Reasons for not losing hope

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

I am not an optimist. I don’t believe the arc of the universe bends toward justice. It bends toward entropy.  I often feel discouraged about the state of the world, and my own country, the USA, in particular, and I think I have good reason.

But I haven’t lost hope.  Optimism is the belief that success is inevitable in the long run.  Hope is the faith that failure is not inevitable.

What gives me hope is recalling all the things in the past that turned out better than I thought they would. This means it is possible that things in the present may turn out better than I think they would.  Not inevitable.  Possible.

Some examples of what I have in mind are:

  • The eclipse of racism.
  • The eclipse of famine
  • A healthier world
  • Doomsday deferred


The eclipse of racism.  I grew up in the USA of the 1940s.  This was a time when, throughout the former Confederate states, a white person could kill a black person with impunity.  Lynchings of black people were still a thing.  My parents, teachers and Sunday school teachers taught me that racism was wrong, but those who spoke against it were in the minority.

The heart of racism seemed to be the loathing and disgust felt by most white Americans, especially Southern white men, at the idea of a black man having sexual intercourse with a white women.  I wish I had a dollar for every time I was asked whether I would want one of them to marry my sister—often by people who knew me well enough to know that I didn’t have a sister.

It seemed to me, and to others, that the struggle for racial equality would take decades, and that acceptance of racial intermarriage might never occur at all.  But this proved wrong.  The civil rights revolution of the 1960s really was a revolution, a cultural revolution.  By the 1970s, black students at the University of Mississippi walked around arm-in-arm with their white girlfriends, and nobody said anything about it.

That’s not so say the civil rights revolution solved everything.  Racial prejudice still exists.  The old-time white-sheet racists have been marginalized, but they haven’t gone away.  The black community still has a lot of problems, not all of them directly related to racism.  And I happen to think that a lot of what’s called anti-racism nowadays is useless and even harmful.

Still, it is a mark of progress that we Americans are debating reparations and affirmative action rather than voting rights, racial segregation laws and lynchings.


The eclipse of famine.   As a boy and youth, I was influenced by books such as William Vogt’s Road to Survival (1948)and Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (1968).  They said most of the world was doomed to death by starvation because the number of people in the world (over 2 billion in 1948, 3.55 billion in 1968) exceeded the carrying capacity of the land.  I took this very seriously.

Neither author was a fool.  Both had plausible reasons for their beliefs.  But today the world is at 7.8 billion people, and, while there still are people who don’t get enough to eat, the people of the world on average are better fed than they were back then.

One reason is that a lot of people followed Vogt’s and Ehrlich’s advice and decided to limit the number of children they had.  The world’s fertility rate is declining worldwide, and is below the replacement rate in North American, Europe, Russia, China, Japan and many other countries.  Some countries these days are more worried about population decline than overpopulation.

Social scientists call this the “demographic transition.”  This happens when (1) families find they don’t need to have lot of children to assure that some survive, (2) cheap artificial birth control becomes available and (3) women are empowered to do other things with their lives besides have a lot of children.

Another reason is that scientists and farmers figured out how to grow larger and larger food crops.  A final reason that governments became more responsive to human needs.  People weren’t left to die just because they couldn’t afford to buy food, or because a dictator didn’t care whether they lived or died.

All these things could change, of course.  The world’s population could exceed its carrying capacity before the demographic transition is completed.  Catastrophic global climate change could ruin food production.  But so far the worst hasn’t happened.


A healthier world.  During my lifetime, life expectancy has increased, infant mortality rates have declined and many diseases have been conquered.  I am older than my parents or grandparents lived to be.

What is especially encouraging is the progress in places such as Costa Rica and the Indian state of Kerala without the huge consumption of natural resources typical of the USA.  

All this has been reported by the late Hans Rosling’s Gapminder videos and Max Roser’s Our World in Data site.   The improvement has happened behind my back, so to speak.

Both Gapminder and Our World in Data rely on official sources and may make things appear rosier than they are, but even so, the improvement can’t be denied. 

I am disturbed that life expectancy here in the USA has declined in the past few years, but that is because I have come to take it for granted that life expectancy should be higher every year than it was the year before.

I am indignant at the inadequate U.S. response to the Covid pandemic, but that is because of the history of success in fighting infectious diseases.  During the Great Influenza of 1918, the best physicians and scientists were at a loss to stem the spread of the disease.

Many of our chronic health problems in the USA are due to addiction, unhealthy diets, lack of exercise and other lifestyle reasons.  I don’t make light of them.  But we suffer less from infectious and parasitic disease, contaminated food supplies and incurable infectious diseases than earlier generations do.


Doomsday deferred.  My lifetime encompasses the beginning and end of the Cold War between the USA and the USSR and their allies.  I never expected it to end until it did.

I never expected the Soviet Union to voluntarily liberate its satellite states in Eastern Europe.  I never expected disarmament agreements that resulted in actual reduction of the danger of nuclear war.  I never expected Russia to relinquish territories it had controlled since the days of the Russian Empire.  But all these things were accomplished by wise American and Soviet statesmen.

Sadly, all these positive changes are being rolled back.  A new Cold War has begun.  At the present moment war between Russia and the USA seems like a real possibility.    But what was achieved once can be achieved again.


My outlook is shaped by the fact that I am a US American, a nation whose history is based more on justified optimism than on defiant hope.  There’s a serious question as to whether we can change from one to the other, if we have to.

I feel discouraged about the present state of affairs in my country.  On the one hand, we Americans are divided against each other; on the other, there is a bipartisan consensus that supports Wall Street and the military-industrial complex.

For the past decade, all the U.S. protests against oligarchy and war have been squelched.  But I think there is a growing understanding that things cannot go on as they are.  Whether change will be for the better or for the worse, I don’t know.

I remember some of my parents’ favorite sayings.  “Where there’s life, there’s hope.”  “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”  Or as certain European philosophers put it, “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will!”  I take hope in the fact that the future is unknowable.


Americans say the U.S. in 2050 will be worse off in many ways by John Gramlich for Pew Research.

Where Are Young People Most Optimistic?  In Poorer Nations by Claire Cain Miller and Alicia Parlepiano for The New York Times.

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3 Responses to “Reasons for not losing hope”

  1. silverapplequeen Says:

    When I moved to Niagara County in 1999, I was called a “nigger-lover” for saying that black people had the same rights as white people. I couldn’t believe my ears. There are still a LOT of people who have these views. In 2020, a friend of mine was calling black people “animals”. I know people who think black men have no right to white women AT ALL. If things have changed, they have changed in very superficial ways.

    I don’t think anything ever truly changes. Like the saying goes, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. This is very true.

    I know people who have gotten sober & everyone will say, “He/she has really changed!” but when push comes to shove, all that person did was quit drinking. Usually, they’re the same person they were when they were drinking … they’re just not drunk anymore. This is true with everything else in life.

    Superficial changes. The only real change I can see is the climate change that is really wrecking havoc.


  2. Andy Says:

    Someone once asked me if I would want a black man dating my daughter. I was in my early 20s and did not have a daughter, but I told her I would be more concerned if my daughter was dating an asshole.


  3. Andy Says:

    By the way, wordpress suggested your post because it was similar to my latest. Smart app. I like your faith that failure is not inevitable. I’m not always optimistic myself, but I like to stay positive.


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