Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Optimism. And my daughters.

If you spend any amount of time these days keyed into what might be called “the fact-based-community,” it’s pretty easy to feel down-right lugubrious about the state of the world and our prospects for the future.

According to “New Yorker” writer and Pulitzer-Prize-winner Elizabeth Kolbert, our entire planet (you and me included) are on the verge of a “Sixth Extinction.” This is a tragedy at least one order of magnitude worse than your WIFI going out for twenty-minutes. And Kolbert is one of about a billion scientists sounding the ecological and environmental alarm.

Then there is all the evidence of our dimming “dark age.” An age where learning is held in disdain and ignorance is extolled. There’s the rise in retrograde, anti-enlightenment thinking and policies. The concentration of wealth (and the failure of governments to enforce the paying of taxes) and the deplorable and disgusting rise of Trump and all the effluence and hatred he instigates and inspires.

In short, the world sucks. And is going to (or has gone) to hell in a hand-basket. Our future is one where things will only get worse. And life, if you can call it that, will once again recall Thomas Hobbes’ description of the world of almost 400 years ago—as writ in his “Leviathan.”

“…there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

In other words, life is short. And then you die. Penniless and ragged.

But then I came out to San Diego, CA to attend my daughter Hannah’s graduation ceremonies from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. On Tuesday, June 11th, Hannah, along with 26 women and men in her program, presented her thesis, and on Friday, she and her colleagues get their Masters’ in Marine Sciences.

27 young people.

27 young people who are brilliant.

27 young people who will change the world.
Who will make the world better.

27 young people might not be able to beat back the world’s galloping regression to darkness. The forces of Koch-ism, McConnellism, Trumpism and a thousand more Evilisms have a lot going for them.

As Arthur Miller wrote more than half-a-century ago in his great, dark poem "Lines from California,"

"Law is order, Justice a decent return on money.
Progress is anything turning on and off by itself.
Beauty is teeth, deep skill, and the willingness.
Freedom is the right to live among your own kind.
A philosophy is a keen sense of land values
and the patience to wait.
War is peace waged by other means .
They know they are the Future.
They are exceedingly well-armed."

And they appeal to the base instincts that are never too far from the surface of so many.

But the 27 people, well, I wouldn’t bet against them.
Because if each of the 27 has just 27 friends, that’s 729 good people.

And if each of the 729 has 27 friends, that’s nearly twenty-thousand people who will back positive changes. And if each of those twenty-thousand has 27 friends, all at once we’re at more than half-a-million good young people. Once again by 27, we're at almost 15 million.

But right now, I’m not really in the mood to extrapolate.

I’m thinking just of my own, personal extrapolations.

Hannah, a 27-year-old with a Master’s Degree in Marine Science. And her sister, Sarah, a 31-year-old with a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.

Beacons of the Enlightenment, which began with Newton, Rousseau, Voltaire, Jefferson and dozens of other (flawed, but) remarkable men and women who, simply because they believed in people and in freedom and liberty, they could make the world better.

It’s easy to be down about the future.
I understand.
You are not alone.

But you should talk to my daughters some time.

And you’ll feel better.

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