Why I Am An Optimist

This is going to be a little bit different from what I usually post here, but it’s my blog. If you don’t like it, just click away.

It is easy to list many things going wrong these days, and I think most of us tend to look at the negative side. Regardless of political or social persuasion, most people would agree that the world is going to hell in various interesting ways. The politicians are so bad they aren’t even worth the bullets it would take get rid of them. Giant corporations are raping us all. And don’t even get me started on kids today.

But I am going to take a contrary point of view and say that things are getting better all the time.

I was born in 1951, which makes me 60 right now. I am part of that “Baby Boom” group that arrived after World War II and the Great Depression had created havoc with lives all over the world. And that is the first thing to point out: We have not made war entirely an anachronism, but after two major wars within 20 years of each other, we have not had any conflict like those since. And as Steven Pinker pointed out in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, This is part of a general trend in declining warfare.

Nor is it confined to just war. Because of the nature of news in our electronic age, and the relentless use of violence as a form of entertainment (which Hollywood is responsible for), we miss the fact that violence within our country has gone down. Because we see it on television without let up we think it is rising, but in fact it is falling.

When I was born, a number of US States had what were called “Anti-Miscegenation” laws which made it a crime for a white person and a black person marry. The last of these laws was not struck down until 1967 when the US Supreme Court decided the case of Loving vs. Virginia. This was the same year as the movie Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? which addressed the social discomfort felt by a white family over their daughter bringing a black fiance. Now, I know there are still racists in this country, a fact that is abundantly clear in the frothing at the mouth over Obama, but for most people this is simply not an issue they would even notice.

In a related vein, when I was born Brown vs. Board of Education was still 3 years in the future. I grew up watching on television as Bull Connor used fire hoses on black citizens trying to get their civil rights. And of course I lived through the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. But in my life time I have seen a black man elected President of the United States in a free and fair election, and he is favored to win re-election this fall. I can say that even as late as the 1990s I would not have believed that could happen in my lifetime.

When I was born the roles of men and women were quite separate. My mother, who was by any measure a very liberal and forward-thinking woman, taught me and my brothers how to wash dishes and do laundry because “Until we got married we would have to do it for ourselves.” But my wife and I both have demanding careers, though you will have to ask her about the housework division (some of you wouldn’t believe me if I said we split it.) And I have had a number of female bosses, and many co-workers. That is a change just in my lifetime. If you younger folks want to know what it used to be like, find some old episodes of Ozzie and Harriet on YouTube. That was the world I was born into. And come to think of it, if we had not elected a black man as President in 2008, we would have elected a woman, since the only serious opposition to Barack Obama was Hillary Clinton.

One more thing I will point out. When I was a boy I don’t think I had ever heard of homosexuals. But there were laws in effect make homosexual behavior illegal, to prevent homosexuals from immigrating to this country, and for a time even to prevent homosexual literature from being sent through the mail. And now we have marriage equality in an increasing number of states (most recently Maryland), and 22 Democratic Senators have called for endorsing this in the official party platform for the 2012 election.

So when you think everything is going to hell in a handbasket, take another look. While change is sometimes slow and maddening, it is definitely happening.

And Linux on the desktop grew 64% in the last 9 months. See, I didn’t forget all about technology.

1 comment

    • Anita Lewis on March 3, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Well put! I’ve lived through these same changes for the better and agree that we have reason for hope and optimism.

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