Wednesday, January 03, 2007

What are you optimistic about for 2007?

Over at the big-think site, the question of the moment they are posing to their stellar contributors is, What are you optimistic about? The clickable links to all 160 responses are there, as well as links to newspaper articles about the query. The predictions range from the eternally nonsensical: no religion (Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins), no war (John Hogan) to hot anticipation of forthcoming scientific discovery (Maria Spiropulu's and CERN's big new particle accelerator), to progress against simplistic 'monocausalitis' (Ernst Pöppel).

This being a collection of Really Smart People, the hopes tend to be more for liberal goals and outcomes. Concern about global warming was present in most every entry I looked at, which admittedly is statistically insignificant. I do intend to go through it all, though.

The hopes voiced that religion will f-f-f-fade away in the coming year strike me as especially wrong-headed, even for intellectuals. It reminded me of this article about Sam Harris, earlier last year:

I want to talk to [Sam] Harris about emotion, about politics, about his conviction that the days of civilization are numbered unless we renounce irrational belief. Given the way things are going, I want to know if he is depressed. Is he preparing for the end?

He is not. "Look at slavery," he says. We are at a beautiful restaurant in Santa Monica, near the public lots from which Americans -- nearly 80 percent of whom believe the Bible is the true word of God, if polls are correct -- walk happily down to the beach in various states of undress. "People used to think," Harris says, "that slavery was morally acceptable. The most intelligent, sophisticated people used to accept that you could kidnap whole families, force them to work for you, and sell their children. That looks ridiculous to us today. We're going to look back and be amazed that we approached this asymptote of destructive capacity while allowing ourselves to be balkanized by fantasy. What seems quixotic is quixotic -- on this side of a radical change. From the other side, you can't believe it didn't happen earlier. At some point, there is going to be enough pressure that it is just going to be too embarrassing to believe in God."

Suddenly I notice in myself a protective feeling toward Harris. Here is a man who believes that a great global change, perhaps the most important cultural change in the history of humanity, will occur out of sheer intellectual embarrassment.

A mild surprise is the presence of art-rock auteur and famed record producer Brian Eno among the savants. In the course of talking about the prospects of tackling global warming on the macro level, he hopes for a big government, "wise men" approach: "The future may be a bit more like Sweden and a bit less like America." Guess he hasn't heard that Sweden is well on the way to becoming more like rural Pakistan.

So, to round off, what are you optimistic about? Me, I'm optimistic that I'll rebuild some personal bridges, and move into a better school district. Those are the major things that I have any direct effect on.

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