Searching For Hope Thanksgiving 2015

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, November 26, 2015

Yesterday was my 64th birthday. I had planned to publish “100 Signs of Hope for the Future” in reaction to my 63rd birthday post, “50 Reasons Why The Human Race Is Too Stupid To Survive.” That essay, the most popular one I wrote this year, still gets 20-50 hits a day. This year I felt challenged to discover twice as many signs of hope for my 64th birthday. I’ve been working for weeks, but alas I have failed. Not because I couldn’t find that many signs of hope, but because the essay just got too big to finish on time. I’ve decided to break it into several essays.

Thanksgiving 2015 

I’ve switched to searching for hope because pursuing pessimism is pointless. Even if we know we’re going to lose, we have to bet to win. Signs of despair are everywhere, so it’s too easy to find roads to apocalypses. The real existential challenge is to find  routes out of our maze of problems. Deciding what we want is the first step on the journey. I want an Earth friendly society, where everyone is equal, who follow universally accepted standards of ethics, with lifestyles that are sustainable over millions of years, that leads to opportunity for all Homo sapiens while still fairly sharing this planet with the rest of our fellow species.

When we are young we have great hope for the future, but as we age, little by little, that hope fades. I grew up with a tremendous sense of wonder for this amazing reality around us, but as I’ve grown old, I’ve become increasing pessimistic about the future of our species. Most people on this planet hide from reality in childish beliefs about God and Heaven, but as an atheist, I have to live with the scientific assessment of our existence. The future looks bleak. But I want to fight the natural tendency of becoming cynical while growing wrinkles. I desperately want to the human race to get its shit together and make the most out of this astonishing piece of ontological luck.

Finding hope for the future is a Mt. Everest size challenge. News reporting makes us all want to stick our heads in the sand. How can we overcome our sense of powerlessness? Why does being spectators on the sidelines of history feel so soul destroying? When will weathervanes stop pointing to countless hurricanes bearing down on us from all the directions of the compass? I actually believe there are ways to solve our collective problems. The trouble is we are our own worst enemies.

It would have been much easier to find a 1,000 signs of despair than 100 signs of hope. We all cope by ignoring what we don’t want to see, and rationalize things will magically get better. It’s impossible for one person to even comprehend the holographic information behind one half-hour news program. Having access to the internet overwhelms our minds with infinite data. We can’t even tell the facts from misinformation. We all maintain an ever shifting illusion about the future. The easier path is to ignore what might be, and focus on our personal needs and wants. I see hope in just defining our problems, which is what I want to do in future essays.

The other night I found an especially important sign of hope in a very strange place, the documentary Pandora’s Promise. This film is about environmentalists who were once passionately against nuclear power that have changed their minds. The hope I find, is not in the promise of cleaner energy, but in the fact that fervent true believers can admit they were wrong. To survive all the ill winds that blow our way, will require open minds with a strong willingness to study new information. We’re currently being bombarded by politicians who regurgitate the same brainwashed propaganda of their parties. This gives us little reason for hope. We need more Sauls who become Pauls, transformed by the light of reality. And before all you conservative Christians gloat with glee over my metaphor, let me tell you that you’ve still got your own Road to Damascus to travel.

For all of us to find hope for the future will require each of us to transform ourselves. Last year I was pessimistic because I doubted we could change. Recently I decided to bet on hope than spend my waning years becoming bitter about the human race, like the aging Mark Twain. What I need, and I think every else needs too, are signs of hope. I’ve spent a lifetime reading science fiction, so thinking about the future comes easy to me. If this essay seems more worried over despair that’s because it illustrates two significant points. One, finding hope is Sisyphean task. Two, recognizing that we have a problem is the beginning of transcendence.

Our problem as ordinary citizens, is we feel powerless at controlling our own fates. We think leaders should enact policies that will change the way we live. That passivity is dangerous. It is our individual decisions to change ourselves that is the solution. The key issue is sustainability. The ways we live our lives are not sustainable. For me to find 100 true signs of hope will require finding signs we are all choosing sustainable ways live.

People seldom change without being forced to change. Few people will unilaterally sacrifice what they have to help others, or even help themselves. It’s one thing to have a lot, and share some extra. It’s a whole other thing to give up what you have. This past year I’ve chosen to go on a plant-based diet for health reasons. I’m constantly tormented by what I can’t have. It’s not easy doing without. I know so many people who have far more serious health issues, yet they say they won’t change how they live to save themselves. They pray for magical solutions. Such false hope will destroy us.

I agree we won’t change without technological help. We’re more likely to survive if clever engineers invent technology that bypass our human failings. But technology can’t be our only salvation. Anyone who has been on a diet knows how hard it is to change the momentum of habits. Anyone who has succeeded at losing weight and transforming their health, knows how empowering new habits can be. No civilization of the past has survived a major disruption, so we have a perfect record of losing. On the other hand, our species has been mutating and transforming at a hyper-rate since The Enlightenment. Scientific knowledge has transformed our cognitive abilities dramatically, and with technology we’ve transformed human society, the face of the Earth, and the biosphere. So far this knowledge has allowed us to become a cancer upon the planet.

The reason why I wrote that pessimistic essay last year was because I felt people are incapable of change, but a year of reflection tells me the human race constantly changes. Recent research shows the brain is very plastic, capable of rewiring, even late in life. Another good sign of hope. However, humans tend to change because of powerful outside forces rather than by personal choice. We evolve through survival. And now it’s time to evolve like we never evolved before. Is it possible to intentionally guide our evolution? Can we choose to do what’s hard instead of what’s easy? Will the seven deadly sins always rule our habits?

There seems to be little reason to expect a political solution. A U.S. president from either party will never be bold enough to defy political self interest. In fact, their self interest thrives on our weaknesses. Does that mean we should just give up and wait for the apocalypse? I’d like to believe when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and we’re all tough enough.

Everything is interrelated. Solving any of our major problems requires solving our other major problems. Finding hope also involves recognizing the problem—we cannot solve problems we refuse to see. We cannot solve our problems without becoming different people from who we are now. Learning what we need to do will require reeducation, and that means a lot of reading and watching of documentaries. We need to learn how reality works. We need to stop pursing mindless forms of escapism. We’ve spent thousands of years praying to God, and we know that doesn’t work. Waiting for a Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, isn’t practical either.

To stop acting like lemmings rushing to the cliffs of oblivion requires thinking for ourselves.

Essay #982 – Table of Contents

34 thoughts on “Searching For Hope Thanksgiving 2015”

  1. Very good post and I hope you are correct, but…….I also just read the other about 50 reasons we won’t survive and I’m afraid that seems more likely. But I do feel it’s man’s nature to be self destructive …always. There will always be those that survive and eventually the whole thing will just repeat in an endless cycle ..albeit a very long drawn out one. And of course, it won’t last forever.

    1. Mary, I essentially agree with you. But we are here because of a very long series of anti-entropic events, so I do have some hope that luck will continue. However, I tend to think intelligent machines will replace us as the next greatest level of complexity.

      1. You may be right given the odds of us being here at all. I agree AI could possible replace us. Have you given any thought to the possibility that this could all be a simulation and it’s just someone’s game.

      2. Yes, I have. The universe as a simulation is a popular topic right now, but I don’t think it is. It’s a clever idea, and has it’s appeal, but I think reality is too big to model, infinite in all directions and dimensions, and just is, has been and always will be. I think it would be here with or without conscious beings. Reality is everything that could be, and the only thing it can’t be is nothing. If nothing was possible, it would have existed. I know that sounds rather mystic, but it’s just my working theory. We all make up stories about why things happen. That’s mine.

      3. Good point. If “nothing” was possible, then there always and forever would be nothing. The fact that there’s “something” means there always has been and will be something. I’m only drawn to the idea of simulation to explain how crazy we humans are…like surely it’s just a game. No one could be this nuts for real. I love to think about all this though

      4. There is only 1 reason you need to know and it the only reason this world will forget us one day. And that reason it greed. And that greed will consume us. And people are not going to change that is clear. I wish I could be hopeful but this is something I know all to well.

  2. ‘Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
    Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
    Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
    And one by one back in the Closet lays.

    — Edward FitzGerald: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam —

  3. Jim,

    I agree that humans can change, but can we change quickly enough. Based on what I see in the papers, a significant portion of Americans are hostile to any such ideas that don’t conform to the Biblical accounts, and I don’t see any leaders who are strong enough to go against them. Certainly there are no Republican leaders who would agree with you, and there are too few Democrats presently to make any significant changes.

    Can we change? Yes.

    Will we change? I’m leaning toward the pessimistic view.

  4. It’s interesting that you deride people of faith when they are are generally the most hopeful, positive people on the planet. If we are to trust that humans will be able to sort out the world’s problems by themselves, then I believe we hope in vain. You mentioned the historical record, as evidence. Furthermore, I do not hide from reality by believing in God, rather I make sense of reality by viewing it through the prism of faith. You are correct to say that generally people cannot change themselves. Another well written and thought provoking article, James. Thank you.

  5. D. A., I keep hoping (there’s that word again) that the theologians of the planet would recognize our problems too, and help the faithful to work on them. Some pastors have incorporated care of the Earth into their sermons, and that’s a good sign. The original essay was supposed to be 100 Signs of Hope, and among the signs listed were the Pope’s encyclical on climate change. Another was that some Protestant churches were becoming involved with the environment and find Biblical reasons to do so. I hope to finish 100 Signs of Hope in the future. However, I still believe most of the faithful on this planet feel this world isn’t as important as the next world. As an atheist, I only have this world.

  6. James..again I agree with you and Fred. I have Episcopalian friends and have attended their church a few times and I can attest that they focus on environment and helping people of all types and situations without judgement. I have also attended a few other churches and the fundamentalist ones focus, at least on the surface, helping the less fortunate, but nothing about the environment and the real focus is always believing the “correct” way so you dont go to hell. The emphasis is always on the afterlife and how behavior and good deeds don’t count, but only believing the “right” things. I don’t understand how some Protestant religions went astray in their harsh judgement of people of different faiths and lifestyles, their anti science stance and the need to force, with violence at times, their beliefs towards the rest of us.

    1. If I was a Christian, I’d be more likely to follow the belief of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his idea of hard Christianity, as opposed to what’s emerged in recent times of easy Christianity. Why should grace come so easy? Why should forgiveness be given just for a pledge of belief? If we are to be judged for our sins, then why should allegiance be a worthy payment. I think it’s better to work at not being sinful, than to expect forgiveness.

  7. Humans for me personally are pretty much evil….they think it’s okay to allow an intelligent animal like a pig never to turn around in their stall…yet they love their cats and dogs…or a chicken to spread their wings naturally. Humans do think they are Gods now. Controlling every species…but humans forget…humans get murdered every single day for honour killing..for being different…my point is…humans in my eyes…are a piece of shit….piece of one big pile of shit…we hate each other….humans could care less about another human..humans are for themselves…and it’s true…..

    1. I don’t disagree Caroline, there are a lot of bad humans out there. But there are good ones too. Focus on them. In a century maybe people will treat animals kinder, and look back on the 21st century like we look back on the 19th and their belief of slavery. Over time we all become abolitionists to the evils we see. It just takes time.

  8. I hope I’m not too late to join this conversation…
    James, you have lots of good points…however I don’t think there is any hope for humanity. We fucked it up waaay too much. There are so few of us who wants to live in harmony with everyone even if we might disagree and so many of them who are still in their primitive state of thinking that whoever does not agree with them is going to hell or should be put to death.
    I say, let’s blow up the planet. If reality is a game or a simulation, we’ll start afresh then…if it’s not, oh well…we won’t miss a thing, will we?!!

    1. I’m surprised by how many people have lost hope for the future. If I was practical, I don’t see much hope. But I keep hoping we’ll get our shit together. I guess I’m just a Pollyanna.

  9. James, I have just discovered your blog. Some fascinating links and ideas that have generated a lot of discussion down here in rural Victoria, Australia. I am filled with despair at the moment: the murders in Orlando, the murder today of a popular UK politician. Only the tip of that iceberg, but the emphasis on short sighted economic ‘prosperity’ and profit at the expense of the planet, racism, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny… it is hard to be optimistic in such a world. And if Trump becomes President?

    1. Ann, it is very depressing. But I’m not the type of person that gets depressed. Despite everything bad, there’s plenty of positive things happening. There was one killer in Orlando, but how many billions were horrified by his act? And there’s certainly far fewer bigoted, racist, misogynistic, homophobic people than there was 50 years ago. We are getting better. We just need to do it faster. We need to convince people that theocracy isn’t the answer. We need to fix capitalism. We need to develop a sustainable way of living.

  10. James, I have just found your wonderful blog. I live in Canada and in light of what has just happened in the US election and the voting in of a misogynistic, racist, bigoted, climate change denier I fear your 63rd birthday post has become even more timely…sigh. And the USA is feeling a mite too close to us for comfort now.
    I am going to go read your latest to learn if you see any hope.

  11. With absolutely no prescience on my part whatsoever, I started writing in a journal on Wednesday 11/21/79 when it was clear a divorce between me and my now ex-wife was inevitable. It quickly became both dungeon and sanctuary, hobby and obsession, a place not only for personal reflection but also to write observations of the human condition, essentially a descent into madness. I never remember a time when I didn’t enjoy reading people far more than books and after all these years, youthful hope turned to cynicism which yielded to reluctant misanthropy. I used to see that “potential” in people, that “spark of the Divine” (for those of Religious persuasion), that man truly was evolving into something “better” (for people of that persuasion), but if there ever was a “light” in Homo sapiens, it’s out. It is not that there are not “good” people but rather only that people in groups seem incapable of acting in any way other than to their own destruction. Man’s first fatal mistake was to confuse formal education with innate intelligence.
    The conflict between and among mere mortals isn’t about good and evil, right and wrong, or any alleged duality one would care to name. Men, all men (please allow an old man the use of the generic to apply to all, something now almost universally forbidden in an age in which self-esteem is of greater importance than conduct and action) suffer from just one conflict, that between intellect and emotion, thought and feeling, reason and passion, logic and intuition, Multiply that times 7 billion and it is a plot–written by the Divine or the statistical anomaly of a purely random and chaotic universe–for a novel that will never have a “happy” ending. While I, like most everyone else, appreciate and understand the intended meaning of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” people would have been far better off–so I am convinced–had it been written “life, liberty, and the pursuit of meaning and purpose”.
    “Happiness,” as I have observed it to be, is what remains when all that causes unhappiness is removed.
    Humans can’t save themselves not when they are the problem. Life is reduced to (1) people make choices and (2) actions have consequences. But driving it all are Man’s intentions and those, again, reflect the conflict between thoughts and feelings. Even “Love” is reduced to the intention behind and driving both the will and ability to act. At best, love seeks to do no harm.
    To be born into this world is to ride on the Titanic. Happy endings are for individuals, not the collective. There are 13 survivors in a life boat that holds only 12 and the human drama is to figure out either how to save everyone or decide who gets tossed overboard. And if there is one thing humans enjoy and loathe with equal passion, it is existential dilemmas.
    Birds build nests. Bee build hives. Mortals work and do the best they can. These days, I fail to see what all the excitement is about in the first place. But then again, if the West and western culture succeeded at anything at all, it was to remove belief in meaning and purpose in life. Life, and mortals, have been reduced to rats in a maze, a giant experiment to determine who can build the best maze and how best to condition rat behavior. And that damnable question always hangs over our heads: “Why?” And we’re all now sitting back, seeing the practical results and I’m not finding anyone really “happy” with the results.
    So I’ll be sixty-five in just a few months and I wrote two things, as dated, that remain true…for me:
    Sunday 11/28/99: “Hope is desperation with a smile.”
    Thursday 09/06/11: “The human animal needs to be controlled and dominated…just not by other humans.”
    Nero fiddled while Rome burned. I’ll just keep writing in my journals.

  12. It really is sad what the world is coming to, i must say. I hate it that people just use the world like its a toy, and they could just do anything they want to it. It is going to kill off everything we have come to know and love, and I just think that we need to make a change. I hope you will agree with me.

    1. I agree, Wither. I think millions want to change, but there are billions of people who don’t. They don’t look outside their own needs and desires. Some humans are very conscious of what’s happening, but most lead lives of unconscious urges and habits.

      1. I just reread this post and I’m wondering how you feel now after Trump has been elected and the mess we are in with this barbaric group? Greed indeed is all they and their crownies care about. Since so many people claim to be Christian, wouldn’t it be great if the churches preached environmental care, inclusion of all faiths and lifestyles, being a good person and not hating and judging others, instead of the emphasis of going to hell and believing “correctly”. I don’t believe I’ve ever read anything about Islam having ANY concerns about the environment or animals or accepting others with different views, so we as rational humans, fight a very difficult battle and one I’m afraid we will lose. I would love an update on your views now. Thanks.

      2. Mary, it’s hard to find any positive hope in today’s political climate. And I would love to find hope. Having a compulsive liar for a president who has no awareness of what we need to solve our real problems is very depressing. The people in power only want to cut taxes and make the rich richer.

        I’ve thought about doing a new updated version of this essay. I could do 101 or even 1001 reasons why the human race is too stupid to survive.

  13. Just Google “Frank Fenner”. He’s the scientist most credited for wiping out smallpox. He is also one of the top if not the top climate change and mass extinction experts in the world. He has compiled all the data regarding our coming extinction which he concludes is irreversible and within a century regardless of what we do to try to prevent it. He has all the scientific data necessary to support his claims and was as highly respected by the top researchers in the climate change and mass extinction science communities as anyone until his recent death. Sooo if you’ve been on the fence feeling guilty that you want to purchase a great big ex military gas guzzling Hummer H1 while your conscience urges you to get the Prius instead, go ahead and get the Hummer because it truly is too late to matter. Or get the Prius if you want to enable the delusion for a bit longer. In the end it matters not.

    1. I wish I had statistics for how various people felt about this situation. Just how many people rationalize buying a Hummer H1 because they feel there is no hope for the future.

      Our reality is very hard to understand, much less predict. I think our imperfect understanding causes us to just place our bets on the ponies we hope to win. If I was to bet today I’d say we have 5% chance of total collapse of civilization, 5% chance we’ll get our shit together bring carbon back to 350 ppm, and 90% chance we’ll muddle through with a lot of hardship.

  14. If the one of our only choices remaining is to laugh then I for one will choose laughter. Why choose pessimism when you can find the humor in it? We Humans do as we please anyway, but not for long! Wink wink nod nod! lol ;o}

  15. Hi James

    My Name is Alexander, your blog, the update, came upon me today as I was researching activities and facts, suggesting humanity may actually advance to a next level (abolishing violent solutions for conflicts) and into a prosperous future. I recently started working on an article with the idea of helping people change the way they go about living their lives toward a more sustainable one, a better informed and healthier one. In order to achieve that, I began writing articles with more inspirational qualities, rather than alarming or frightening ones.
    My tagline is, ‘Tolerance and Consideration equals world peace, it begins with You.’

    As it happens, your blog came to inspire me. There are plenty of reasons why we may make it into the next millennium, we can see them all around us, they are called ‘people with hope’. I address reasons supporting that assumption, and I bring solutions to how we can make the advance happen.
    If you are interested, your feedback/input would be greatly appreciated James, of course anyones would be welcome.
    (www.thedaywedecide.net/blog/2017/8/10/realistic-reasons-why-i-believe-humanity-will-make-it-into-the-next-millennium)

    Obviously, some very real threats would be out of our control if they were to occur, so I named a few on my blog, but I refrained from further analyzing them, to what end?
    Your own essay 50 reasons… lists issues that we could mostly summarise in,
    A – quite possibly avoidable, or manageable natural and manmade disasters, depending on our efforts to steer technological and social development away from attempting self annihilation and more towards managing an ‘advanced’ civilisation on the brink of losing control over its technological achievements. (mostly nano mechanics, A.I., genetics) Looking for any culprits can not be the goal, conspiracy theories are only here to distract us, so I don’t follow them., I am also an atheist, which enables me to think more pragmatically and rationally.
    B – mostly social or socio-economic problems, avoidability depends on our ability as a species to find common ground, common interests, to replace all the ‘little’ issues we keep quarrelling about like children on the back seat of the family car. What does mom yell back over her shoulder? ‘get along already’ – Well, have we forgotten? (for example: racism, ‘fake’ national patriotism, widely misunderstood concept of freedom/liberty, you grant others what you take for granted for yourself, to view ignorance by choice as a blessing, to think of all others as stupid lemmings, not realising that we are in the middle of the herd.)
    B means abolishing the chosen state of ignorance that we all suffer from. It means to live up to it when we tell our children we love them, it means to act on that and inciting a change in society via smarter, more self conscious and better educated children, starting at home. If we truly love the kids, it can only follow, that we make the world they will ‘inherit’ from us, our number one priority. We don’t have to give up who we are for that, we could actually become who we want to be.
    If we achieve B, we have a good chance to achieve A, with all that freed up energy, manpower, brain power and money.
    Of course achieving B is the greater challenge. We could start with implementing the teaching of two major concepts at elementary level schools around the world (step by step): you guessed it, Tolerance and Consideration.
    I go into much more detail on my blog.

    Whether you are a Norwegian fisherman, an Austrian dairy farmer, a US postman, a German engineer, a Swiss banker, a Chinese rice farmer, a native Australian shaman, or the mother of two children in Cape Town, it matters not. We all essentially want the same. We want to live in peace and we want for your loved ones to prosper and live a life in peace. We all want to live in conditions in which we can thrive and pursue our own idea of happiness.
    In the core, we all want the same, now we have to begin to act accordingly, together.
    We have to actually get together and drop our local, racial or social differences and petty quarrels that keep us from achieving major milestones. Nationalist thinking and patriotism, all nations for themselves, keep the real, the global issues from getting solved. Nationalism and patriotism have no beneficiaries except those who make a profit from international armed conflicts, which sprout on nationalism, those who prefer going about their ‘business as usual’.

    One thing I know for sure, we can do better than this mess we’ve created. You are writing a blog, some of it toward that end, I do the same, thousands more do the same around the world, collecting more and more followers, The world is changing, and the trend is accelerating. Humanity is in a constant state of renewal, now we have to mean it when we say we are an intelligent species, we have to give this renewal its direction. If we turn out to be too self centered, to obsessed with mindless consumption and too comfortable to change, then we may not only lose it all, we would also have to blame ourselves for our inaction.

    You are invited to come and say hi on my own blog, if what I wrote here appeals to you.

    Have a great weekend
    Alexander Somm, http://www.thedaywedecide.net

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