate transactions based on really cheaply borrowed money or a pension/retirement system) can pass into non-viability…is it pessimism to call it like it is?

    Also, consider RISK. It’s fine to be optimistic about, say, your fave sports team or a political race in the face of huge odds…not much is at stake It’s not so cool to be optimistic/non-realistic for more important issues like say, paying for boomer’s retirement/medicine on a huge pile of debt. As you say, 14 Trillion *IS* a ton of money…however, we have ~50-75 Trillion in unfunded liabilities (SS + Medicare), and it is now nearly mathematically impossible to pay for them as they are currently promised. Is it pessimistic to point that out and look for a solution/protect oneself, or merely realistic?

    Remember MCHammer? I’m sure he would have called you a pessimist up until the day the Repo men showed up at his mansion. Optimistically, he’s mostly OK, but he ain’t the Hammer no more, and that’s what JCE and other hard money/Austrian economist types are pointing out. We’ll come through this, but the unprepared could have a really rough time.

    Thanks,
    DaveP

    FSR COMMENT: Re the $50-75 trillion in unfunded future liabilities–future GDP calculated on a comparable basis is over $1,000 trillion.

  61. Paulie Says:

    Frank – just a quick one: Visit my blog and do a search on the terms ‘negativism’ and ‘neo-pessimism’ – yours is a regular theme of mine.

  62. Leo Igwe Says:

    MIRACLE SCANDAL IN SOUTH AFRICA.
    By Leo Igwe

    In April, a South African newspaper the Sowetan, published a report revealing the deception, fraud, manipulation and exploitation underlying the miracle sessions of the Nigerian televangelist, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome and his church, the Christ Embassy. The report indicts Pastor Chris for staging and faking miracles.
    A member of the church in South Africa the Sowetan that one of the pastors offered him 10,000 rands ( 150,000 naira) to rehearse and pretend to be in a wheelchair three weeks before the all night prayer called Night of Bliss held at the Johannesburg stadium in April. The man was approached by a pastor of the church in the quest ‘for people to work for the church’ and ‘help draw crowds’ to the event. The plan was that the man would sit on a wheelchair and be moved around while pretending to be physically ill and would stand up and walk as soon as Pastor Chris stopped praying for him.”
    But this man later turned down the offer. “I just told myself that using the Word of God to lie to desperate people is immoral. So, I refused to take up their offer.” He stated. According to this report, some church members claimed that Pastor Chris had been hiring people to pretend to be sick and disabled and then “be healed” during his television shows and public prayer meetings. They said that those claimed to have been healed during miracle sessions were actually trained weeks before the event. “Even children who are healthy are whisked around in wheelchairs. Some use crutches. Everyone is allocated a person who tells the congregation about your background, your specific illness and suffering. The Pastor raises his hands and places them maybe on your legs if you cannot walk, and few seconds later you get up and walk around the room.”

    In its reaction, Christ Embassy has denied staging any miracle, describing the report as ‘rubbish’ and a blackmail by a soft selling newspaper to discredit the church and “this holy crusade”.

    Anyone who is acquainted with the South African media knows that the Sowetan is not a soft selling tabloid. In fact the Sowetan is one of the major newspapers in the country and could not have made up this story. Christ Embassy just put up this defense to launder its image and still preserve this fraudulent scheme called miracles. Pastor Chris is not new to controversies over miracles. Not long ago, a man who claimed to be blind from birth identified the colour of his tie during a healing session. Following the reckless and irresponsible claims of faith healing by Nigerian pastors, the National Broadcasting Commission, some years ago, banned the advertisement of miracles on state televisions. So, what the report in the Sowetan did was to let the ‘cat of miracle scam’ out of the bag of Christ Embassy and the penticostal churches.
    Miracles are not new to Nigeria, especially to our country’s fast growing pentecostal churches that are springing up everyday and fiercely competing for fellowership and money. Faith healing is one of the most potent weapons they use to attract members.
    As a billboard along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway says “Miracles happen everyday” Indeed, miracles happen everyday in Nigeria. But they are all fakery. They are all stage-managed by the pastors and their gullible folks to sustain the penticostal hocus pocus. And Pastor Chris and his Christ Embassy are alone in this business. Other Nigerian pastors and their church members also stage miracles.
    Personally I don’t know why it took the miracle session in South Africa to reveal this “open secret” about pentecostal churches in Nigeria – that they fake miracles. Again this report reveals how Nigerian church members have been collaborating in this spiritual scam by allowing themselves to be used by these con artists called faith healers.
    There has never been any real instance of miracle. Miracles are fantasies which human beings use to explain what they do not understand very well or they don’t understand at all like survival in an accident, recovery from a serious aliment or a stroke of luck or fortune in one’s life.
    Miracles thrives more under conditions of ignorance than knowledge, darkness than light, uncertainties than certainties. All instances of miracle which I know are founded or informed by hearsay, self-deception, gullibility and fraud. All the miracles talked about in the Bible and other sacred texts are lies, sacred fairy tales or pure fabrications. They did not happen. Jesus did not perform any miracle. He did not change water into wine in Galilee as the Bible tells us. Jesus did not heal the sick, raise the dead. He did not make the blind see, the lame walk, and the deaf hear. The miracle claims of and about the ancient prophets are false. They are mythical tales created and crafted by primitive minds to support and sustain the transcendental illusions and superstitions of religions. All the miracles attributed to Jesus in the Bible are sacred allusions to make him look divine and get people to believe in him. So, staging miracles did not start with Pastor Oyakhilome and the Christ Embassy or with thousands of churches in Nigeria that claim to perform signs and wonders. It started with the authors of the Bible and other sacred writings. It started with the founders and purveyors of religious wares. They invented and codified these mythical accounts so that people would believe- and believe blindly and thoughtlessly.

    And I want to submit that until Nigerians nay Africans embrace critical thinking, skeptical intelligence, free thought and rational outlook; until there are Africans who are ready to live and act honestly, thoughtfully and courageously like this church member in South Africa, all these miracle peddlers, mongers, scammers and stage managers prowling the continent will continue to prey on, exploit, darken and scandalize the world.
    Leo Igwe is the director of the Center for Inquiry in Ibadan

  63. Malcolm Muir Says:

    The Story of the Taoist Farmer:

    A farmer owned an old mare and one day she jumped the fence and ran off. His neighbors came to commiserate but the farmer said: “We do not know what is good and what is bad. Let us see what happens.”

    A week later the horse returned leading three young horses. The farmer’s neighbors came to congratulate him, but the farmer said: “We do not know what is good and what is bad. Let us see what happens.”

    The next day the farmer’s only son was trying to break one of the new horses and was thrown resulting in a broken leg. The neighbors came again to commiserate but I am sure you know the farmer’s response.

    One week later the army came through the area conscripting young men but the farmer’s son had a broken leg and was not taken.

    What is good and what is bad.

    FSR COMMENT: I’m reminded of what Chou En-lai supposedly said when asked about the effect of the French Revolution: “too soon to tell.”
    What is good–in the long run– is what improves human welfare. But as individuals we will not live to see the long run.

  64. Tuck Pittman Says:

    Thank you Frank for doing this blog thing. I think it is great. and I agree with one of the bloggers that this is a good time to live in the USA. And you are right Frank, they do not complain about Microsoft’s profits, a billion a month and a dime on the dollar, most companies consider 5 or 6% to be about right.tp

  65. Steuart Bowling Says:

    I find myself making all my posts from a religious standpoint even though I really don’t consider myself an overly religious person. I wanted to respond to Leo Igwe’s post about the faith healing scams currently being inflicted upon the people of Africa. Hopefully this won’t stray too far off the context of this topic.

    Spiritual hunger and the belief in the absolute infallible truth of the written word are a powerful combination. Power often seems to bring out the worst in man and human history is deeply stained by many that have chosen to abuse this particular form of it. Those who lie and steal in the name of Christianity are not true Christians. Christ taught so men would better know the soul’s relationship to God’s love. Teaching adherence to the Laws of Moses established a common starting point for his work. “Thou shalt not steal” is as clear as it gets and the wisdom of following this law is self-evident to an even slightly developed soul. What passes for Christianity today has plenty of faults, but it did not make these scam artists lie and steal. The undeveloped condition of their souls did. Sadly, the curent state of Christianity was unable to prevent it as well.

    Some may argue that religion did not fail man but rather man failed the religion. But placing fallible people in a position of interpreting supposedly infallible texts makes no sense. The religion cannot overcome this fault unless the preacher is elevated to be as infallible as the text. This, of course, is the source of the abuse of trust that led to the scam. The critical thinking Mr. Igwe desires is part of the answer, but it cannot be substituted as food for the hungry soul. The soul’s yeaning for attention cannot be denied. If not met in a responsible way, it will lead people into the arms of other scams as they continue their quest for spiritual growth.

    Love and faith must remain a part of the equation or the soul’s potential influence withers to insignificance. Men acting in the name of religion, but without love, without faith, and without regard for the soul created the scam to begin with. We will remain stuck in a cycle of lies and abuse unless the cause is removed. Progress will only come when religion focuses on the individual’s responsibility to develop their own soul and recognition that love is the food all souls seek. Relying on fear of a vengeful God, threats of damnation, and vicarious atonement isn’t working and must be abandoned.

    I’m not sure I can successfully argue against the point that miracles never occur because I’m not sure any two people have the same concept of what a miracle is. Many urban legends and false claims cloud the waters, but documented cases of unexplained healings connected to fervent prayer do exist. They have been researched and all cannot be so easily dismissed. But these spontaneous healings cannot be repeated in others suffering the same maladies using the standard scientific method. They are also limited to certain types of cures. (ie: An incurable tumor may destroy the sight of one eye, then the tumor may suddenly vanish, but the loss of the eye and resulting blindness remain). Many who fully place their faith in science dismiss these stories as misunderstandings, fabrications or anomalies. I will not argue against the possbility they may be misunderstandings, but I resist dismissing them just because they are uncomfortable for conventional wisdom to deal with.

    If one were to study in detail the mechanisms that brought about a miraculous event, I am certain a valid physical or biological basis could be found for each component that created the whole event. But what power put these forces in motion so that their combined effect would bring about the anomalous event? Faith magnified through an optimistic soul may have the ability to rally and focus the immune system to create the well-documented “spontaneous remissions” of otherwise fatal tumors.

    If this is nothing more than random chance, then what astronomical level of probability is needed to cross the line to call random chance a miracle? What Mr. Igwe dismissed as “a stroke of luck” would seem to fall into the same category. By dismissing their existance, one risks dismissing undiscovered clues to their causes and advancing human understanding for the benefit of all.

    FSR COMMENT: I’m reminded of Epicurus’ visit to the temple which displayed the pictures of all the sailors who prayed during storms at sea and survived. “But where,” he asked, “are the pictures of all the sailors who prayed and were drowned?”

  66. Crawford Blakeman, Sr. Says:

    Framk, if I were not an “optimist”, I believe I should have left this wotld long ago. Thanks for your essay–it does me a lot of good! I think a lot of our lack of patriotism is caused by pessimisum. As an old WWII Navy vet,
    I feel this country will be greater in the future than it has been in the past.

  67. Steuart Bowling Says:

    Epicurus reasoned away the false pantheon of Greek gods because he saw the obvious error in linking prayer to divine intervention. Free from spiritual concerns, he threw his lot in with developing the intellect as the source of happiness.

    Buddha represents the opposite extreme with the same handicap. He denied the physical and explored the spiritual. Both found relative success, yet both managed to totally miss the existence of God, perhaps because both sought the answer only from within themselves. Epicurus found contentment based in part on his pride of accomplishment. Buddha found nirvana based in part on denial of that pride.

    In their time people thought the gods were magical beings that intervened in the affairs of man for entertainment. Prayer was man’s attempt to curry favor with the gods so they would grant some special request. Having that favor gave status. Centuries later we’re still in the same rut concerning prayer.

    Too many folks see God as a magician. Prayers become magical incantations to entice Him to act. If I say the right words, face the proper direction, burn the right incense, dance the right dance or sing the right song, then God will favor my prayer over the billions of others being offered. Maybe He’ll grant my wish for a slimmer waistline and better luck in the lottery or forget my sins because I asked him to do so and dropped $10 in the collection plate instead of $1. It sounds wrong because it is wrong! These concepts came from times long before Buddha or Epicurus, yet in many ways we still cling to them.

    The purpose of prayer is not to convince God to grant special favors, although in rare cases it can accomplish that. Prayer is to open the soul into a closer relationship with Him. The power for miracles (not really miracles in the sense of “magic,” just unrealized spiritual capabilities) already exists within us. It is not based in the physical body, but the soul within it. Most lack the strength of soul to perceive much less use this potential.

    Just as there are laws which govern the physical world, (physics), there are laws which govern the spiritual. When we learn enough about the physical world, we advance and routinely perform what once would have been seen as miracles. The potential for miracles does not exist exclusively within the physical. If more thought went into spiritual advancement, we could realize potentials we can scarcely dream of today.

    Man once only made stone tools. This fact didn’t negate the existence of copper or bronze. The potential for tools made from these metals existed before man appeared, but it could not be realized until man’s knowledge and development caught up. Our spiritual development is still in its stone age. People become disillusioned with modern religion because they sense this–they know it cannot adequately provide what the soul needs because it is tied down by “infallible” written dogma from centuries ago.

    We currently have an imbalance between technological and spiritual growth. This places 21st century technology in the hands of spiritual infants. This is not a good place to be! Spiritual growth must occur so we can close the gap to restore the balance.

  68. Anonymous Says:

    jhbhibji

  69. Mark58 Says:

    The volume can be centrally managed here thanks to the pulse audio system. ,

  70. Leo Igwe: Humanist hero « The Rational Optimist Says:

    [...] at this blog’s launching – an unusually long comment about bogus “miracles” in Africa (click here). Frankly at the time I thought this somewhat odd; in retrospect I am grateful and flattered, [...]

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  72. Pierre Lagacé Says:

    I always read the first blog someone wrote. As I can see, you started a long time ago.

    I started my first blog in January 2008. It was about genealogy and it was written in French. Since then I have not stopped writing both in French and English.

  73. Pierre Lagacé Says:

    Love this part…

    “We need hope to find life worth living and face the future. We do that most obviously by creating the next generation. Nowadays, many question whether it’s right to bring a child into “such a troubled world.” My wife and I actually had that conversation. But, convinced that in fact people today have it far better than any past generation, we went ahead and put the condoms aside. We are very glad we did—and so is our teenage daughter, who understands what a blessing it is to be alive—especially in today’s world, which, for all its troubles, she keenly appreciates as the best ever. (Kids sometimes do listen to their parents.)”

    You are very glad you did…?

    When you’ll become grandparents you’ll be even more glad.

  74. Frank Kern Survey Says:

    First off I would like to say great blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you do not mind.
    I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your
    head prior to writing. I’ve had trouble clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out there.
    I do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually wasted just trying to figure
    out how to begin. Any suggestions or tips? Cheers!

  75. Woodrow Says:

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