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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Optimism outdated in today’s world

    Youth of the past have been criticized by their elders for being optimists. These days, however, the complaint seems to be just the opposite. Some older folks are concerned about the skepticism of the younger generation. The starry-eyed youth have grown up, and they’re worried about their skeptical children. Not to be cynical, but optimism may be an outdated solution. The future presents unique challenges, and skepticism just might be the way forward.

    In the past, optimism was a more applicable mindset. Nazi fascism would have destroyed the world race by race if not for the fight put up by our plucky forebears. Communism’s back was eventually broken with a capitalist ideal that encouraged optimistic risk taking. The greatest generation and the one that followed had clearer goals, or, at least, goals that responded well to self-assured thinking. Ideologies were set, and the hard work came in following the ideology, not necessarily in shaping it.

    The problems the world faces now, and will likely face in the future, are a bit different. There is no Hitler, and no Soviet bear lurking the woods. China, our biggest potential rival, is also our largest trading partner. Terrorism, though horrifying, does not pose nearly the threat enemy armies once did. Politics are thoroughly broken, as the many partisan debacles since the debt ceiling indicate. The capitalist dreams of ordinary people left late last decade, perhaps never to return. In this environment, clarity is not something the upcoming generation will necessarily have.

    That is precisely why skepticism will serve us so well. The optimistic models, of trusting political figures or relying solely on our might to get us through, are starting to fail. New models and new ideologies are required to face the new problems. Skeptical attitudes about politics, economics and the world itself can act as the catalyst for creating them. At the very least, the older models clearly need a lot of work. Optimistic attitudes tend to suppress questioning. In optimistic times, ideologies are enshrined as doctrine, and any dissent is crushed in the name of keeping spirits sunny. Skepticism, however, is by definition about questioning. If everyone’s already pessimistic, there’s no harm in pointing out the flaws in ideas. This can help with situations in which ideologies clash, as well. If people are already skeptical about their own ideology, they are more willing to find points of compromise with others. Optimists of different stripes get gridlocked. Pessimists of all stripes tend to move toward the best solution, together. And that has the potential to create something that we can, cautiously, be optimistic about.

    Opponents of this line of reasoning might say such skepticism is overblown. There are honest politicians, there are successes in capitalism, etc. These things do indeed exist. So do lions who befriend human beings. But no matter how optimistic one is about finding such a lion, the wisest model of dealing with strange lions is to expect that they are predators. That, in essence, is the ideology of the skeptical generation. It will serve us well in the jungle of the modern world.

    — Andrew J. Conlogue is a junior studying philosophy, politics, economics and law. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions.

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