Advanced Search

Please click here to take a brief survey

Are You an Optimist or a Pessimist?
Alex Steffen, 23 Sep 06

Recently, a journalist asked me whether the folks who read Worldchanging are optimists about the future. I had to confess that I wasn't really sure, and that probably folks have a lot of different stances and reasons for taking them.

But it's an interesting question: Are you optimistic about the future? Pessimistic? Somewhere in between, or some strange hybrid? Is the future getting better or getting worse, and if it's getting better, is it getting better fast enough?

What do you think?

Bookmark and Share


Somebody said to me once, "do you know what your problem is?"

"you're an optimist who thinks he's a pessimist."

(tricky stuff)

Posted by: odograph on 23 Sep 06


Posted by: pauldwaite on 23 Sep 06

Strange hybrid, definitely. I'm not sure I know anyone who genuinely isn't. People who cling to one end invariably do a good job of validating the yin-yang model in exhibiting unconscious tendencies towards the opposite pole.

Posted by: Gyrus on 23 Sep 06

absolutely optimistic. and that is why i started my website it is a long discussion, but no one has ever convinced me there are valid reasons to be pessimistic. there are tragedies, changes, ups and downs, yes. As individuals, we learn through experiences, we need to hit the wall. Even when told not to do it, we still do, why? because that is the way we are. Take this to a group of people, a city, a generation, the planet population and you understand why change take a long time. but like i said it is a long discussion.

Posted by: daniel belanger on 23 Sep 06

Definitely optimistic. Being skeptical and purposeful and having a realistic view of what is possible is definitely important. But so is having the energy and hope to start in the first place. I know some people who've been tempted to write off associating with pessimists altogether because of the energy drain; but I find lines like that to be self-defeating.

Posted by: Quinn on 23 Sep 06

In general or in relation to "worldchanging" issues? In my day to day dealings I'd say I'm pretty optimistic. With regards to how the world will be in 25 years I think I've got a few tendrils of fear and a good dose of realism to be as optimistic as I'd like.

Posted by: Andrew on 23 Sep 06

Grimly determined, scared to death by the enormous challenges we face and how little time we have to face them, thrilled by the challenges and potential, awed by the intelligence and good in people, saddened by their stupidity, greed and violence. That's either a hybrid, or someone who has lived with ambiguity too long.

Posted by: David Foley on 23 Sep 06

Defiantly an optimist. The one thing that can’t be stopped is scientific pursuit of knowledge. It may get slowed down, but it will never stop.

Posted by: Joe on 23 Sep 06

Absolutely optimistic about the future. We have the capacity to address most if not all of our identified problems. We need some level of concensus to get there.

I tend to identify with the "perverse optimist" perspective associated with Tibor Kalman.

Posted by: Randy J. Hunt on 23 Sep 06

Sorry to say, I have to be a pessimist.

Awareness and activism is getting better, but not not faster or widely enough.

With the policies of the developed world continuing the extensive destruction and inequality throughout the world and incompetence of developing world governments pursuing the same policies, it is hard not to be anything but pessimistic.

Posted by: Tim on 23 Sep 06

Pessimistic, due to the array of monied interests thinking short-term arrayed against the long-term interests of the rest of us. Also pessimistic about the threats of religious fanaticism around us (not just Muslim fundamentalists. What about those who care nothing about the earth since we're all going to heaven or hell "real soon now"?) The odds are against a successful outcome for civilization, but it's not a done-deal and I'm willing to fight the good fight!

Posted by: barry on 23 Sep 06

I think that's a great question. In life as a whole, I am an optimist, but when it comes to the future of this beautiful earth and the direction of modern society, I waver quite a lot. I am optimistic about the future of the green movement, but the weight of problems that are out there, especially ones that are just below the surface of societal consciousness such as water and air quality and radiation, is tremendous.

I think, though, that deep down environmentalists are all optimists. Otherwise why would be be fighting?

Posted by: Michael on 23 Sep 06

Optimistic, definitely optimistic.

I don't see any reason not to be an optimist, what advantage does being a pessimist give you?

I recall my econ prof saying that the economy is a self-fulfilling prophecy. That if people believe the future is bright they will go out spend money, start businesses and invest in the future, this improves the economy re-inforcing people's belief's that the outlook is good. By contrast, if you think the world is going to end where's the incentive to invest in a future that will not exist.

You can take the idea of a "self-fulfilling prophecy" and apply it to the major challenges that we face today. If you believe that humanity is doomed and there is nothing that can be done about it then we are in fact doomed, because you won't try to solve the problems opting instead to enjoy the party while it lasts. If you believe that we still have time to steer humanity clear of danger then you will participate in helping to find solutions. (There's also a third group, these are people who are ignorant of the problems we face).

The key is getting enough optimists working together to solve these problems.

Posted by: Dave Meyers on 23 Sep 06

optimistic except for the fact that polar bears are drowning, starving to death, and eating their young.

that breaks my heart and instills profound fear. i'm not sure how to reconcile that with the hope that material from worldchaning instills.

Posted by: shiva polefka on 24 Sep 06

I haven't enjoyed the luxury of pessimism since the birth of my first child almost nine years ago.

Posted by: Darryl Rosin on 24 Sep 06

It depends on the day. Some days I am absurdly optimistic, but other times I wonder why I don't just give up. It depends on the news I read that day, the people I encounter, and how much I feel like I have accomplished myself.

Posted by: Heidi Guenin on 24 Sep 06

As J. Baird Callicott has said, "A desperate optimism is the only attitude that a practical environmental philosopher can assume."
I think this holds true for our general thinking about the future, particularly as the quality of our lives together in the upcoming years will largely depend on how we relate to our environment. So I cling to optimism, if desperately...

Posted by: meg on 24 Sep 06

Optimist when it comes to man's capacity to invent himself out of material trouble (energy, food, water, pollution).

Pessimist when it comes to man's capacity to coexist peacefully with other cultures.

Agriculturalist when it comes to growing my own apples.

Posted by: Lorenzo on 24 Sep 06

I'm going to go with "guarded, tentative, scared-as-hell optimist." Human capacity never ceases to amaze me, and I think our minds are capable of solving almost any problem. BUT, am I sure we'll always rise to the occasion? Tentatively, guardedly, scaredly, yes.

Posted by: Shayle Kann on 24 Sep 06

i am a pessimist when i read about environmental problems facing us.
i turn a moderate optimist when i doscover the many emerging solutions.
and i become an absolute optimist when i start doing something about the problems myself, like...

Posted by: D V Sridharan on 24 Sep 06

A pessimist who is seeking to better himself.
(after all, if the glass is half empty, it can be refilled... oh! We've run out!)

Seriously, I think Daryl Rosin sums it up for me. My daughter was conceived around 9/11 and all the baggage that goes with that unhappy event. Not going to let the bastards grind me down. Or her.

WorldChanging helps, perhaps more than you realise!

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 25 Sep 06

how about being REALISTIC? To recognize the huge trouble, the funnell we all are into, and at the same time to stubbornly act in order to create a future we will be proud of. Thinking and acting so that tomorrow will be better than today is not optimism, it is the essence of enduring life.
Eric Ezechieli

Posted by: eric ezechieli on 25 Sep 06

One of my Master, a french Professor of international environmental law, used to quote another wise man : "when you work in the environmental sector, you need to have the pessimism of intelligence and the optimism of the will (volontée)". Since I am an environmental lawyer that's my double - hybrid - engine!

Though I have to confess nowadays, thanks to Neocons, I travel far toom much on the pessimism engine. But a regular fix of Worldchanging puts me back on the optimism one!

Posted by: laurent on 25 Sep 06

One of my Master, a french Professor of international environmental law, used to quote another wise man : "when you work in the environmental sector, you need to have the pessimism of intelligence and the optimism of the will (volontée)". Since I am an environmental lawyer that's my double - hybrid - engine!

Though I have to confess nowadays, thanks to Neocons, I travel far toom much on the pessimism engine. But a regular fix of Worldchanging puts me back on the optimism one!


Posted by: laurent on 25 Sep 06

Could it be that the sample here is self-selecting, with the optimists motivated to share their views, while the pessimists say "what's the point?"

No more either/or. It's the stark dichotomies that are getting the world into deeper trouble. It's those who can transcend the dichotomies who will find a new path ahead.

Posted by: Ted on 25 Sep 06

sorry to come to this question so late...

it depends on what time frame you mean when you say 'the future.'
in the immediate future - optimistic, I think we are on the edge of wonderful changes in global life.
longer-term - we'll see. It may happen in time some places, but it will come too late for much of the earth.

Will we ever reach equilibrium, balance? great question.

Posted by: justus on 28 Sep 06

Pessimistically apathetic.

Whenever an ecosystem generates a species that is able to consciously alter most if not all local systems, that ecosystem will collapse due to the imbalance that the intelligent species introduced. We (humans) are trying to control our environment with steel, cement, and bad resource management in general, which destroys the auto-control mechanisms (feedback loops). Hence we get things like the Dust Bowl, foriegn species wreaking havok on local ecosystems, and global warming.

This is the natural cycle of life. Once destroyed it regenerates. So what.

Basically, "we're all going to die", but until then I'm going to do what pleases me most, and that's making the world a better place than it was when I arrived. I want to see communities building themselves and creating fantastic works--wonderful architecture, entertainment, tools, and always be exploring and learning more... until we die. I'm just making the best of what I have.

Posted by: Corey on 29 Sep 06

I believe you live in the world you perceive, so given the choice, I'd rather a friendly, balanced, saner, courteous one. Yeah, there's crap out there, no doubt. But I can give my attention, effort, and meme-spreading time to good stuff just as easily and with a lot more fun.

I expect that makes me an optimist.

Posted by: metasilk on 3 Oct 06



MESSAGE (optional):

Search Worldchanging

Worldchanging Newsletter Get good news for a change —
Click here to sign up!


Website Design by Eben Design | Logo Design by Egg Hosting | Hosted by Amazon AWS | Problems with the site? Send email to tech /at/
Architecture for Humanity - all rights reserved except where otherwise indicated.

Find_us_on_facebook_badge.gif twitter-logo.jpg