We live in an age of transformation.
We live in an age of destruction.
Each one of those sentences is true, 4 strands that co-exist in the DNA of our reality. It’s easy to handpick a number of examples to validate each assertion. Space travel and the curative power of modern medicine are certainly wonders. Turmoil rages in the Middle East as well as in the corridors of Washington, D.C. The internet and new technology is transforming the world into something never before seen in human history. And technology, like bombs, or the results of our technology, such as pollution, are capable of greater levels of destruction than any other historical era could have even imagined.
Optimists and pessimists can cherry pick a bushel’s worth of evidence to support their personal predisposition, and sometimes the same piece of evidence can be used by both to support their respective arguments (the internet is both the greatest achievement of humanity, and our likely undoing, depending on the messenger). Everything is going to kill us. Everything is going to save us. Just you wait and see.
Not Optimists Vs. Pessimists. Optimists and Pessimists
[Note: Portions in red discuss current political happenings. If you are such a person who finds such topics unbearable, feel free to skip.]
Place me firmly in the optimist camp. I’ve lived through enough faux-apocalypses and read about enough historical ones to cast a weary glance at anyone whose predictions are death, destruction and doom. Like cockroaches, we survive.
I’m also a pragmatist, though, so I understand that oftentimes it’s people freaking out about a potential catastrophe that helps us avert it. In recent memory, the ‘Y2K‘ problem is probably one of the most famous cataclysmic events that never happened, now nothing more than a punchline. What gets lost in the discussion of Y2K’s uneventful arrival is that people had been working on addressing the potential problems for months and years before January 1st, 2000. Was all the doomsaying for naught? Perhaps, but we can never know what would have happened if some people hadn’t taken the threat seriously and sought solutions.
Society needs optimists and pessimists. Just like society needs liberals and conservatives. As an optimistic liberal, pessimistic conservatives annoy the living hell out of me quite frequently, but that doesn’t mean I think they shouldn’t exist. I’m predisposed to role my eyes when someone predicts destruction ahead, but I think it’s good that people take such prophecies seriously enough to address them and hopefully find solutions. A pessimist with solutions is mighty handy to have around.
Pessimists without solutions, on the other hand, are dangerous.
This is why the government Shutdown/Obamacare kerfuffle is so fingers-on-a-chalkboard aggravating to me. Ted Cruz and his compatriots claim that the Affordable Care Act is hurting people, not helping. This may or may not be true (the evidence suggests that there are some negative effects being felt now, but time will hopefully rectify those issues), but defunding the program doesn’t solve any problems for 2 reasons: Obamacare still exists, defunded or not, and even if you eradicate it, no Republicans are offering any alternative that will help fix the increasingly unsustainable healthcare crisis in this country.
Ted Cruz and John Boehner are pessimists without a solution.
American history is the story of finding balance, swinging too far one way and swinging back, always in search of the sweet spot. We are constantly attempting to maintain a balance between liberty and control that doesn’t collapse into anarchy or succumb to tyranny. We enjoy the progress of liberalism, but conservatism attempts to uphold a recognizable society. We embrace technology but maintain a constant vigil against its more dangerous and excessive applications.
Every election cycle in this country brings about op-eds about how our 2-Party system is bad for democracy, keeping out the smaller voices. The assumption, presumably, is that if only the Green Party or the Libertarians were given the same platform as the Republicans and Democrats, they would help change the conversation. This belief is, to be blunt, stupid. The Green Party is just the Democratic Party as your crotchety, conservative father would describe it. And Libertarianism is the worst idea since unsliced bread. Neither one of these parties is ever going to capture a substantial minority in the House or the Senate, and certainly not a majority nor the White House.
Democrats and Republicans represent generic versions of the most common political stances. If you want a representative 3rd party, you don’t go to an extreme, you go to the middle.
We actually have a 3-Party system now, and it’s a disaster. The Tea Party is called a wing of the Republican party, but the divisions within the GOP reveals how erroneous that description is. The Tea Party and the Republicans might agree on a great deal of policies (number 1: destroy Obama), but they are about as unified a party as oil and water. That’s not to suggest that gridlock hasn’t always existed in our government, but this is probably the first time in our nation’s history where such an impasse can only be broken by a majority of 1 party siding with the opposition party against their supposed allies.
Our political system is unbalanced right now and it’s a disaster.
While I believe it is important to maintain balance, I don’t think it’s something that requires concentrated effort to accomplish. We swing left and right, back and forth, and an equilibrium results, albeit one that never quite settles into stasis (which, I would argue, is vital for the continued growth of our society and species). History’s pendulum is a perpetual motion machine, the engine for all of our advancements.
We will never achieve a perfect middle ground, nor should that be our goal. Instead, we should continue to seek a society and world that allows room for opposition. I’m never going to be anything but a card-carrying Liberal, but that doesn’t mean I want Conservatives to be silenced. Quite the contrary, a nation built on nothing but unbridled liberalism sounds just as terrible as one built solely around conservatism. The promise of America has always been that it’s a land where the pendulum swings freely.
As long as that remains the case, consider me an optimist.