Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Optimism vs Pessimism

Speaking of the tradeoffs between optimism and pessimism....

While cynics get a brief tactical advantage by getting to sneer, like playground bullies, they undermine their own effectiveness at generating changes - in society or in their own lives.  And there is another major drawback, pointed out by "Paul" over in my cogent-smart comment community

"Self-identifying pessimists I have known claim that by being pessimistic they avoid being ripped off, but if you read the literature on stress you find that they pay a high price for it. Having a negative outlook causes your endocrine system to release cortisol and a host of other stress-related hormones (as does insufficient sleep). This chronic release has some serious side-effects, including the shrinking of the hippocampus. Anyone who wishes to know their enemy needs to accept that their own body can be one of their worst. Grumpy old men trap themselves in a feedback loop of hypochondria and failing mental health. Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford makes the point that thinking positive thoughts all by itself cuts off these stress hormones and releases others that have more beneficial health effects. Optimists might get cheated once in awhile, but they tend to live longer and happier lives."

Here's the Amazon link to Sapolsky's most well-known book: Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers: The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases and coping. 

I would add that optimist-pragmatists live vastly more effective lives since they believe their efforts can change their circumstances, their lives and even their nation or society.  This may make them seem fools, part of the time. But they are also more likely to try collaborative or competitive efforts to make change. Automatically that means they are more likely (even occasionally) to succeed.

The world was made by the Franklins and Lincolns and Edisons and Roosevelts and Marshalls who believed it could be changed.

== They WANT us afraid ==

One commenter said "9/11 was a huge kick in the nuts for our culture. Maybe I am wrong, but people did not seem so unkind and paranoid and crazy with religion before then."

Ah, but 9/11 was a "kick in the nuts" only because we let it be. Our parents suffered such losses weekly during WWII and they were the lucky ones, compared to Britain... and then Germany, Russia, Japan. Yes, we entered a ridiculous state of panic.  But it was deliberately pushed upon us... and especially upon Red America. 

The media and the Bushes portrayed us as wimps and we swallowed it. 

 Except many of us didn't! Read Rebecca Solnit's A PARADISE BUILT IN HELL. (See below.) There is an industry based on keeping us panicky.  But we don't have to buy the product.  Steven Pinker proved... most things are getting better!  We need to note that, not  in order to kick back, but to have the confidence it will take to evade further mine-fields...

...and get to Star Trek.

== Can mythology and Sci Fi help?==

"The future was better when Star Trek: The Next Generation was making it."  So asserts an interesting rumination on how only one major media sic fi franchise has ever taken on the hardest and best challenge — telling good stories, criticizing possible errors, while assuming that maybe - just maybe - our grandchildren mights be better than us.  That Hard Assumption terrifies most lazy producers, directors and writers.  How much easier to make the Dullard-Dystopic Assumption, that we will fail and that our descendants will all be fools? It makes plotting and action trivial.  At the small cost of chopping away at our confidence as a civilization and a people.!

Glimmers of the finer path were seen in Babylon Five. I see hints of it in Halle Berry's EXTANT. Maybe the star-trekkian mantle of adventure-with-critical-optimism will be taken up by Marc Zicree's Space Command.  Oh, and I  left out STARGATE! Very upbeat. Except for one huge flaw. They stuck - till the end - with the insane premise that it would panic all of humanity senseless, if they revealed to citizens that Earth was now the lead planet in a newly hopeful galactic federation. Um?

Still… the irony is stunning.  That my own chief pessimism about our future is rooted in Hollywood's absolute determination to undermine our confidence with pummeling after pummeling of relentless pessimism.

 == Future Tech ==

Wow. Read this from Mark Anderson: 

“At the CEATEC Japan electronics industry trade show held in October, Rohm exhibited its wearable key device, a multi-function, key-shaped item capable of counting your steps, telling you if you are walking up and / or down stairs, are on a bicycle or in a car or on a train (in case you didn't know), estimating distance (point and triangulate), counting calories, detecting metal particles in your food or somewhere else they shouldn't be, locking and unlocking your cellphone, and monitoring UV exposure so you can avoid sunburn. It contains a gyroscope, a proximity sensor, an accelerometer, a pressure sensor, an ambient light sensor, a color sensor, a UV sensor, a magnetometer, a Bluetooth Low Energy wireless communication IC, and a microcontroller. Bought in volume, the unit price is one US dollar.”  

What an age.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is asking for ideas from the private sector on breakthrough technologies to guide military investment for the next decade and beyond. 

As war drones improve, disturbing questions arise. As John Markoff says in the New York Times: Britain’s “fire and forget” Brimstone missiles, for example, can distinguish among tanks and cars and buses without human assistance, and can hunt targets in a predesignated region without oversight. The Brimstones also communicate with one another, sharing their targets.”

The U.S. Defense Dept actually takes these issues seriously: “In a directive published in 2012, the Pentagon drew a line between semiautonomous weapons, whose targets are chosen by a human operator, and fully autonomous weapons that can hunt and engage targets without intervention."

Weapons of the future, the directive said, must be “designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force.”

== ... and prescience... ==

Rumors fly about, that Apple has teamed up with SpaceX and Tesla... or is it Google?... to create a new "iCar!" The patent cited here is just one of many that might be involved. As both a future-pundit and a stockholder in all those companies (Apple, since 1981), I approve!

Still might I point to this image from my 2009 graphic novel TINKERERS, kinda foreseeing this event?  Someone put it on my predictions wiki?

== Be prepared! ==

A fascinating glimpse of a study of disasters, showing that most people die because they are too passive, when situations become dire. Rather than madness, or an animalistic stampede for the exits, it is often people’s disinclination to panic that puts them at higher risk.  Very interesting and important…

…and yet, it does not tell the whole story.  Which Rebecca Solnit does in A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, showing that, when they get a little time to think, many people respond to baad situations with courage and grit and dedicated citizenship.

Following up on that… I am doing my part: I took the CERT Civil Defense training and upgraded so I am now in California's Disaster Corps. They might call me up to head for any disaster site in the state. But CERT is lower level - local and neighborhood oriented with training that a busy person can take. You get certified and received tools... and confidence. It makes you part of the civilization's network of resilience.

== Miscellaneous ==

New and exciting: The Brighter Brains Speaker Bureau will connect your group, company or conference with dazzlingly interesting keynoters. It’s just getting started, but I confess to being impressed!  (If a bit biased ;-)

This list of "52 common misconceptions" is useful and fun... but I do know that the left-right brain "debunking" is very misleading.  It is more false than true.

PODCASTS!  A couple of new ones. First on Bloomberg… Predicting and Inventing the Future: Bill Frezza’s interview with me is available on SoundCloud and YouTube:

On some similar topics, I get carried away and blather on and on about the power of sci fi in self-preventing prophecies on The Note Show. The host seemed pleased, despite hardly getting a word in! Available at and also on itunes and stitcher.

Yikes! Can the decline in marriage be attributed to … free online porn?

So cool! But this dinosaur costume could give some stranger a heart attack! 


Tacitus2 said...

To be fair most ulcers are caused by either taking nonsteroidal antinflammatory meds like ibuprofen, or by an enteric infection with helicobacter. Zebras are exemplary in their avoiding over the counter pain meds. But otoh I suspect mud filled watering holes are teeming with h.pyloiri!

(disclaimer, I am not a veterinarian and have no idea if zebras in fact can get ulcers, but I am pretty sure that if they do, worry has nothing to do with in them....or in us!)


LarryHart said...

Ok, I'll go with my favorite quote on the subject (though I don't know who first said it).

"The optimist says 'This is the best of all possible worlds', and the pessimist agrees with him."

Tony Fisk said...

"Let us review, lesson ele-ven."

OK. *must* refine the site to include other sources.

I remember the cast of 'Walking with Dinosaurs' visited a local school with a baby Rex prop like the one shown. There was a bit of freaking out on display. (What would Calvin say?)

locumranch said...

Much has been written about optimism bias, the Dunning-Kruger Effect and the 'wishful' (and/or 'positive') thinking fallacies, so I will not go into them at this time. Instead, I will cite this 2011 study (below) which confirms what many of us already know, that ignorance is bliss:

For, it is this type of non-contextual ignorance that allows the likes of Pinker to attribute the decline of violent crime in the USA (Graph A) to "the better angels of our nature" when a more likely explanation is the complementary increase in the use of prolonged incarceration (Graph B).

Graph A:

Graph B:

It is this same type 'wishful thinking' delusion that propagates the 'disaster survival is a teachable skill' belief, even though it flies in the face of survival data gleaned from Hurricane Katrina, the single greatest determinant of all cause disaster-related mortality in Hurricane Katrina being 'Age Greater than 71 years old'.

So, hopefully (wink, wink) those BBC survival experts can teach us how to stay youthfully resilient forever, but not likely, as it is more probable that they are just another variety of fear-mongers who wish to cash in our desire for a certain future.

But, like the rest of you, I'm way too smart to fall for such a gimmick, so I plan to put all my faith in a better technological toaster (a gimcrack) that will count calories, monitor cosmic rays, protect me against ring-around-the-collar and (most importantly) Make Me a Better Person, and then I will remain forever young and resilient, and make sweet holographic love to 7-of-9 on a daily basis, NexGen style, for all eternity.


Tony Fisk said...

Except Pinker draws his conclusions from *global* data.

Paul451 said...


The CNN link is borked. ""

"I would add that optimist-pragmatists live vastly more effective lives since they believe their efforts can change their circumstances, their lives and even their nation or society. This may make them seem fools, part of the time. But they are also more likely to try collaborative or competitive efforts to make change. Automatically that means they are more likely (even occasionally) to succeed. The world was made by the Franklins and Lincolns and Edisons and Roosevelts and Marshalls who believed it could be changed."

Or to paraphrase Shaw, "The wise man adapts himself to how the world is. The fool to how the world should be. Therefore all progress depends on the fool." No wonder Locumranch hates progressives.

Re: Star Trek
"How much easier to make the Dullard-Dystopic Assumption, that we will fail and that our descendants will all be fools?"

To explain the often awful writing on the show, constant technical inconsistencies, and the often stunning naivete of the characters, I like suggesting that the devolution idea behind Idiocracy happens in the Star Trek universe as an inevitable process after each civilisation (human and alien alike) achieves a post-scarcity society.

We succeed but our descendants will all be fools. Idiots with unlimited education, enough that you almost don't notice that they are just twits with nearly unlimited resources, effectively unlimited "wealth" and leisure , and the freedom to do anything they want. "I want to be a space captain!" "I want to be a scientist!" "I want to be a doctor!". If you assume the crew of the Enterprise were the best and brightest the Federation had, then the rest of their society must be...? (And certainly the secondary and civilian characters often seemed... well....)

["I'm not a robot", the contraction alone would trip up Data.]

Alex Tolley said...

OT. Another form of sousveillance?

Treebeard said...

Agreed locumranch, ignorance tends to be bliss, and conversely, knowledge leads to despair. This is the gnostic truth that undermines the entire Enlightenment project – what Lovecraft called “going made from the revelation.”

If you want to fool and delude yourself with optimism because it has positive effects on your body chemistry, that is of course your choice, just as it’s the choice of other believers to fool and delude themselves with notions of eternal rewards in heaven. It’s the same mechanism faith healers tap into, but it’s not the same thing as pursuing truth.

Belief is a most powerful tool, and our true believer Dr. Brin here understands that. As I’ve said before, he’s taken Progress as his religion, and really seems to believe that Star Trek is a plausible future, when it is of course utter fantasy. It’s his way of coping with the “divide by zero” error that is our looming deaths, I suppose. Yet no amount of belief in Progress seems likely to stop that, or the other manifestations of the ineluctable march of Entropy. This realization, to me, is wisdom and maturity, not endless, shallow, Star Trek propaganda. And the unwillingness to face it is an Achilles Heel of secular civilization, which 7th century religious revivalists will exploit to the hilt. In a battle of Star Trek vs. Islamic fantasies, it’s far from clear that Star Trek has the upper hand...

David said...

Not that it matters that much, but Stargate was kind of forced into their secrecy programme by trying to keep the idea that it could be happening now but you just don't know about. They then had to come up with a reason to keep the secret.

TCB said...

Just spotted this:

"If anyone figures out the right way to integrate democratic, humanist values with intelligence collection, they deserve a Nobel prize. It's an excruciatingly hard problem."

From "Why Kaspersky was right to reveal NSA secrets" by Marc Ambinder in The Week, in reference to the newest NSA revelation about infected hard drive software, which you probably have (unless your computer is old) and you can't remove.

Sousveillance! The problem is not David's idea being Nobel-worthy, which it is in my opinion, but getting more people to listen to it. I tell it to everyone I know...

Midboss57 said...

If I may contribute with my experience, I'd like to explain the pessimistic position as a quite open about it pessimist myself.

The first thing one needs to understand about pessimism is that it's not just something you can switch on or off. If I could become optimistic just by making myself, I would. But that's not how it works. After all, if I play the lottery or scratching cards, it will be under the assumption I lose simply because this is by far the most likely outcome. I can't just go "Well my odds are 1 in a gazillion but I feel really confident about this ticket."

And well, that's how us pessimists see life. It's not, that the glass is half full or empty since that means exactly the same thing. It's that the waitress is such a klutz that she'll probably end up spilling the glass on me like she just did for all those other customers before me.

So, you may ask, what would it take to convert a pessimist ? The answer: prove us wrong. Because the sad thing is, virtually all the pessimistic predictions I made to myself came true: I knew from the start Iraq would be an unholy mess. I saw the credit crunch come simply because there was no way that house of cards that was the economy was not going to fall. I knew Obama would be all bark and little bite since that's what virtually every politician that makes grand promises is. I knew the Arab Spring would go horribly wrong. I knew Francois Hollande would be completely ineffectual, just like the three previous French presidents. I knew the British government would never properly discipline the City since they all hope to work there after retirement.
The only time in recent history my predictions proved wrong was with the London Olympics where, much to everyone's surprise, we didn't mess it up and embarrass ourselves in front of the world. Me and many brits were genuinely surprised.

Daniel Duffy said...

"Rohm exhibited its wearable key device, a multi-function, key-shaped item capable of counting your steps"

That's nuthin'.

As the father of a child with Type 1 daibetes I am amazed at the latest technological advnaces in fighting/managing this disease, especialy the "bionic pancreas":

"Damiano plans to start the final, pivotal trial in 2016, one that will last several months and include hundreds of participants. That study will involve a far
more elegant, far more portable unit than the current prototype. All of the hardware will be packed into a single unit that will be palm-size or smaller and will operate under a new, better algorithm Damiano and his team are writing for an upgraded operating system. Before submitting the device to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Damiano plans to start a company to make and distribute it. “There’s a tremendous amount of hope attached to this—for good reason,” says Damiano."

And these devices:

I don't know if we will ever find a true cure for diabetes (its is very difficult to have the body turn off the autoimmune attacks that destroy the insulin producing beta cells) but these advances will be the next best thing.

Jumper said...

Does everyone think in cliches all the time?

Howard Brazee said...

So what is so different now that the terrorists succeeded in terrifying us into doing just what they wanted us to do?

Why are we now so scared that even cops react to unarmed men by filling them full of bullets despite tools and training that make this unnecessary for their tasks.

Sometimes societies are full of the brave and the free. Other times societies and their members are cowards who can be manipulated.

David Brin said...

The pessimists’ rants always boil down to declarations that they are “realists,” bemoaning how awful things are while sprawling in cushioned chairs amid (mostly) long-lived health and luxury, never knowing a foodless day, tapping and pointing and commanding a magical Palantir viewing box to see almost anywhere in the world and gather almost any knowledge… while ever more children share all the same gifts… and each MONTH we plumb further reaches of the universe. All the while wallowing in the blatantly addictive emotional high of snarling, incurious ingratitude. What fun!

Midboss did it ever occur to you that the joy you feel over predictive success is an endorphin high that CHANNELS your predictive behavior? Um… unscientific, much?

matthew said...

"I will cite this 2011 study (below) which confirms what many of us already know, that ignorance is bliss..."

Um, read the paper you cite. It does not say what you maintain it says. In fact, it concludes that there may be an evolutionary edge to optimism.

Tony Fisk said...

All our efforts are doomed to go wrong: even this statement.

Meanwhile, we can be content that the last star missed, and that the next one will get us for sure.

sociotard said...

We are afflicted generation after generation with one particular flavor of optimism:

"When we make war this time, it will save money and save lives. We will not shame our descendants. We will reduce the flow of refugees and stop the rise of despots. We will war and make the world better."

Remember warring in Libya, and one of our great motivators was to stop the flow of refugees to Europe? Lookee lookee here, oh why didn't any cynics tell us it wouldn't work.

Duncan Cairncross said...

sociotard said
"We are afflicted generation after generation with one particular flavor of optimism:

"When we make war this time, it will save money and save lives. We will not shame our descendants. We will reduce the flow of refugees and stop the rise of despots. We will war and make the world better.""

But if you look at the actual figures - we ARE!
There IS less war, less refugees, less despots

Individual SNAFU's occur but overall the trend is downwards

sociotard said...

But if you look at the wars and refugees and despots we have, we have them because of wars we made. ISIL couldn't have flourished if we'd just left Saddam in power. The Kurds and Yazidis were persecuted under Saddam, but not as bad as under ISIL.

Mark my words, if we contribute to that war, it will make things worse.

A global trend for less war does not mean warmonger brings peace.

Alex Tolley said...

What binary thinking. Optimists vs pessimists, as if people don't sit on the scale and move their position based on experience. In stock market terms, an optimist is a perma-bull and a pessimist is a perma-bear. Not many people are like that, rather they look at context (e.g. fundamental valuations) and hold an opinion accordingly.

In business, marketing either creates or attracts optimists. I don't think I have ever seen a market forecast that wasn't too optimistic, although they do happen. Conversely, engineers tend toward more pessimism, wishing to hold up product launches to do another failure test before release.

While optimists may want to reach for the moon, pessimism offers a reality check based on knowledge of previous failures. Both are needed for a successful future.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Sociotard

Valid point - almost all wars lead the wrong way
Especially "wars of choice"

The trend is to less war - but I agree most (maybe all) recent wars have made things worse

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Dr. Brin,
I didn't expect to find my words at the very beginning of one of your posts - it's a little more attention than i am used to - but I'm glad I proved useful for something. I wonder, though, why you put my name in quotes, as if it were a pseudonym. Hopefully no one will think I'm a fan of pot-smoking aliens ... 8]

Alex is absolutely right about dichotomous thinking. No one really is as much of either an optimist or a pessimist as they label themselves. It's a flaw in the way our brains work. Having the most energetically expensive brains on Earth, we ten to take huge shortcuts in our thinking, which includes a tendency toward essentially - basically labeling everything in a way that glosses over all the useful details, so we don't really see what is in front of our faces, we see what we expect to see.

Midboss, most people who know label me a pessimist, even an extreme one. I'm not out singing kumbayah with anybody, so i know where you're coming from. However, the science has convinced me of some things that simply shoot a pessimistic attitude down. Anthropologist studying magic rituals came to the conclusion by the middle of the 20th Century that when the magic appears to fail, the practitioners and audiences simply explain away the specific failure and forget. but when it appears to work they never forget. The same is true of every variety of superstition. Game theorists and psychologists have discovered that humans have an approximately 3:1 loss aversion bias. That is, our minds naturally fixate more on pain and loss than on joy or profit. Thus we have a built-in bias toward pessimism. When you say that you are constantly predicting bad things and being proven right, the reality is that you have mostly likely forgotten most of the day-to-day good things in life and fixated on large-scale disasters like the latest foreign policy debacle or terror plot du jour.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

A useful exercise for any self-identifying pessimist (or self-identifying optimist) is to log everything that happens in a day, with a pair of columns to check if the event was bad or good or both, then another column in which you rate the impact of the event on a 5- or 10 point scale. It's not very scientific, but the results can be surprising.

Of course, there are people who are so smug in their insistence that their attitude is right and everyone else is stupid that this will not work. Observer bias will ensure that all their data come out the same. I don't think I need to name any names, they know who they are, and so do the rest of us.

So, Midboss, I have changed as a person because of what I learned of many years of paying attention to social and cognitive sciences. I still have a tendency to get gloomy, partially a result of neural pathways that myelinated in my teen years. I also am aware of how low serotonin affects me (one good reason to live in a sunny climate), but knowing that allows me to conquer it. When the rainy season comes and my serotonin levels drop, I can tell myself it is just a dip in the level of a chemical in my head and consciously refocus my thoughts on more positive things. It isn't 100%, but it helps. I give much of the credit to Robert Sapolsky, whose advice on learning as much about how your brain and hormones work as you can really does make a difference.

LarryHart said...


["I'm not a robot", the contraction alone would trip up Data.]

Well, that would be "Prove you're not an android," right?

And of course, Lt Commander Data did say "I'm fine" at the end of the very episode whose plot resolution about distinguishing him from his "twin", Lore, depended on the fact that Data could not form contractions.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

On the ignorance is bliss thing, that's a pretty stupid line to repeat. Millions of people were ignorant of the consequences of cigarette smoke before Surgeon General Koop made his famous statement. Lung cancer and heart attack could hardly be called bliss. Likewise all those young ladies who worked in factories painting radium-infused pigments onto glow-in-the-dark watches back in the 30s who died of oral cancers in their 20s could hardly be said to have experienced bliss as a result of their ignorance of the consequences of radiation exposure. On the other side of the ledger, huge numbers of people have terrified themselves shitless of demons, spirits, avenging angels or whatever other B.S. was passed off as diagnosis in utter ignorance. You still see stories in the news once in awhile where some hapless child with a treatable psychological or neural disorder who is tortured and killed by some exorcist because the parents are utterly ignorant of modern medicine. I get a lot more joy out of learning as much about reality as I can. It mother just turned 72, and while chatting with her I mentioned doing telescope night at my school. She said she likes astronomy, but it makes her feel so small. My response was Tyson's idea that we are part of an enormous Universe, which makes me feel like part of something very big.

Alfred Differ said...

Worse than what? The Cold War?

Consider a little perspective, please. We almost nuked ourselves into the Stone Age. What we are doing now, by comparison, isn't so bad.

David Brin said...

Sociotard, the Bushites never intended to "win" a thing in their wars. Look at outcomes. The only winners were Bush-Cheny family companies and ... in Iraq-I Saudi Arabia... and in Iraq -II, Iran. The fomented chaos was deliberate. Maximum damage to our economy, to our armed forces and to our reputation.


locumranch said...

Although I really like Paul451's pithy quote of "The wise man adapts himself to how the world is. The fool to how the world should be. Therefore all progress depends on the fool (Shaw)," I must object to his straw-manning me as a 'hater'.

I do not 'hate' progressives, nor do I hate 'progress'. What I 'hate' is the relentless application of marketing techniques to every question of progress, the unceasing use of false progressive promises & dichotomies, and the reflex assumption that the criticism of progress (and/or 'progressivism') equals a 'hatred of progress', as these arguments only serve to minimize the fact that 'progress' tends to be an extremely painful process.

9 out of 10 new business FAIL in their first year. The Meiji Restoration was a social disaster. History shows us that 'Progress Hurts', as does the application of all definitive change. Regardless of 'intent', change and progress are disruptive by definition: They destroy the social order; they destabilize the status quo; and they throw a majority of our population under the bus.

Being idealists with a capital "I", progressives tend to emphasize goals over process, and they insist that they can only be judged by their intent rather than their actions, meaning that they refuse to accept responsibility for the negative consequences attendant on the implementation of progress.

Pinker is one such idealist, one who prefers progressive narrative over inconsistent fact, a well-written criticism of his 'Better Angels' being available at this site:

@Tony: Pinker bases his argument on what 'global data'? Incarceration stats in Britain & Australia mirror US data.

@Matthew: You may want to read that article again which says that foreknowledge of impending tends to lead to avoidant behaviours (or despair). While possibly possessing 'evolutionary advantages' for the group, optimism (and/or ignorance) tends to throw the individual under the bus.


Randy Winn said...

Who says progressive refuse to accept responsibility for negative side effects?

That's just silly.

sociotard said...

Dr. Brin, do you claim Obama has won a thing in his wars?

Obama markedly increased operations in Yemen. (Bush only did one strike in Yemen.) This month the UN secretary pointed out that Yemen is collapsing. We have lost our embassy there. Look at outcomes.

Obama joined in the war in Libya. That country is now struggling with IS. Look at the massive jailbreaks, the dead ambassador, the failure to form a stable government. Was the fomented chaos deliberate?

While I praise Obama for not following through with it, he dangerously saber-rattled against Syria's use of chemical weapons. He wisely backed off when another nuclear power warned him to, but he shouldn't have made the empty threat in the first place. Maximum damage to our reputation.

I dread Obama's intervention in Ukraine. His economic attack on Russia has only deepened Putin's hold on the country, and he puts us perilously close to full on war. Obama is sewing the wind today, and it is your sons who will reap that whirlwind.

Paul451 said...

"9 out of 10 new business FAIL in their first year."

Uh... no. They don't.

That's not just wrong, but wildly wrong.

Would that change your mind in any way? I expect not. Your cynicism is not "realism", it's a comfortable place. "Can't make things better, so don't try." Done. Easy.

For the record:

In the US, several studies (not to mention Bureau of Labor stats) show that 75% of businesses were still operating into their second year. And it doesn't get below 50% until year 5. And a third survive for at least 10 years.

However, even there, that isn't 25%, 50% & 70% FAILURE rate. Only a third of businesses close with a loss of their initial funding, fewer still end in bankruptcy. Another third are "successful closures", deliberate decision to end the operational life of a business otherwise perfectly capable of continuing. For example, the owners cashing out, or owner-operators retiring and winding up the business, moving on to something more exciting, moving into a partnership (**), etc.

So you're looking at less than 10% of new businesses FAILING in their first year, a bit over 15% FAILING within 5 years, and less than a quarter FAILING even after a full decade. (Oh, and to your usual "progressives confuse education with intelligence" screed: the higher the education level attained by the owners, the lower the failure rate of a business.) Similar patterns with local quirks are found around the world.

But it won't make any difference to you. "9 out of 10 new business FAIL in their first year" fits the anti-progressive narrative better, doesn't it? It feels right. The world must be that bad, that hopeless.

So yes, Locumranch, you really are just "a hater".

Paul451 said...

** I don't know about the US, but here in Australia if a sole operator takes a partner, the original business is "closed" and a new business (the partnership) is "opened".

locumranch said...

If I'm a 'hater' than Paul451 is a 'naifer' (otherwise know as a 'credulous simpleton') who confuses the specific for the general and the general for the categorical.

Whereas my stats come from various Forbes & Bloomberg Business articles about genuine small business 'entrepreneurs', his stats on 'small business' appear to come from a 1/27/2014 Washington Post article* that confuses the common use 'small business' definition with the US federal definition (provided in a later 6/17/2014 Washington Post article**) which defines 'small business' as any corporation with less than 1,500 employees and/or and income of less than 38.5 Million dollars.

Poor Paul, he is too gullible to realize the giant corporations like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint also qualify as “very small businesses" under current US law.



Treebeard said...

How do you define “optimism” and “progress”? ISIS believes they are making progress toward a 7th century Caliphate on the Prophetic model, just as Dr. Brin believes we are progressing toward a 23rd century Federation on the Roddenberry model. Others think both are delusional, and look forward to the post-peak “world made by hand” (e.g. James Howard Kunstler and John Michael Greer). Personally I have no idea, but as I get older I have increasing sympathy for the Islamic notion that we are strangers to this world, just passing through.

A lot of this comes down to whether you think this world of atoms is all you’re ever gonna have, and if so, whether you should feel deeply invested in the state and fate of those atoms. For me, it goes back to the ancient gnostic idea, embraced by almost every religious tradition at some point, that this world is in some way an illusion, a prison, a place of suffering, or the creation of an evil god, and there’s no escaping it by physical means. Science supports that view in a lot of ways, with its second law of thermodynamics, dying stars, darkening universe, etc. In the largest cosmic sense, everything is doomed, so it’s hard to see what a materialist has to be optimistic about.

Anyway, it’s a deep philosophical puzzle, all the facts probably aren’t in, and there’s no obvious answer, but there’s certainly a lot of propaganda flying around.

Randy Winn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Randy Winn said...

Treebeard: you may be obliquely referring to Venerable Bede's parable of the sparrow flying through the tower, surely a wonderful analogy analogy and perhaps dating to the first campfire after the origin of consciousness.

Locum: Your most recent comment did not seem to address Paul's most recent comment at all.

Alex Tolley said...

Restaurant failures-

Alex Tolley said...

Being idealists with a capital "I", progressives tend to emphasize goals over process, and they insist that they can only be judged by their intent rather than their actions, meaning that they refuse to accept responsibility for the negative consequences attendant on the implementation of progress.

I find that a stunning statement and I would expect some examples. Progressives generally care a lot about changes on the lives of individuals made worse. Conversely it is conservatives who appear little concerned for people when changes make them "losers".

All I can think of is that more abstract issues are being considered, such as claims that environmental regulations supposedly reducing economic growth. However it is pretty easy to reframe that as the impact of pollution on the lives of individuals. The recent cases of water pollution from accidental toxic spills and broken pipelines in rivers being prime examples, let alone the pollution of aquifers due to fracking.

sociotard said...

I suppose that might make me think of Robert Moses. He was a sort of an idealist. He believed in infrastructure (bridges in New York), and didn't care what neighborhoods were obliterated in pursuit of that goal. After that fashion, he refused to accept responsibility for the negative consequences attendant on the implementation of progress.

David Brin said...

Sociotard, Robert Moses and the modernist urban renewalists were exactly the sorts of "progressives" that the cynicism junkies like locum and treebeard adore, because they fit the pattern of tyrannical utopian imposers.

If, like those two, you are trapped forever in the black and white of zero sum thinking, then the modernist wizards must be answered with some rage. See William Gibson's famous story "The Gernsback Continuum."

But of course, that is true insanity. Robert Moses and Le Corbusier and their ilk did not experiment. They did no science. They simply imposed their will, as priests and kings have done in feudal societies for ages. They did not typify modernity, but thwarted it, using modernistic-sounding incantations.

Science and progress demand give and take, incremental learning from mistakes and triumphs and accidents. If "modernist" wizards were fools to try to short circuit this process... the cynicism addicts are far worse, for denying the positive sum processes exist ... at all!

The former were typical human tyrants. The latter are truly whacko, insane people.

Alfred Differ said...

Locumranch complains about the reflex assumption equating criticism of progress with hatred of progress….

Yah. I can see that could bug someone. It’s not fair, but when someone does it the irritated target should consider the possibility that their criticism CAN be read as hatred. If one is always critical and rarely demonstrates the ability to paraphrase the optimist (without necessarily agreeing with them) then it is an easy conclusion to jump to. The critic dislikes progress so much they can’t imagine the world the optimist sees.

Regarding business failure rates, a lot depends on how much time one waits before counting. The rate I learned was 4 out of 5 after five years. My anecdotal experience matches that stat fairly well if one counts as failure a choice by the owner to close it down in order to cash it out to follow a better idea. Lots of small businesses turn out just to be jobs where you are your own boss, so failure isn’t necessarily the same as bankruptcy. I’ve tried to start three of my own. I shut one down so fast it almost wouldn’t count as a start. The second closed out with not external/creditor debt. The third blew the life savings of one of the founders. Is that 3 out of 3 or something less? 8)

As an optimist, I don’t ask the pessimists to see the world as I do. I do expect them to be able to paraphrase us, though, or their critiques are misguided at best.

sociotard said...

I believe the phrase is either "moving the goalpost" or "no true Scotsman".

The question was posed: I would expect some examples [of] progressives tend to emphasize goals over process, and they insist that they can only be judged by their intent rather than their actions, meaning that they refuse to accept responsibility for the negative consequences attendant on the implementation of progress.

So I thought of one.

It only illustrated that yes, idealists can pursue progress with a careless shrug for the people they harm. It happens. It will happen again. It doesn't mean that progressives are "generally" that way.

Sorry for jumping on the wrong tangent. I was bored. Seriously though, what has Obama won with his wars?

Shakti Amarantha said...

Re: Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford, he has about 30 hours of lectures on Youtube, including the complete Human Bio 160 course, starting here:

Highly recommended!

David Brin said...

Sociotard, you call these.... Wars?

Jiminy, you are old enough to remember Wars. And those were mild compared to a generation ago..

Dig it, these are holding actions, while the real war is won in schools and universities and by hollywood movies and everywhere girls grow up able to choose their own path.

Jumper said...

Is there a shim slender enough to separate gnosticism and Pentecostalism?

Tacitus2 said...


I think you dodged Sociotard a little on the question of "wars". You have earlier held up Obama's deft management of the Libyan incursion as an example of how these things should be done. Fair enough. But from what I can discern, the results to date are crap. Libya is pretty much a failed state now, where Coptic Christians are beheaded on the shores of the Med as the ISIS butchers point a knife northward and promise that Rome will be next. Sheesh.

And on Iraq, no matter how foolish you feel the initial venture was, the somewhat precipitous exit and proclaiming ISIS to be "the JV team" looks bad.

I also recall you being fairly gung ho regards our potential involvement in Syria, so long as the current Commander in Chief was toying with the notion.

If a man was elected President of the United States, then "gifted" the Nobel Peace Price on the speculation that his interesting CV would help us smooth things over with Islamic nations and with Sub Saharan Africa, then the current wave of atrocities by ISIS, Boko Haram, the LRA, Shabaz, etc must be very perplexing to the faithful.

Hey, foreign policy is hard work. The last guy who was probably really adept at it might have been Reagan. Or maybe, given Iran-Contra etc, we would have to look further back.


Randy Winn said...

My friend Tacitus - I disagree that our exit from Iraq was precipitous.
It had been planned, perhaps over-planned, since the previous administration.

One point that the public discussion tellingly avoids: We trained and equipped a huge army, and it promptly ran from lightly-armed irregulars, or joined them. Why?

Daesh are evil and a problem, but they aren't our problem - unless we are stupid enough to walk into the trap.
"...Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is."
Twenty Seven Articles, Col. T.E.Lawrence

Laurent Weppe said...

"Libya is pretty much a failed state now, where Coptic Christians are beheaded on the shores of the Med as the ISIS butchers point a knife northward and promise that Rome will be next"

I'd love to see Daesh try to take on Rome, what with its no-existent war fleet.

More seriously, Libya was already a failed state before its population rebelled against Gaddafi. Had western countries not helped then, Gaddafi's mercenaries would have slaughtered the eastern libyan provinces in order to give his decadent regime respite, which among other things means that the next revolt would have been fueled by a much more violent revanchism and most probably caused even more retaliatory slaughters.

Which is exactly what happened in Syria: western countries started by refusing to involve themselves in the conflict, Assad's troops slaughtered civilians with no remorse, and ISIS took advantage of the situation (power vacuum + desperate & angry population) thus created to emerge, so now we have a self-proclaimed caliphate fueled by millenarist fanaticism and revanchist bloodlust, and if the Assad dynasty survives this conflict, you can bet that the next revolt will put "Kill Every Alawites" high on its priority list.


"One point that the public discussion tellingly avoids: We trained and equipped a huge army, and it promptly ran from lightly-armed irregulars, or joined them. Why?"

The Maliki government never wanted its army to be too efficient because it feared a coup. Add then corruption, cronyism, and sectarian favoritism and you get a large, expensive, and pretty useless army.


"Daesh are evil and a problem, but they aren't our problem"

They are our problem.
First because it's the way western powers behaved in the region (supporting notoriously corrupt regimes, lying to justify indefensible invasions while refusing to get involved when genuine revolt beg for our help) which gave Daesh the opportunity to even exist.
Second because european citizens have joined Daesh: I can't pretend Daesh is not my problem when some of my own fucking compatriots are murdering for it.
Third because it creates precedents: successful tyrants create copycats, failed ones not so much: the sooner Daesh falls, the less would-be despots will be tempted to imitate its rhetoric and methods
Fourth because Daesh's very existence fuels islamophobic rhetoric in western societies, thus increasing the clout of modern fascists and fragilizing our already tenuous democracies.

We live in a globalized world, which means that "local" conflict do not exist anymore.

Tacitus2 said...


The Iraqi army has a long tradition of breaking and running in the face of determined opposition. It says something not about the bravery of individual soldiers but about the cobbled together nature of Middle Eastern armies. Tribes, clans, nepotistic leaders.


Of course ISIS has no navy. And they will never conquer Italy. What they do have is ready access to refugee ships for transit, and of course and a willingness to shed the blood of civilians. I am, to return to the post heading, largely an optimist. But as I am going to be in Rome later this year, I will be a very wary one.


Paul451 said...


Your quoted cliche was:

"9 out of 10 new business FAIL in their first year."

Highlight for me the word "small" in that line.

"Whereas my stats come from various Forbes & Bloomberg Business articles about genuine small business 'entrepreneurs'"

What "stats"? You mindlessly repeated a frickin' cliche because it suits your world view.

locumranch said...

Again, it depends how you define 'small business'.

To quote 'Illusions of Entrepreneurship', the typical new business start-up is "a home-based sole-proprietorship that has one employee, the founder" and possesses an abysmal failure rate approaching 100% at 5 years.

The US Government defines 'small business' differently, however. According to MSNBC , the list of corporations considered small businesses by the US government are as follows:

Koch Industries, a conglomerate of partnerships with 70,000 employees.
Enterprise Products Partners, L.P., a pipeline company with 2009 revenues of $25 billion.
Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., a Wall Street firm with $445 million in revenue in 2009.
Price Waterhouse Coopers, an accounting firm with $26 billion in revenue in 2009.
The Hillman Company, an investment founded by billionaire philanthropist/industrialist Henry Hillman.
Venn Strategies, Inc., whose chief operating officer is Brian Reardon, a former special assistant to former President George W. Bush.
Ferrellgas, a propane and propane accessories business, with $2 billion in revenues in 2009 and 1 million customers.
CoorsTek, a ceramics manufacturer founded by Adolph Coors, with 2009 revenue of $549 million.
Dead River Co., with $500 million in revenue and 1,200 employees.
McIlhenney Co., the Tabasco maker, with $250 million in revenue in 2007.
Bechtel, the largest construction conglomerate on earth.
The Chicago Tribune, which also owns the LA Times, the largest newspaper in America.

The full article is available below:

Ergo, the stats generated by government agencies are crap.


Paul Shen-Brown said...

if the federal government is redefining huge corporations as small businesses, why would they want to do that? Perhaps there is a general public perception that huge corporations are not trustworthy and do not need government benefits, but small businesses do. Republican legislators can craft bills that favor their big business cronies/campaign funders but loudly claim that their bills will benefit "small business." This kind of corruption isn't that hard to see through.

David Brin said...

Wish I had time to answer Tacitus. Alas, gopper and demmie prexies are judged by different standards.

The Bushes SPENT both cash and American lives at rates almost TWO orders of magnitude higher than Clinton and Obama, achieving - from our perspective -- almost noting but helping Iran and Cheney companies... and leaving a corrupt Iraqi regime in place that could not have been worse or more fragile if it had been deliberate.

Clinton Obama - using Dem war doctrines have had mixed results. Khaddafi is gone, at very low cost. Somalia now has a government. Afgh is showing some very tentative good signs, as in Iraq.

But the main result is to keep things over in that mess static while progress proceeds rapidly all across the globe. We are doing that... AT LOW COST!

For any republican to dare to diss Clinton Obama re foreign policy is an act of gall and chutzpah of volcanically titanic magnitude.

Seriously man. Really?

David Brin said...