Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Looking Backward...and then Toward the Future

Before looking onward to the future, let's take a brief look back:

"In any case, the 21st century is undeniably the century (that) science fiction built -- if not in utter hands-on reality (though even that proposition is debatable, given the inspiration the genre has provided for influential scientists and geeks), then in the public imagination. Since the birth of genre SF in 1926, and for almost the next 75 years, simply to set a story in the third millennium AD was to signify extravagant extrapolation and a futuristic, far-off milieu when flying cars and food pills would reign -- or dystopia would prevail. The year 2010 is automatically one of yesterday's tomorrows."writes Paul Di Fillippo, in "Is Science Fiction Dying? on Salon.

How does Science Fiction go about portraying the future? I'm quoted in this BBC article: Futurology: The tricky art of knowing what will happen next...

"In more recent times, author David Brin, in the 1989 novel Earth and in his other works, predicted citizen reporters, personalised web interfaces, and the decline of privacy. "The top method is simply to stay keenly attuned to trends in the laboratories and research centres around the world, taking note of even things that seem impractical or useless," says Brin. "You then ask yourself: 'What if they found a way to do that thing ten thousand times as quickly/powerfully/well? What if someone weaponised it? Monopolised it? Or commercialised it, enabling millions of people to do this new thing, routinely? What would society look like, if everybody took this new thing for granted?'"

How do we project ourselves into the future? No matter how hard futurists try, their visions never quite match up to reality. In H+ Magazine, Valkyrie Ice points out the Top Five Errors in Predicting the Future: 

1. Tunnel Vision: extrapolating future changes, by giving too much weight to one line of technological innovation

2. Ideological slanting: imprinting today's ethical or moralistic biases on the future

3. Linearism: imagining that technology advances in a linear fashion, rather than exponentially, or along several parallel tracks

4. Static Worldview: a failure to envision how technology will deeply alter society and culture

5. Unrealistic models of human nature: certainly what we view as 'average' will shift in the future

Apparently, I predicted the phenomena of Twitter, back in my 1989 novel Earth:

“I am the sum of many parts...I am the product of so many notions, cascading and multiplying in so many accents and dialects. These are my subvocalizations I suppose-the twitterings of data and opinions on the Net are my subjective world.” 
(From p. 641 of the paperback version of Earth.)

And what does that get me….but a free Twitter account! (You can follow me as @DavidBrin https://twitter.com/DavidBrin) But I'd settle for some back-dated founders' shares? ;-) It seems worth listing at my Predictive Hits site.

 Futurist.com has some interesting discussion of my new graphic novel TINKERERS and the topic of U.S. Industrial decline. (Now available on Amazon.) It was also reviewed by the LA Times.

In “A Whispering Neuron in the Nascent Mind of the World,” author Alex Washoe offers his commentary on my novel Earth (1989) and its relevance to modern society, “Brin paints a picture of a Net that has permeated every facet of life, and even more vividly he captures the taste of the ongoing, open-to-all, often chaotic and not always civil conversation about any and all topics that characterizes the Web today.  He foreshadows the rise of Bloggers and Internet watchdogs who make the keeping of secrets, either personal or political almost impossible…. Brin draws a powerful analogy between the multitude of voices on the web and the Babel of different "sevles" that make up our "individual" pysches.  The Net as the raucous pre-concious of an ermeging global mind?  This idea escapes the spurious dichotomy of rugged indvidualism and Borg like group think by recognizing the very real possiblity that the same evolutionary forces of competition and co-operation that operate in the natural world shape our brains and minds and societies as well.” (Someone recruit this fellow into our blogmunity.)

“It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by things other than power.” My quote cartoonized by Russell Higgs:

For those wanting a good read in the genre of “urban fantasy”… tales in which characters have to deal with both our world and another where things differ greatly… you might try BLUE, by my friend Lou Aronica.

heartofthecometNow here's an obscure connection to fame. Like me, Brian May - of the rock group Queen - was a physicist before being drawn away into the arts. When asked, in an interview, about his dissertation, May answered: “It's a study of dust… in the solar system. … My experiment was trying to figure out the motion of that dust. Where it's going, what it's doing, where it came from and what it means in terms of the creation of the solar system."

Huh.  My doctoral dissertation was about the source of much of that dust - comets. Whenever you see a nature program showing comet cores as spinning and covered with dark, dusty material, with a few water vapor fountain-jets spewing forth, well, that's my thesis, confirmed by half a dozen spacecraft since! I incorporated much of this into my novel, Heart of the Comet, co-written with Gregory Benford.

= MOVIE RANT! =

I know many of you have been patiently waiting for my extended essay about AVATAR.  If I take much longer, I won't have any chance of influencing James Cameron's sequel script.  Serves me right.

But to tide you over, here's a few more recent capsules.

Tron: Legacy was kinda lame. But I have a trick. Before seeing a film I adjust EXPECTATION DIALS. By zeroing LOGIC & SCIENCE I could adore THE FIFTH ELEMENT's gonzo-rollicking sense of utter joy. For each episode of LORD OF THE RINGS I numbed my hatred of smug feudalism and thus got to enjoy em. (See my essay on J.R.R. Tolkien and the Modern Age) As for Tron -- it was murky, visually too dim and the 3D wasn't great. The story was a rehash.  Still, it offered enough fun to be worth the price. The combat scenes were pretty cool.

One moment stood out for me, when Flynn had to save the life of a program, he did it the RIGHT way!  In the old Tron movie, he repairs a program using "user power" by waving his arms and applying magical force of will.  I hated that. Wanted him to pick up chunks of the broken machine and see lines of code! And to say "Hey, I wrote this!"  Then grab and re-arrange lines till the program re-booted. THE MATRIX sort of implied this kind of relationship to the code.. then betrayed it relentlessly.

 In this new flick, Flynn uses knowledge and skill, doing surgery on the code deep in order save a friend ... a small victory for the prefrontal lobes, in a hollywood biz that is obsessed with gut feelings and worshipping the supreme power of emotional impulse over reason.  (I wonder if the writers of this version read my old essays, complaining....)

= AND NOW A SPILL OF MISCELLANY! =

Ten predictions for News Media in 2011

Really Inspiring!

Meryl Comer and Chris Mooney make a strong (overwhelming, in fact) case that investments in science and R & D nearly always prove to be the best possible way to advance the economy, to stimulate job growth, advance public health and improve our balance of payments. There are no excuses for not making R&D a top priority.  Which means that the party that sabotaged science in the United States for so long has no conceivable rationalization or eexplanation, other than deliberately sabotaging their own country.

==And... Space News==

One way to reduce launch costs: manufacture parts in space. A new company, Made in Space, proposes launching 3-D printers into orbit and using them to manufacture parts for spacecraft (satellites or the space station) - which would then be assembled in zero gravity. This would reduce the need to bring spare (plastic) parts. Broken pieces would be recycled as 'feedstock' for rapid prototyping. (I did some preliminary work on this in the early eighties!)

Will we be able to grow crops on other planets to sustain human colonies? Scientists analyze soils on the Moon,Mars and Venus for potential agriculture.  Aeroonics is another possibility for soil less agriculture.

 Project Icarus is a Tau Zero Foundation (TZF) initiative in collaboration with The British Interplanetary Society (BIS). Daedalus was a BIS project in the late 1970's conducted over several years, to design an interstellar probe for a flyby mission to Barnards Star. Over three decades has now passed and it is an opportunity to revisit this unique design study.

Earlier this week my son and I stood in our backyard and observed the International Space Station crossing through the night sky  -- an inspiring sight. If you want to know when and where to look, check Heavens Above for your geographic position. It tabulates the location of the ISS, and satellites, as well as any visible comets.

==And... Science Fiction==

 The 100 best movie spaceships.

How does Serenity compare to a TIE Interceptor, or Babylon 5 Station to a Klingon Transport vessel?  Starship Dimensions, an online museum of vessels inspired by science fiction, puts it all to scale, contrasting dimensions of starships to real-life vessels. 

==And.... The Economy==

 James Fallows comments on “The Chinese Professor” Ad from Citizens Against Government Waste.

Hans Rosling's 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes - The Joy of Statistics… and the statistics of joy… Important perspective!

About the ever-widening income gap, Frank Rich writes, in a New York Times article: Who will stand up to the super-rich? : “As Winner-Take-All Politics documents, America has been busy building a bridge to the 19th century - that is, to a new Gilded Age. To dislodge the country from this stagnant rut will require all kinds of effort from Americans in and out of politics. That includes some patriotic selflessness from those at the very top who still might emulate Warren Buffett and the few others in the Forbes 400 who  that it's not in America's best interests to stack the tax and regulatory decks in their favor.”

Uncle Sam needs you to solve America's budget crisis: On this interactive site, you can choose which domestic and foreign programs to eliminate, and see how it affects the budget gap forecast for 2015 and 2030. You can choose to close tax loopholes, add a national sales tax, eliminate farm subsidies, cut military spending, or raise the Social Security age, and then share your plan online.

This really fascinating program (based at Northwestern U.) follows dollar bills and makes it possible to map connections among americans.  Interesting and easy to become a participant of "Follow George." 

Then....

The idea that we are entitled a life of happiness is a relatively new one.
Past generations were more likely to accept their lot in life - with happiness a function of birth, bestowed by the fates or the gods, the reward for a virtuous life - or even delayed til a glorious afterlife. We who are less patient, believe it is our due, and yet, in the bustle of modern life, few seem to attain it…See A History of Happiness.

And finally...
Here's hoping that the end of the Naughty Oughts (I named em in 1998) will bring a decline in grouchiness, a return of reasonableness and fizzy can-do, ambitious problem-solving!  And may you and yours have their best decade yet. (Though the worst of those that follow...)

80 comments:

Rob said...

David, if my experience in the last ten years providing software to people in manufacturing is any indicator, the United States is at a decision point with respect to manufacturing. It is not yet in decline, except in the narrow sense that an unskilled worker can no longer keep a job in the industry; being in manufacturing now requires at least some skills with computing and problem solving.

With respect to Tron, I enjoyed it as a work of visual art, and disconnected for the (Disney-typical) father-son story. Return of the Jedi type story with some of the most beautiful visuals since Avatar, along with what I thought was marvelous music (so sue me for geeking about Daft Punk) and acts of visual homage to the first Tron movie, such as the CLU/MCP reintegration explosion.

Gorgeous stuff; very nostalgic for a 3rd generation hacker teen. I'll go again, once it hits the $3 theaters, and watch it without the distracting and unnecessary 3D elements.

Sociotard said...

Watch an MSNBC news commentator exposed as a vampire
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/ns/msnbc_tv-rachel_maddow_show/#40835019

Tim H. said...

TRON legacy was a lot of fun, saw it in 2d, 3d glasses and eyeglasses don't work well together for me. The idea of an '80's computer system capable of digitizing humans, and still in perfect working order after all those years puts it in the fantasy area, but a very pretty one.
BTW, nytimes.com has been running essays on secession, perhaps worth a little of your time.
"spinessi" coming to a chiropractic clinic near you.

Jonathan said...

David,
your tidbits like the (incorrect) link to James Fallow's piece which is really http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/10/the-phenomenal-chinese-professor-ad/64982/

Should also be tweets.. so that we can re-tweet them! and favorite them on Facebook.
Thanks, a Fan.

Stefan Jones said...

I enjoyed Son of Tron. Popcorn entertainment with nice visuals. No lasting thought-value.

I hope 2011 sees the publication of Existence. Lucky me has read part of it, and it is funny and clever and thoughtful.

David Brin said...

In Tron, the brash rebel hero wasn't really very pathetic. Movie starts with him exerting extreme competence... if plenty of rebellious suspicion of authority.

My wife enjoyed seeing Boxleitner again.

Brunette AI chick was hot.

Rob said...

Well, when I saw brunette AI chick out in our world on the back of a motorcycle, my brain exploded.

ENCOM was a metaphor for IBM in the first movie. I take it as a metaphor for Microsoft in the second (not Apple, despite the rhetorical jabs in the script) because of MS's, well, *place* as the IBM of the early 21st century: staid, disconnected, also-rans in every area of innovation since 2004 at the latest, with the sadness being that their stuff really is technically superior. (And there's no question about that, because Windows tackles a much tougher set of use cases than OS X, just for one example.)

Even the TechEd parties are no fun anymore.

Anonymous said...

Brin asked rhetorically what the next ten years will bring.

Johan Galtung predicts that the American empire will collapse by 2020:

"It’s an empire against a wall; an empire in despair; an empire, I would say, in its last phase. My prediction in the book that is here, that you mentioned, The Fall of the US Empire–And Then What?, is that it cannot last longer than 'til about 2020. In 1980, I predicted for the Soviet empire that it will crack at its weakest point, the wall of Berlin, within ten years, and it happened in November 1989, and the Soviet empire followed. So my prediction is a similar one for the US empire. [...]
"What we see right now is an intensification spreading, special forces increasing, let us say, from thirty to forty-five countries. And that’s exactly what you would expect. It’s an effort to try to externalize, to say that there are enemies abroad that are trying to get at us, instead of saying the obvious, namely that we have made a construction, and that construction is dying itself."

http://people.tribe.net/ad9c1480-ffee-4bb0-912c-bd1863f19ff9/blog/82c28d02-63ad-46aa-975f-3be3387a30d8

Alfred McCoy comes to the same conclusion in his article "How America will collapse (by 2025):
Four scenarios that could spell the end of the United States as we know it -- in the very near future":

"Wrapped in imperial hubris, like Whitehall or Quai d'Orsay before it, the White House still seems to imagine that American decline will be gradual, gentle, and partial. [...]
"Ordinary Americans, watching their jobs head overseas, have a more realistic view than their cosseted leaders. An opinion poll in August 2010 found that 65 percent of Americans believed the country was now `in a state of decline.' Already, Australia and Turkey, traditional U.S. military allies, are using their American-manufactured weapons for joint air and naval maneuvers with China. Already, America's closest economic partners are backing away from Washington's opposition to China's rigged currency rates. As the president flew back from his Asian tour last month, a gloomy New York Times headline summed the moment up this way: `Obama's Economic View Is Rejected on World Stage, China, Britain and Germany Challenge U.S., Trade Talks With Seoul Fail, Too.'"
http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2010/12/06/america_collapse_2025

Brin will undoubtedly decry these accurate assessments as "cynicism," a label which itself reeks of cynicism. Brin lives in the mecca of American unsustainability, the ground zero of U.S. collapse, Southern California. See "Why California is Doomed":
http://www.oftwominds.com/blogmar10/California-doomed03-10.html

Brin maintains his lifestyle by telling Americans comforting lies about how marvelous the future will be, with the same cynicism of the workmasters who placed the words ARBEIT MACHT FREI over the gates of Auschwitz.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Happy New Year Guys

Seen the new year in now its time for bed!

Anonymous said
"How America will collapse"

I like to think that you guys will come to your senses before then - and if you do collapse its something to mourn not celebrate

"Brin maintains his lifestyle by telling Americans comforting lies about how marvelous the future will be,"

Dr Brin expends considerable effort showing us ALL how to build the future and trying to show us our mistakes.

To Dr Brin
Who's like him - Damn few

Robert said...

The problem with Anonymous's viewpoints is that there are significant differences between the USSR and the United States. Within the U.S., there is a mechanism for governmental change while in the USSR the only real method of change was revolution (which happened, even if quietly). When the American people are upset with its leadership they change that leadership through the ballot box.

This is the core of what the United States is. It is government of the people, by the people, and for the people. And after the last economic upheaval, there is no longer the political will to bail out industry. So if industry goes belly-up again, don't be surprised if the government lets it. The end result will be economic Depression.

Well, to put it bluntly, been there, done that, have the t-shirt and the experience on how to survive it. The Great Depression did not destroy the United States. Another economic upheaval will not either. (Mind you, if Depression is in the future for the U.S., the interconnectivity of global business means all nations will feel the shockwaves, and we'll see multiple economic empires fall.)

This is something else to consider: the globe is increasingly interconnected. The United States is a cornerstone on which much of the world economy has build from. Now let's kick out that block from the foundation. Let's say that Anonymous is right and that the U.S. collapses. Without the U.S. populace to buy goods and services, we'll see the economies of India and Europe take a massive blow. China will be staggered as well. Nations without a stake in the U.S. will also feel contractions - Iran and Venezuela might consider the U.S. the Great Satan and all that, but if the U.S. falls and takes its buying might from the picture... and their allies are shaken financially... then who will buy their oil? Hell, if the U.S. is no longer buying oil, then oil prices drop precipitously and their economies are in ruins.

In short, if the U.S. government falls, and the U.S. economy is no more... then the world is going to slide into a massive Depression, one nation after another. China does not want to see the U.S. fall. Russia doesn't. The only nations who do are fools that use the U.S. as scapegoats and don't consider the long-term consequences.

There is not the outside will for the U.S. to fall. There are internal mechanisms that have functioned properly for over 200 years allowing for peaceful government change (with one hiccup during the Civil War, and there isn't anything like Slavery to divide the North and South to that level no matter how much the Glen Becks and Sarah Palins of the U.S. try to claim otherwise).

(to be continued)

Robert said...

It is better to describe where the U.S. is now in terms of a more recent watershed moment: the Vietnam War. We are at the moment where the people are sick and tired of these constant wars. They want our soldiers to come home. And for all the problems that the Obama administration has in keeping its promises, I think he realizes this. He doesn't want to make Afghanistan a haven for Democracy. He wants to build up its internal forces to the point that they can fight their own war. At which point we leave.

As for the War on Terror? We have a bunch of wannabe warlords who will not be happy with their own little fiefdom. If the U.S. fails, they go after China and Russia and India and then once they've topped every empire around? They continue their ongoing battles with themselves until they are all dead. The terrorists are a threat to everyone. The problem is that we've not yet found a means of stopping them because the political will doesn't exist to do what's really needed: force Israel to stop persecuting the Palestinians and ignore the slings and arrows cast in their direction. If Israel stopped acting like an abused adult child who is taking what he learned from his abusive stepfather (Nazi Germany) on his own children and his nieces and nephews (the Palestinians), then we would see the cornerstone of Islamic terrorism knocked out from under them. If Israel started opening up economic opportunities for Palestinians so that they could work for a living and pull themselves out of the ghettos that Israel put them in? Then we'd see that corner of the world lose most of its potential as a terrorist breeding ground.

And with that lesson shown to be valid... might not other nations start doing the same with their own persecuted minorities? Ignoring the tantrums of a few radical hatemongers and embracing the rest as part of the whole?

Is that not what humanity as a whole needs to do to stop terrorism and grow as a species?

Is there not already an example of this within the United States... with the American Indians, who fought so hard and for so long and who are now being accepted as their own people within our nation (even if they gain their own power through building casinos)?

Rob H., who has found it is better to look up into the stars than down on the ground; you may stumble from time to time, but the view is a hell of a lot more spectacular.

P.S. - Dr. Brin, just thought I'd let you know I was finally able to buy Foundation's Triumph... using my new Nook. I look forward to reading it.

LarryHart said...

David Brin blogged:

in a hollywood biz that is obsessed with gut feelings and worshipping the supreme power of emotional impulse over reason. (I wonder if the writers of this version read my old essays, complaining....)


I've subliminally noticed that trend since the 1980s without really noticing what was bothering me. It was made explicit recently when a friend pointed out to me that in Disney Channel's new "Avengers" cartoon (the Marvel characters, and I used to be a big BIG Marvel fan) the leader of the evil scientist group A.I.M. leads his troops into battle shouting "Science! Science!" and the episode ends with Thor (yes, the Norse god, and one of the good guys) musing that the moral of the story was "Never trust a scientist." So science=evil. Won't SOMEbody please think of the children?

LarryHart said...


Johan Galtung predicts that the American empire will collapse by 2020:


Any relation to John Galt?


In 1980, I predicted for the Soviet empire that it will crack at its weakest point, the wall of Berlin, within ten years, and it happened in November 1989, and the Soviet empire followed.


Small nit perhaps, but it didn't "crack" at the Berlin Wall, but at the border between Hungary and Austria. The commie troops stopped preventing people from crossing the border to Austria, and so many people streamed out that they had to open the border (in both directions) to get at least some of the people to venture back. Otherwise, the eastern blok would have emptied completeley.

The opening of the border with the west CULMINATED with the most visible spectacle at the Berlin Wall, but did not begin there.

David Brin said...

Those of you who have been around a while recognize the nasty tone of "anonymous," a compulsive lurker and kind of a tragic case - bright but determined to be unpleasant, as if that somehow proved superiority, instead of the opposite.

Of course, I have fought the evil that's plagued America, more consistently and energetically and effectively than he has, by orders of magnitude. I see how forces seem bent on propelling Pax Americana down paths of self-destruction. OTOH, that project faces a daunting task, given the monumental health of the U.S. by countless measures. The image of frailty relished by anon's favorite pundits is sheer wishful-thinking shaedenfreude. As New Yorkers said, standing on the 9/11 rubble:

"It will take a LOT more than this."

But that's just feeding the beast and I'll not dignify anon any further, except to say enough. Guys like you had a decade. The Oughties were for grouches. They took it over. They ran it. And as a result, our net IQ plummeted. That will not stand. Go away.

LarryHart... don't bother confusing such people with facts.

Jonathan S. said...

LarryHart, in re: Marvel and "science = evil";

It may hearten you to know that in the comics, the Avengers' current leader, Henry Pym, has been designated by Eternity, the avatar of all of the universe, as Earth's "Scientist Supreme", the scientific equivalent of the Sorceror Supreme - manipulating reality by virtue of understanding its underpinnings thoroughly.

It's made plain in there that groups like AIM are misusing scientific tools - that the tools, and the science behind them, are a neutral force at worst, and that "evil" consists only in human choices and human minds.

Sean Strange said...

Well in defense of Hollywood, it is one of the last places where artists still have power and cultural influence. The way I see it, the explosion of science and technology threatens to make many kinds of artists commercially and culturally obsolete. If we wage war on our “irrational” creatives, we may be silencing visionary voices that turn out to be important in a way we can’t currently appreciate. I know Dr. Brin has been critical of Lord of the Rings and Avatar for their “incorrect” pre-Enlightenment ideas, but this seems rather fascistic to me. This is also why I take umbrage at the more militant aspects of the “New Atheist” movement; they are conducting a kind of philosophical genocide on old belief systems that may leave us spiritually impoverished as we march toward some technological dystopia.

David Brin said...

Mythology abuse abounds.

But I forgive a lot because Spiderman's fellow New Yorkers are not treated like helpless dopes. In every movie, he saves them... and they save him.

Robert said...

Actually, that also happened in the last Batman movie from what I understand (still haven't seen it yet): the Joker set up a scenario to show that mankind is not worth fighting for with a zero-sum prisoner scenario... only for the two boats with hostages and explosives (with each apparently having the ability to destroy the other boat and save themselves) NOT to try and kill each other to save themselves. But yeah, seeing ordinary New Yorkers throwing garbage at the Green Goblin to save "their" hero? That was a crowning moment of awesome.

--------------

I've been sitting on this news story for a while but I figure Dr. Brin will enjoy it: a dirigible (rigid-hulled lighter-than-air aircraft, unlike blimps which are basically shaped balloons) was used in researching whale movement, and has been used for other research as well. I have to admit, it's a rather interesting concept, and I hope that we see more dirigibles in the future; both for research, and for transport.

Rob H.

Brendan said...

Robert,

Not to spoil the moment, but if you think of that scene as a reflection of people inherent goodness, be prepared to be disappointed. It came across to me as ham handed and overblown(but then I thought of the Spiderman: Ordinary People Save the Day" scenes in the same way)

Robert said...

So? A cynic considers himself a realist and feels the term "cynic" is a label that optimists lay on his fellow realists. But does that mean the cynic is in fact a realist, or does that mean that these two labels are for the same thing?

When I write, I let it flow. I have fun with it. You might not like it, you may consider it over the top and full of ham and the like. But is that because of your "realist" point of view?

To go off on a tangent, every year at this time, we usher in a new year. There are fireworks and celebrations and calls that this year will be better than the last. But let's be honest about it: January 1st is no different than December 31st. In the Northern hemisphere it's a wintery time. In the Southern hemisphere it's a summery time. It's just a day.

So then, why the celebration? Why the insistence that this day will in fact mean something? That this year will mean something different? That things may be better?

Perhaps it is human nature. We categorize things. We Name them. And we like to situate things as "past" and "present" and "future" even when they only have meaning from a specific perspective.

It is a short-run concept of optimism. I look for the long-run and have seen patterns showing a continual improvement of the human condition. We are better off than we were 100 years ago. 100 years ago we were better off than we were 1,000 years ago. 1,000 years ago we were better off than we were 10,000 years ago. And so forth.

Happy New Year.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Ray Bradbury is a much more fanatical true believer in optimism than I am. He get ferociously - almost volcanically - in full tilt rage against cynics and pessimists and stylish sneerers. They are imbeciles and traitors, he says. And worst of all - ingrates. And they do no good. The ones who have improved the world... the doctors, scientists, gandhi, ML King... Optimists all.

Anonymous said...

Pessimist here, but it bothers me not at all to be pleasantly surprised by something good happening.

Tim H. said...

Pessimist here, but it bothers me not at all to be pleasantly surprised by something good happening.

Stefan Jones said...

The year before last -- no, make that late 2008 -- there was a strong and corrosive meme that This Was It, that we'd fall into the Greater Depression and we'd be battling each other for ramen noodle packets.

Those infected hung out in some of blogs I frequent. Totally self-assured in their appraisal of our society and economy, snidely mocking the fools still talking about popular culture.

One of the tenets of their faith was that war and collapse would begin the instant that the Iranian Oil Bourse switched to the Euro. There was a bit of recieved wisdom that this would fall on a particular date.

Yeah, that date is long past. The smuggers have probably moved on to other obsessions and are privately grousing about what to do with that basement full of preserved food.

We still have a hard road ahead. Financial systems to fix and environmental issues to face.

But problems can be fixed.

The biggest obstacle are those totally convinced that there's no road ahead, and the only solution is resignation, or retreat into some golden age Conservative fairy tale past.

* * *

Charlie Stross looks back on the previous decade and finds Reasons to be Cheerful

Robert said...

Dr. Brin, first I wanted to compliment you for your excellent work in Foundation's Triumph; I can't help but think this might very well have been a book Asimov would have written (if not quite in the same voice) if he'd lived longer (not that he didn't have a wonderfully long and interesting life, mind you). I'm still around 100 pages from the end, so I'm commenting here with an incomplete basis of knowledge on if you answer some of these questions further in the novel. However, I must admit some curiosity concerning the concept of Chaos Worlds and the crash that comes after Renaissance.

Did you create this concept utilizing a historical basis? Or is this something that was conceived in other works that you just expanded upon? It does make for an interesting argument as to why the Technological Singularity will not occur... and also makes me question if the Second Galactic Empire itself would succumb to the humanistic tendency toward chaos in Renaissance. And it also makes me wonder how the Foundation itself did not succumb to this effect. While Foundation managed to continue its technological expansion and growth, it never achieved Singularity. And you have to wonder why that was so.

No doubt some of my questions will be answered in the final quarter of the novel (I'm at the point just after Sheldon's initial agreement to use the tachyon laser to go 500 years into the future, and his capture by the Singularity Anarchists).

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Heh. I'm also in the middle of "Foundation's Triumph" (not quite as far along as Robert, but getting there), and I had similar questions about the concept of chaos worlds and renaissances. Granted, I'm witholding actual questions until I'm done with the book, but I am kinda curious as to whether the author himself actually believes that "renaissances" are bad things that should be quarantined and quashed at all costs. Seems kinda opposite of what I would expect from you, Dr Brin. I have to admit that while I'm willfully suspending disbelief until I see how it all turns out, I'm also on the "side" of the renaissance worlds, which puts me in the position of booing Hari Seldon as a villain.

David Brin said...

Robert & Larry, thanks for reading Foundation's Triumph. I really enjoyed writing that book. Isaac's universe was rich and he tended to change his mind, every decade, and argue with his earlier selves! (See the afterword to the book. It will answer many questions.)

The innovation of "chaos" was necessary because human beings in Asimov's future simply do not behave like human beings of the present era. I tied this in with the agora phobia we see in CAVES OF STEEL and the paranoia of the spacers to conclude, (including hints from Isaac) that something happened to humanity. You'll see.

Think about it. Daneel has imposed 25,000 years of ignorance and stupidity and zero-progress upon humanity. He had to have a reason! Greg & Greg & I had to come up with something that would at least remotely excuse what on the surface seems to be the most evil act in all sci fi universes, worse even than Yoda!

SHowing that humanity tends to go mad, when we approach a singularity? Well, that would work. I would still hate Daneel's "solution" but at least it merits giving him full stage time to explain himself.

You'll see!

David Brin said...

The common (and utterly idiotic) assumption made by cynics is that eager-eyed optimists are delusional, sappy and ignorant about human history.

This of course satisfies the smug need of the cynic to feel superior. Yet, who is the "realist"? A snarling fellow who has never gone a day hungry, who lives better than kings of old, who has never seen dead bodies in the street or waded through fecal waste, or heard the bootsteps of an invading army or smelled the stench of a burning city or felt the lash or a feudal lord...

...whose eyes can roam to instant views of faraway lands and even planets, whose irreverent comments are never, ever, ever punished,whose civil servants must call him "sir" and whose complaints about the bureaucratic mandarins boil down to "inefficiency" and "they know too much about me"? And who thereupon whines that progress is an illusion? Are such people for real?

We optimists aren't unaware of the potential for disaster. Many of us were compelled into optimism, DESPITE deep knowledge of how awful human beings can be. Of the fact that 99% of human cultures fell into the standard attractor state of feudalism, inherited oligarchy, and oppressive religious dogma.In my experience, on average, those who are best educated about history tend to join me in stunned surprise over how incredibly far from that dismal old pattern we have come, and how the heroism, hard work and goodwill for ten generations have kept the momentum up, despite threats that keep trying to tear the Enlightenment down.

Who is the delusional fool? I maintain that it is the ingrate who benefited from the can-do problem-solving spirit of innumerable optimists, who believed that they could achieve change, and who succeeded, time and again. World-changers like Gandhi, Lincoln, ML King, and so on... optimists, all.

Snarking in safety, amid a cushy life given to them by others, the cynic snipes from the shadows, constantly looking for his greatest jizz, high, pleasure, orgasm, his highest achievement... getting to say "I told you so!"

And what of the innumerable times that his dire forecasts prove wrong? Those get swept away, ignored, forgotten. No scoring system that actually tracked it all would leave the cynic with a wagered dollar left in his pocket! He keeps getting away with it for one reason alone -- the can-do people he despises aren't tracking his failures. They are too busy making a better world.

Oh, I have known exceptions. Cynics who, open-eyed, make their dire forecasts while cheefully paying off wagers, every time they are proved wrong. Dour men and women who work as hard as the rest of us, to improve things and to prove themselves wrong! Those are grownups. They are useful and worthy allies. We are both happy when we succeed at putting off the Big Collapse till another day.

Cynical ingrate fools are another matter. They are parasites.

Robert said...

I must say, Dr. Brin, you have a more eloquent and gifted way with words than I, and I frequently hear people on other forums (concerning more mundane matters) saying "damn it, Tangent! You said what I was going to, and far better than I could have!"

I doff my hat to you, good sir.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Concerning "Foundation's Triumph", isn't much of the problem with trying to reconcile the history due to the fact that the Robot stories and the Foundation stories were originally written as entirely separate works? Reconciling the two has been a bit of a problem as far back as Asimov's own attempts beginning with "Foundatation's Edge". There's no way to do it perfectly.

I trust you, Dr. Brin, as much as any living writer to make the attempt.

David Brin said...

Thanks Robert.

And yes, many of us were upset, in the 70s, when Asimov insisted on uniting robots and foundation. He spent several decades trying to reconcile what is essentially impossible to reconcile.

OTOH he was very smart and he tried really really hard. And managed to lawyer his way out of every painted-in corner... to find his way into another.

I've talked it over with many Asimovians. My solution is as close as you can get to making all the pieces fit.

David Brin said...

Charlie Stross re reasons for optimism:

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/12/reasons-to-be-cheerful.html#more

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/
then
blog-static/2010/12/
then
reasons-to-be-cheerful.html#more

Tim H. said...

Second empire & Gaia, please.

Robert said...

I just finished Foundation's Triumph and Sheldon's little "bet" with Daneel. I just have to say... well played, Dr. Brin. Well played. I look forward to the sequel.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

gawrsh thanks! (blush)

rewinn said...

Is not the greatest benefit of being cynical (in the sense of non-optimistic) that it frees you from the necessity of trying?

Improvements tend to take effort, and if you'd rather not make the effort (either out of laziness or because you benefit from the status quo) then optimism is your natural foe.

LarryHart said...

Good point, rewinn. It's the old "sour grapes" fable. The fox can't reach the grapes, so he finally concludes that he doesn't want them anyway because they're probably sour.

I suspect pessimism serves a useful function in preventing us from obsessing on goals that really ARE beyond reach. When my cat was a mere kitten, I once watched her chase a spider on the ceiling, running all over the room trying to find a way up there. If she hadn't eventually succumbed to pessimism, she'd STILL be trying to reach it, and she's twelve now.

Likewise, I wasted a good portion of TEN YEARS pursuing my first girlfriend once that relationship had run its course. A healthy dose of pessimism would have saved me a lot of wasted time.

Politically, I don't think pessimism itself is any more a problem than optimism is. But I suspect that pessimism coupled with the absolute conviction that one is always right is a destructive combination.

LarryHart said...


LarryHart... don't bother confusing such people with facts.


It was less a case of arguing with an individdual, and more a case of reading into the record. I rememberr those heady days of 1989 when the iron curtain rusted away one unbelievable chink after another--Hungary, Poland, Romania, East Germany, the Baltic states--each time greeted by the chattering classes with "But this is as far as the Soviets will ever let it go," and each time they were wrong. Arch-conservative Bob Novak actaully said (years later) that the righties should have believed their own ideals more, but they were too caught up in seeing the Soviet Union as invincible.

So when someone starts a rant with "I predicted years earlier that the Soviet Empire would crack at the Berlin Wall", and then goes on to use that as proof of his precognative abilities--well, someone needs to set the record straght that that's not what happened. If only for the benefit of third-parties listening in.

David Brin said...

Andrei Amalrik wrote "Will the USSR last till 1984?"

He's the guy who deserves cred.

LarryHart said...

A bit of a tangent related to Asimov's Foundation books--in reading "Foundation's Triumph", I'm reminded that the first Foundation novel opened with an Encyclopedia Galactica excerpt mentioning that (paraphrasing) "Although Hari Seldon was born on Helicon, one can barely conceive of him except in association with Trantor".

Frank Herbert's first Dune novel (and I read both books for the first time exactly 30 years ago) began with a similar pseudoliterary quote about how although Muad'Dib is so historically associated with Arrakis, he was born on Caladan.

Is there some particular writerly reason for that sort of opening to be so common?

David Brin said...

Thanks. Maybe I'll use it too!

Tacitus said...

And the New Year begins...

Regards lurking pessimism.

If virtually everything went wrong we would still be the garden spot of this planet. Where else do you have this much clean water, agricultural land, fuel reserves, plus an educated reasonably cohesive population? Sure, we would be letting some standards slip using coal and natural gas more than petroleum, and I guess I would only be able to find five or six kinds of beer on the shelf instead of dozens from all over the world. But the Saudis would not be eating, the Chinese would not be exporting, and much of the rest of the world would decend to a goat based economy.

But I don't see that happening.

With the exception of Russia, which seems to be regressing, most governments of the world appear to be coming to their senses.

Our own included. You may applaud or deplore recent electoral changes, but you can't deny that elections matter here, and I sincerly hope that we as a society are developing the courage to stop kicking the can down the road regarding things that must be accomplished.

Onward

Tacitus

LarryHart said...

Tacutus2, I share your guarded optimism, although I wonder how you see evidence for your hopes in this past election. Tax breaks AND increased social spending? If that's not more "kicking the can down the road", what is?

However, strangely enough, I do share your long-term expectation that things aren't as dire as they are often made out to be. I think I'm an optimist by nature and a pessimist by self-preservation: My dad always said "Prepare for the worst and hope for the best," and I've taken that to heart. But at the end of the day, both my optimism and my pessimism have some sort of damper on them. So when things look too good to be true, something warns me that they probaby AREN'T true. Likewise, when forecasts of doom (Y2K, or "black helicopters") get too much traction, that same voice says "Think of what you'll be doing two months or two years from now--do you REALLY think it's going to be that bad?"

Economically, I thnk we're in a place that Roosevelt was warning about with his "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" speech. We as a nation are mortally terrified of fear itself, and are doing all we can (rationally or otherwise) to keep from having to face those fears. But when reality finally forces us to INDEED face those fears, I think we'll find they're not so insurmountable after all.

I forget who said this, but it's one of my favorite lines: "The optimist says 'This is the best of all possible worlds,' and the pessmist agrees with him."

David Brin said...

Sorry Tacitus. Elections do not matter as they should. Since a substantial fraction of our fellow citizens have chosen to be marching morons, following the worst polemical/propaganda/populist fear-mongering campaign since Joseph Goebbels.

How shall those of us who want pragmatic answers to problems find them, when we have... nobody... to... negotiate... with?

Indeed, when negotiation, rationality, knowledge, skill and reason are the specifically-targeted objects that the murdocks (as in morlocks) seek - with great deliberateness - to destroy?

To nurse any illusion that politics - as we used to define it - has anything to do with this, is, alas... completely delusional.

But happy new year, guy. Here's hoping we rise up, now that the oughts - the Zeroes - are behind us.

Tacitus said...

David

Thanks.

Kornbluth and Wells references in one post!

May California, where Progressives still reign, ride out the coming year in plenty and comfort.

(That might be delusional too!)

Tacitus

LarryHart said...

Actually, weren't "the zeroes" over a year ago? I mean, I know that "The twentieth century" actually ended in 2000, but do decades work the same way? Was it "the sixties" through 1970?

In any case, ABC's "New Years Rockin' Eve" had it both ways. They did a retrospective on the decade beginning with the Bush inauguration in January 2000 and ending in Dec 2010. That's eleven years by my count.

And we've gotten way too used to years with "00" in the middle beging used as sunglass designes on the New Years revellers. The "2011" glasses that made one of the "1"s into an eyehole just looked stupid.

LarryHart said...

My mistake--the Bush inauguration is Jan 2001. However, my point above still stands. They started with Y2K in January 2000. My example was wrong, but the fact that they reviewed the "decade" from 2000 through 2010 was accurate.

David Brin said...

Sorry, nope.

Sure the "Y2K Bug" problem was based on the rolling of a new millennial digit. and most people felt TwenCen ended Dec 31 1999.

But that is simply wrong. The cardinal numbers count from one to ten... not from zero to nine.

A century goes from 001 to 100 especially since there was no year zero!

Clarke chose 2001 for a reason. We are 2 days into a new decade. God bless it and us, one and all.

foundonweb said...

And another entry in the successful Brin predictions column - 4,000 birds drop dead in Arkansas: http://www.boingboing.net/2011/01/03/rain-of-4000-dead-bi.html

OK, so it wasn't a totally accurate prediction. In Earth, I think it was robins, not blackbirds.

David Brin said...

Foundonweb... or anybody... have the place in EARTH?

feel free to post at:
http://earthbydavidbrin.pbworks.Com/

Citizen James said...

I hope I'm not beating a dead horse here regarding the cynicism thing, but I am reminded of a quote from Peggy Noonan:

"Cynicism is not realistic and tough. It's unrealistic and kind of cowardly because it means you don't have to try."

Though not a big fan of her politics, I think the statement sums the idea up well. The thing with cynics is they self-justify by confusing worry and concern. The difference between the two being as big as the difference between a self-fulfilling prophecy and a self-preventing one.

Though I suppose the claim of cowardice might be toned down in light of the idea of learned helplessness. In this world we are highly interdependent and there are many things in which we have little to no control over. And sometimes those things go in a way that we would not like, disagree with, or even see as disastrous (and may well be) - it is easy to mistakenly look at things as though it were a binary state - either we have control and can do the right thing, or we don't and are powerless, and the powers that be will always make the worst possible choice. The reality, of course is more complex.

The usefulness of optimism is that it encourages us to try - we might try and end up failing, but not trying gets us nothing but saving a bit of effort. And saved effort is only worth whatever alternate effort we might expend it on; or else is just wasted time.

David Brin said...

My reasons for optimism have little to do with actual expectation to affect change. I simply consider ingratitude to be a horrific and dismal human trait.

I have so much to be grateful for that... despite knowing that human beings and civilizations have mostly been wretched-awful... in fact BECAUSE I know that to have been the case... I am forced to admit there can be exceptions. I am living in one.

I will die to defend it. No question.

"Heroism" is not courage. It is simply accepting your part of a very, very generous bargain.

Cynicism and cowardice have similar roots... in snarky, surly, hypocritical ingratitude.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin, I did no tmean to suggest ignorance concerning the starting point of "the twentieth century". After all, the "first century" began with they year 1, so the twenty-first begins with 2001. I've always been on that side of that argument.

Had you said "The first decade of the twenty-first century ended last night", I'd not even have said anything.

But you said "the aughts" or "the zero-zeroes" or something like that. I was just throwing out the suggestion that when one explicitly talks about "the sixties" or "the seventies", they're describing a slightly different decade (any ten years being A decade, just as any seven days is A week). To me, "the sixties" implies 1960-1969, even though I know perfectly well that "the seventh decade of the tweitieth century" is 1961-1970.

Not meant as a argument so much as an after-the-fact reassurance that maybe a dreaded period of time has acutally been over for longer.

In any case, I hope we can all agree that there was something off about a television retrospective on a "decade" from 2000 all the way through 2010. That's what ABC did on New Years Eve.

David Brin said...

Oh, I getcha. Okay.

Still... 2010 has two zeroes and still looks as creepy as any other double-ought... Like Mr. Magoo looking at us through the nasty twin zeroes...

Abilard said...

It's early and I may need more coffee, but it strikes me that the discussion above regarding cynicism and optimism produces more smoke than light. Neither bias is realistic. Neither is adaptive.

The inhabitants of Tikal were optimists in the sense that they thought they could continue acting as their ancestors had even though resource circumscription had become severe. They died. Copan, the same. Dozens of Maya cities as well, but in the middle of all this death was Lamanai with its wisely managed fields, storage caves, and chultunes. They survived and even took in refugees from their dying neighbors.

452 AD, Attila invades Italy, tearing through the province of long-time Roman allies, the Veneti. Padua and Aquileia are ravaged, but not all Veneti fall. Some had cast a cynical eye north before the Huns marched in. They had tried to organize an evacuation long in advance, and succeeded in relocating large numbers of people and resources to a series of swampy but defensible islands, and Venice was born.

History is made by cynics who act.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Well that only took six attempts to get posted... Let's see if it stays up there now...

Ilithi Dragon said...

Aaaand it disappeared...
} > : = 8 |

Ilithi Dragon said...

NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! It went away again!!!! GRAH!!!

Robert said...

I gave up on my posting on blood tests for metastasizing cancers and on something political. I've grown rather annoyed at Blogger, to be honest.

Rob H.

Ilithi Dragon said...

AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!! AGAIN!!!!

} > : = 8 O

Attempt #10!!!

Abilard,

Are you talking about cynicism or honest skepticism? There is a difference, imo. The former will shoot for the fail scenario because it's the easiest way to self-righteously say, "I told you so!", and because it means they don't have to actually do anything to confront the challenges faced, they can just sit back and self-righteously belittle all the foolishly naive people who get off their asses and go out and try and fix things. Things go wrong often enough that they can claim to be always right, even though they are so often wrong (or worse, contribute to their own predictions by actively stymieing efforts to fix problems). The latter, however, honestly recognize that even the best circumstances can go fubar when you least expect it, and so keep an ear to the ground for trouble and take rational precautions, while simultaneously working to fix the problems faced, or at least trying to stay out of the way of the people facing those problems by trying to make things better while they face those problems by preparing for any potential snafu.

Cynics, as the esteemed Doc has said, are ungrateful, snarking assholes who sit back and belittle and berate anyone who doesn't automatically go along with their "We're all doomed anyway, nothing you do will make a difference, it's not even worth bothering over, I TOLD YOU SO!" mindset. Honest skeptics, however, are among the group of people actively working to confront our problems and challenges, either by working on contingencies for worst-case-scenarios and left-field surprises, or by following the overly-rambunctious optimists around to make sure they have proper fail-safes in place before implementing anything too radical.


And along the vein of expressing proper gratitude, I want to thank you, Doc, for restoring my own optimism and faith in humanity and this country. I am an inherent optimist, and I have always, always held to the belief that the human race has a vast potential for greatness that will be achieved if humanity is just given the chance to go about it. It's been a given to me that humanity would achieve that greatness, and that the U.S. was a shining example of and spearhead for that greatness for longer than I can remember (and I can remember very far back), but what I saw transpire under the Bush administration, and certain influences in my last years of highschool and after caused that optimism to flounder. It wasn't until I came across your site and this blog (after being linked to your ST-v-SW article) that I was able to shake that pessimism and recognize those negative influences as unhealthy and wrong. You, and many of my fellow posters here, have restored my optimism and faith in humanity, America, and the goodness of people, and not only restored but strengthened my resolve to see this world made a better place. Doc, you have become one of my greatest role models (right up there in the top five with Captain Picard and Carl Sagan), you and the community here have helped me define and solidify my principles and ideals and justify my inherent idealism and optimism, and you personally have been the key influence in my decision to become a published science fiction author myself.

For that, I am eternally grateful to you personally, and to this community as a whole.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Okay, I think it's staying... If it goes away again, I'll just post it on my own damn blog and link to it...

Ilithi Dragon said...

Hmmm... And on the note of disappearing posts, Rob H., are you signed into Blogger via a Google account? After the above fiasco, I went to check my account and found that it had been locked out because Google had detected suspicious activity with my account (a simple verification process allowed me to sign back in). I wonder if the post disappearance and difficulties has any connection to that...

Abilard said...

Ilithi,

This is one of those cases where perception, rather than precision of definitions, matters. The Veneti who stayed in Aquileia very likely thought those who left were nuts, doomers, and cynics. The optimist believes there are always possibilities. Attila could be bargained with, no? Surely the Huns would not loot every home, but just a few an move off somewhere else! Likewise when Brin vents about cynics, the reader or listener is not likely associating his arguments with a narrowly defined term, but with the common understanding.

The problem is the binary view: both optimists and pessimists are, to the extent that they match type, stopped clocks. Both will be correct with varying frequency, but neither tracks reality. The way to criticize cynics, if that is what one wishes to do, is not to further obscure reality by playing this binary game, but rather to criticize their specific perceptions of reality.

Robert said...

I have a profile on Blogger, though I've never created a blog using it (seeing that until two years ago Tangents Reviews was part of the Panel2panel website and utilized a forum rather than blogger software such as WordPress, which I started to use when I parted ways with Panel2panel concerning editorial concerns (Glych didn't like the hate mail she was getting concerning some of my comments on other blog sites and requested that I avoid "aggravating" some webcartoonists whom she had contract work that was cut off at one point because of some BS that happened behind the scenes - why these asshats didn't bother confronting me directly I'll never know, unless it's because by attacking my web host, they could try to force me off the Internet. Not that that worked, btw.)

I think it logs on partly through Google mail (as I have a Gmail account that is listed when I log into Blogger), but I'm not familiar with any problems with my account and the Tangents site is actually on the front page of sites for Google searches of "Tangents," which makes me unsure of any "suspicious activity" from me.

Unless of course the above-mentioned asshats tried to complain to Google mail concerning my e-mail account as well. It wouldn't surprise me.

(Yeah. It's funny that webcomic reviews can result in Internet Drama, but seeing that some members of 4chan hate the hobby with a passion, I suppose it's only to be expected.)

Rob H.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Hmmm... Well, I'm wondering if there's some kind of a technical conflict between GMail/Google and Blogger... You and I both have had problems, and we log in to blogger using gmail, and if others who are having problems are logging in with their Google accounts as well, then we have a working theory (though if anyone is logging in through some other means but still having problems, it would be disproved. Oh, hey look! We're doing science!
} : = 8 D

Oh, and there are members of 4Chan to hate everything, and members who DO hate everything. That, or they're just doing it for the lulz... Either is just as likely.

Minglu: An adhesive that was popular in east asia, especially China during the 17th and 18th Centuries, that was branded by Chancellor Yan Song of the Ming Dynasty in 1549.

Abilard said...

I'm logging in with Gmail and have had no difficulty, though the thought of Ilithi sitting and clicking about 10 times while sanity slips is amusing. ;-)

Ilithi Dragon said...

Abilard,

That would require the assumption that sanity was there to begin with...

} ; = 8 )

David Brin said...

Abilard, again you misread my very clear statements. I have explained that I KNOW human beings are rotten and shit happens! I know more history than any ten people you know and I mean that. Literally. And I know shit can fly.

I raised my kids to be black belts, I store food. I am a member of CERT (are you?) and participate in civil defense exercises. I grew up EXPECTING to see mushroom clouds on the horizon, at some point.

I am all in favor of supporting a state that watches out for hypothetical huns. And if I see actual Huns rampaging on an actual horizon, I will organize my neighbors. I am the precautionary Veneti.

On the other hand, I will not mope around, like most of the Romans of those days, maundering and moaning about how it's all gonnahell. A few more good men, in that era, and much might have been preserved. Read LEST DARKNESS FALL by deCamp.

Or... to get really depressed, watch the recent film AGORA.

Abilard said...

Brin,

You are defining optimist as clear-eyed realist. They are not the same. An optimist assumes probabilities will work out in his or her favor. A cynic, commonly understood, questions human motives. The two terms are not antonyms, as cynics are pessimistic with regards to people as opposed to probabilities more generally.

I am not misreading your intended commentary on the psychology of pessimists, though I quibble with the semantics. Having encountered many, especially survivalists/preppers, with the myopic ungrateful mindset you describe, I do not even disagree that such people exist and may be damned. I disagree with the contrasting notion that optimism is noble or wise. As you know from history, it can be deadly. Realism, even realism that recognizes that the odds are sometimes bad, is the best mindset.

David Brin said...

Abilard. Please, no offense, but merely claiming that you have not misconstrued the other person (me) does not mean that you have not. You indeed, persist in a strawman image, despite my relentless and VERY clear repetitions.

"I disagree with the contrasting notion that optimism is noble or wise."

When did I say that? Please? I have relentlessly stressed that my optimism arises out of SURPRISE! My clear-eyed and history-based view of human awfulness means that I prepare against possible return to the human norm of vicious nastiness...

...but that vigorous preparation is in part propelled by surprised gratitude that my expectations about THIS civilization keep being proved WRONG!

Optimism isn't goody nobility... it is scientific willingness to accept the staggering facts before my very eyes.

Abilard said...

When hope (justifiable in this case) becomes optimism (an expectation that all will turn out well per Dictionary.com's least strawman-like definition) this expectation can lead to complacency and to a failure to perceive threats to peace in our time, as a certain Neville learned. It is the flip side of the same coin you describe above, where cynics criticize but lack the courage to act or perceive opportunity. While you are an example of an optimist who is not blind to threats, there are likewise cynics/pessimists who are not blind to opportunities or action. Again, the two mindsets mirror. It is my opinion that optimism, like its shadowy twin, is a threat to clear thinking and adaptation.

Ilithi Dragon said...

I think this would best be resolved by distinguishing between (sane)pessimism and (insane)pessimism, and (sane)optimism and (insane)optimism. The (sane)pessimist guards us against fail scenarios while the (sane)optimist pushes us towards bright tomorrows. The (insane)pessimist revels in and encourages fail scenarios while the (insane)optimist barrels forward with zero regard for risk or consequence.

You both seem to be saying the same thing, but a slight disagreement in semantics seems to be causing the appearance of disagreement in concept/understanding.

Ilithi Dragon said...

In other words, Doc Brin is a (sane)optimist. He would say, "It's not gonna be an easy trip, but dammit, the future's frickin' awesome! Let's go there!"


Dr. House from the series House MD is a (sane)pessimist (albeit of the grating jerk kind). He would say, "These are all the ways in which things can go wrong, but don't worry, I've prepared for all the ways that you can screw up."

An (insane)optimist would say, "OMG the future is awesome! Nothing it brings can go wrong! LET'S GO NOW!!!"

An (insane)pessimist would say, "HA! You naive idiot, I TOLD YOU everything would blow up on you! Now excuse me while I grab for me and screw everyone else."

Abilard said...

I think it is a question of where in the decision-making process the optimism or pessimism exists. Here is an example approach:

1. Accept that uncertainty exists.
2. Know what you value.
3. Quantify the context in which you operate.
4. Develop a strategy to preserve what you value.
5. If possible, add something new of value to the world.

If optimism or pessimism are used as a palliative to escape from the reality of step one, it is a setup for disaster. It does not make sense for step two. In relation to step three it is rather meaningless to apply either term (if the facts change one's assessment will change).

Step four is the tricky one. Being optimistic or pessimistic here really depends on how well one has handled the early steps. It is best to be cautious.

Applying either term at step five is unlikely to have an adverse impact.

I think Dr. Brin is optimistic at step four, but that the way he expressed this could cause people to be optimistic at step one, which is why I quibble.

lisa123636 said...

Savings Account Rate
Happy New Year

David Brin said...

Culture War is truly not between old left and old right. It is between pragmatic problem-solvers and mad loyalists to the addiction of indignant rage.

Abilard said...

"Culture War is truly not between old left and old right. It is between pragmatic problem-solvers and mad loyalists to the addiction of indignant rage."

Unfortunately, at the moment pragmatic problem-solvers cannot communicate over the din of our ancestral drums.

David Brin said...

onward...

foundonweb said...

Followup: Earth, pg 136 already mentioned under Ozone Hole: Blind robins. Some threshold had been reached and within weeks they were all dead. Status: Unlikely Like climate change from rising levels of carbon dioxide, the effects of depleted ozone on Earth's fauna

Blight said...

David, I read your article equating world wealth to a diamond. However, looking at another important variable, growing wealth inequality in the U.S. - it looks more like a balloon aneurysm with the top 1% sucking in all the wealth. Some like the Gates are sizable donors (for example education). But their move to improve teaching standards fails to understand that growing wealth inequality - with more children stuck in poverty - is driving the downward scores in many areas. Although giving should be congratulated - it will not substitute for good paying jobs and more equitable wage practices. Ironically, some of the givers have actually shunned these practices in their own businesses. Thus they can only provide band aids on the open sore of a rapidly declining nation.