I just came across an article in a scientific
magazine that wasnt about how horrible the future was
that was simply assumed.
The author also assumed we (the readers) knew the future
would be bleak, so he didn't try to convince us. What he had
to say was in addition to and laid on top of the
assumption that the future is not going to be pretty. The article
was about a remote island called Rapa in the South Pacific. A
few settlers arrived there via canoe around the year 1200. After
awhile, they started running out of resources and broke up into
And thats whats happening in
the world today as we run out of resources. As the world's resources
run out, people will get more and more violent. At least, thats
what the article said. The only problem with this assumption
is, wars have been less frequent and less violent over the last couple decades,
even though resources are running out.
But a cynical point of view ignores positive or hopeful facts, or dismisses them.
The article stated, And we cant rely on technology
to prevent an eventual social collapse. How depressing.
And yet negative future predictions are notoriously wrong. For
example, in an article in Reason Magazine, the author
quotes a few predictions made by cynical intellectuals in 1970
(the year of the first Earth Day):
Earth Day 1970 provoked a torrent of apocalyptic
predictions. "We have about five more years at the outside
to do something," ecologist Kenneth Watt declared to a Swarthmore
College audience on April 19, 1970.
Harvard biologist George Wald estimated
that "civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless
immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind."
"We are in an environmental crisis
which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world
as a suitable place of human habitation," wrote Washington
University biologist Barry Commoner in the Earth Day issue of
the scholarly journal Environment.
They predicted widespread famine by now.
Hasn't happened. They predicted we would be choking to death
on our own pollution. The pollution in many cities has gotten
worse, but many big cities have less pollution now. Many
rivers that were nothing more than toxic dumps thirty years ago
are now clean and beautiful.
The point is, the standard cynical opinion
is merely an assumption, and it is an assumption that does not
withstand the test of time. It is simply assumed things are all going to hell in a
handbasket. Furthermore, technology is bad. Capitalism is bad.
Humans are bad. And the future is bleaker than bleak.
This is the cynic's stand.
And some of the cynics have credentials
and speak with conviction, so it's hard to ignore it when they
make dire predictions. But ignoring them is exactly what you
should do because they are almost always wrong. People who make
negative predictions are taking the safe route. By predicting
doom and gloom, they can't be accused of being cockeyed optimists,
Another automatic position cynical intellectuals
seem to take is that people in the past lived in more harmony
and in tune with nature. Before technology and science came along
and ruined everything, people were happy and peaceful and didn't
harm the natural world.
I just read an article by a man who went
to visit the last cannibal tribe existing on earth, in New Guinea.
In the magazine, there were photos of the family he visited,
and an article about how short their lives are, how full of disease
and fear, and of course, their cannibalism.
This cannibal tribe doesn't know germs
exist. They believe when someone dies it is because someone else
has turned into a witch. Then they have to find the witch and
eat them. Sometimes it is a relative or a friend they have to
kill and eat!
And yet, in the same breath, the author
said how sad he was that youngsters from this tribe are voluntarily
moving away to live in the settlements. They are finding a better
life (or at least they like it better), but from the authors
intellectual point of view, this was a sad development. The set
of beliefs and customs of this culture will probably disappear
as their young reject it and stop passing it onto their young.
His assumption is that each culture is precious (except, of course,
his own modern culture), and when an ancient culture is lost,
it is a tragedy.
Wait a minute. He is sad this culture is
going to die out? Youve got to be kidding me! This isolated,
miserable, violent, fearful, superstitious, ignorant culture
is going to die out, and the author thinks thats a bad
thing? I guess from a museum-curator sort of perspective it is
bad. But if this particular culture dies out, there will be less
suffering in the world!
These intellectuals are using the same
method in their writings that hypnotists use on their hypnotic
subjects. When the technique is used by cynics, pessimism can
enter your mind without your awareness.
One of the techniques hypnotists use to
induce a trance and give hypnotic suggestions is to presume
what he wants his subject to believe. So a hypnotist might say,
"As you become sleepier, your eyelids will begin to close."
The hypnotist is takes it as a foregone conclusion that you will
become sleepier, but that has never been established. By presupposing
it and talking about your eyelids, he redirects your attention,
avoiding an argument about the sleepiness. Presupposition makes
it difficult to disagree with the statement or reject it.
When you read something that presupposes
a bleak future, it has the same effect. In order to understand
the sentence, you have accept the proposition that the future
will be bleak. And we cant rely on technology to
prevent an eventual social collapse. The statement is about
technology and its ability to prevent the social collapse. It
is presupposed that the social collapse will inevitably
Presupposing an idea makes it more difficult
for you to disagree with it and reject it.
This is one way pessimism worms its way
into your mind. The cynical viewpoint of newscasters and cynical
intellectuals is like a constant attempt by a hypnotist to bypass
an argument. They avoid resistance to the idea of the "inevitably
dreadful future" or "the horrors of technology"
by presupposing it.
Once you know about this technique, however,
you are less vulnerable to it. When you can hear or read their
sentences and notice what they're presupposing, you can disagree
with it. This will prevent it from entering your belief system.
You can reject it and so protect yourself from a pessimism infection.
Read about other ways to protect yourself from
a pessimism infection.
Click here for a