I am an optimist. As skeptical and suspicious as I am, at the end of the day I'm thrown to see the positive way forward in any situation. That's not always been the case, I've trained myself to be an optimist. It took a number of years to get to the point where seeing the brighter side is my default mode but I got there. If I can do it, anybody can. Really. I don't see optimism in the same way a lot of people do though.
To be an optimist is to be a realist. All too often, optimism gets confused with sentiment or nostalgia or naiveté but the key to seeing the positives is to be able to assess and gauge reality as it is, not as I'd like it to be.
We live in troubled times. Though 2010's hardly a uniquely troubled time. Humanity's been watching great civilizations rise and fall for a very long time and in the big picture, that story arc never changes. Our times are no different than times have ever been. Here are some of humanity's greatest hits; Elam, Egypt, Assyria, Minoa, Persia, Greece, Phoenicia, Rome, Byzantium, The Ottoman Empire, the Portuguese Empire, The Spanish Empire and The British Empire. That's just a list of sequential empires off the top of my head. All of them have come and gone and each one followed a similar story arc. That's a simplification of course, but each of those civilizations believed itself to be special, ordained by god (s) even. Each one had a rise, a plateau, a decline and then a collapse.
I believe I live in a declining empire and I don't think that makes me a pessimist to hold that opinion. Believing that the decline of the US and by extension the rest of the West can be arrested and reversed isn't optimism, it's a delusion. It's a delusion to believe that everybody can have a bachelor's degree and a 2400 square foot house on a cul de sac. It's a delusion to believe that we can fix everything if we all speak English, or if none of us are Muslim, or if we keep hounding gays until they all jump off bridges. No one can delay the inevitable by manufacturing new enemies.
Admitting to and owning reality isn't pessimism, it pragmatism. It's only in assessing things as they are, not as they ought to be, that people can then choose to be optimistic. I don't think the current decline can be reversed, but I do think it can be slowed. The US doesn't have to collapse in an orgy of civil unrest and it doesn't have to be conquered on a field of war. Those things aren't automatic but to avoid them it's going to require a rational assessment of things as they are and the positive, optimistic, collective choice to keep the upper hand and maintain the rule of law.
So after all that, the question is Is there reason to be optimistic? I say you bet there is. There are all kinds of reasons to be optimistic. I'm alive and I'm in charge and everything flows from there. I can't fix the problems of the US but what I can do is vote for candidates who show something close to a grasp on reality. I can't fix the housing market, the banking crisis or the dreary jobs picture. What I can do though is shield myself from that stuff as best I can and keep plugging away to keep a roof over my head in a mess of an economy. You can't stay flexible, you can't change with the times, you can't assess a situation accurately until you can see it and then chose to be optimistic. The world as I've come to know may be going down the tubes but I don't have to go with it. You know, life isn't easy but it sure is fun. And if all else fails, I have tickets to go see La Bohème at the Met on December 11th.