I just came across an article in a scientific magazine that wasn’t 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 violent factions.
And that’s what’s 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, that’s 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 can’t 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, heaven forbid!
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 author’s 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? You’ve got to be kidding me! This isolated, miserable, violent, fearful, superstitious, ignorant culture is going to die out, and the author thinks that’s 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 can’t 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 occur.
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.