Monday, 26 February 2018


We optimists awaken at dawn full of the joys of anticipation and the certainty of success and sixteen hours later we retreat to bed wounded and weakened by the ambushes from cynics, sceptics and pessimists. We sleep fitfully but the next day we wake up full of the  joys of anticipation….

No wonder we are loathed by the purveyors of dystopian rhetoric and targeted as beastly balloons of cheerfulness. We are like low, slow-flying pheasants cheerfully indifferent to the shotguns of despair. We are, in short, irrepressible.

And if we listen to Steve Pinker (our cheerleader) we seem in the right. He says that we are, on every known measurement, progressing ever forwards to a better world of longer, happier, healthier and wealthier lives. His new book “Enlightenment now” has been described as heartening and inspiring. But it has enraged Black Swan author and  grumpy apostle of doom, Nassim Taleb, who regards Pinker as devoid of rigour.

Sceptics like him have plenty of ammunition. The betrayal of trust by politicians, economists and bankers; the Syrian catastrophe; ISIS; Al -Qaeda; the Parkland Florida shooting; Donald Trump pretty well daily and so on. But their espousal of  catastrophe is pretty thin stuff viewed against the sweep of history.

That’s not how the news sounds of course. Even some bad weather (forecast to coincide with when you are reading this in the UK or Europe) has been named “the Beast from the East”. A cold snap is demonised.

Mel Brooks, like many comics a bit of a pessimist, said: “Hope for the Best. Expect the worst. Life is a play. We're unrehearsed.”  Spot on Mel. We are living in a happier, better world for sure but it’s a whole lot messier. The sense of under-rehearsal and busking is evident in the behaviour of all our politicians.  Recently we saw a play called “The Play that goes Wrong”. It was a farce that felt very appropriate for our times. And we all laughed because that’s what optimistic human beings do when things mess up.

Our lives move faster. Our news is more fractured. Reactions are more erratic. Nuance is a thing of the past. Things are extreme - either  good or bad. We live in a binary tick-box culture but…big but… things are getting better. Institution after institution is given a roasting - as Oxfam and others were last week. They say sorry,  are reformed and then life goes on - better. This week it was the turn of the Police. The Supreme Court  deemed “failures in the investigation of the crimes, provided they are sufficiently serious, will give rise to liability on the part of the police”. This related to mistakes in the original Worboys’ investigation.  A real surprise for pessimists about human rights but as Steve Pinker reminds us:

“humans have innate desires for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  So in the end things tend to work out in justifying our desires and our unquenchable optimism.

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