Saturday, September 24, 2011

optimism list

I'm a sucker for memes and Tyler Cowen started another good one: the optimism list.
  1. I'm optimistic that information technology and sheer density of humanity will make it very hard to maintain walls. I'm optimistic about patent/copyright law and therefore innovation, immigration, the demise of dictatorships, information censorship, a decrease in war, etc. [Conversely, I'm pessimistic about mob mentality, the political culture, epidemics, and other well-known downsides to density...]
  2. Similarly, I'm optimistic that with increasing wealth and widespread English literacy will come increasing international mobility, and that with increasing mobility will come increasing competition between national governments, and that with this comes better policy. So long as no one has any more bright Eurozone++ meganational ideas...
  3. I'm optimistic that crazy and/or rich people will continue to do wonderful things even if governments do their best to disincentivize them and even  if it becomes difficult to enforce property rights in a way that incentivizes them. You only need one person to be convinced of the profitability of exploring Mars to get humans to Mars; you also only need one eccentric billionaire with an interest in Mars to get humans to Mars. [Conversely...well you can imagine.]
  4. I'm optimistic that there will be more and more rich (in money OR time) people doing wonderful things just because they want to and can (and because among 7 billion people, a tiny percentage goes a long way). I'm optimistic about economic growth and the developing world in general.
  5. I'm optimistic about the scarce resources that we depend on. The world isn't going to end when we deplete our oil reserves or the easily-accessible fresh water. Prices will adjust and innovation will occur. Likewise, I'm (less so, but more so than most...) optimistic about climate change, pollution, overpopulation, etc. [But, I'm very pessimistic about scarce resources that are considered by most to be expendable, or that have clear but indirect and uncapturable value, and that won't recur or be fixable once we realize what we've done. Save our national parks; protect biodiversity.]
  6. I'm pessimistic about mental health and the general adjustment to a modern lifestyle that is very foreign to our evolutionary roots. We will make ourselves crazy and miserable continuing to live in cubicles and sit at keyboards a majority of our waking hours, but the immediate incentives never lead away from this. I'm pessimistic that the long-term accepted solution is going to be pharmacological, in an inevitably flawed attempt to change human nature rather than our environment.
  7. I'm pessimistic about human nature and our mental limitations encountering a world that operates with many cognitive prerequisites, but optimistic about our ability to work around those limitations. (I'm also quite optimistic about the increasing level of self-knowledge, both as individuals and as a species, but pessimistic that even on its best day, self-knowledge can't trump self.)
  8. I'm pessimistic that, in a world run by the extroverted mafia majority, the transition away from [work-on-site / perpetual meetings and real-time collaboration / verbal, in-person communication / etc] workplace norms, as facilitated by information technology, will be slowed enough that my own career options will remain severely limited by an extreme aversion to these things...
  9. I'm optimistic that, as bad as things might get, there will still be rainbows, kittens and LaTeX.

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