Saturday, June 7, 2008

Optimizing Optimism

Richard Heinberg asks some pregnant questions in How Do You Like the Collapse So Far? written for The Ecologist. Sometime back, while I was developing the themes of the Guide, I had to make a decision about whether optimism was important or just hogwash. I think it is necessary to give the gloomy part of the message, otherwise you sound like Pollyanna and nobody buys into your spiel when you get to the good stuff. What ultimately counts is the call to action, and the action has to be meaningful, alluring, and credible.

Nate Hagens makes an interesting point in this regard. He says that “An optimistic outlook actually is neurochemically self-fulfilling. Optimism leads to increased frontal cortical activity which itself is a strong predictor of idea generation, positive emotion and overall liveliness of thought. Similarly, sadness is marked by decreased activity in the frontal cortex, which has the negative side affect of reducing the number of overall thoughts and ideas produced."

Choosing strategies that will produce meaningful results is, as Heinberg observes, a spiritual path, involving discrimination and ethics. One must extend the time horizon of the analysis and do the "what if" conjecturing about scalability and unintended consequences. Then you have both a strategy and a practice, and it is the practice, day in, day out, that provides more and better ideas, satisfaction with your lot, and even joy.

Martin Luther probably never said "If I knew I was to die tomorrow, I would plant a tree today" but the sentiment is good.

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