Saturday, April 16, 2016

Two Wolves

I was invited to speak before a meeting of the MatSu Democrats at their monthly Egan Dinner in Palmer, Alaska. This is an approximate transcript of my comments.


…your Earth was crumbling all around you. You've got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation! Explain that one! Bees and butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, algae blooms. All around you the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you. Won't. Take. The. Hint!

In every moment there exists the possibility of a better future, but you people won't believe it. And because you won't believe it you won't do what is necessary to make it a reality. So, you dwell on this terrible future. You resign yourselves to it for one reason, because that future does not ask anything of you today.
      - Governor Nix, Tomorrowland, Walt Disney Pictures, 2015

One of my  favorite movies last year was Disney’s Tomorrowland.

This is exactly the kind of movie I enjoy. I’ve watched it a dozen times. I love it. I love everything about it.

It’s on old fashioned Disney film, the kind I grew up with, the kind old Walt himself would have dearly loved.

On the surface, Tomorrowland seems to be a lighthearted romp across time and space where the bad guys aren’t really all that evil and the good guys are quirky smart kids who manage to save the day with equal parts pluck, ingenuity, and courage. Also there are robots. The brilliant young stars, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Pierce Gagnon, and Thomas Robinson, easily hold their own on screen against larger than life veterans George Clooney and Hugh Laurie – and that’s an impressive feat indeed.  

But, underneath?

Underneath Tomorrowland is a pointed examination of an America that that has become jaded and tired and bitter and lost the ability to dream of a better future.

Ultimately, Tomorrowland is about love and hope and above all, optimism.


Yeah, right.

Old fashioned Disney optimism in an age of dystopian teen flicks and bleak dark movies of war and conflict? That was the movie’s one unforgivable sin. They should have stuck with pirates. Everybody loves pirates.

Naturally the critics hated Tomorrowland.

Strip Tomorrowland down to its essentials, and you get an ending out of "I'd like to teach the world to sing" and a moral which boils down to: Just be positive, OK? So OK. I'm positive Tomorrowland was a disappointment.
- Stephen Whitty, Newark Star-Ledger 1.5 Stars out of 4

Predictably it bombed in theaters.

Yes, the two bad guys of the movie were bitter, angry white men. The rest of the film was mostly women and a wide range of races. The entire final montage, where they seemed to be collecting people to rescue the world of the future included no white males (I believe). In a painful exercise of political correctness they had Asian artists and African tribesman who were going to save the future.
- Comment Forum, Internet Movie Database

But the most telling comments were ones like this.

The annoying “smart” girl at the beginning of the movie says she's an optimist and it just went down hill [sic] from there. It's nothing but another liberal propaganda movie about saving the planet.

The word “propaganda” appears often in internet comments describing Tomorrowland, followed a close second by “liberal.”


When was it, exactly, that optimism became a bad thing?


When did belief in a better future and the willingness to do the things necessary to make that future a reality become something Americans sneer at and dismiss as propaganda?

When was it that optimism became a liberal ideal?

We used to believe in optimism, we Americans, most of us anyway.

America was literally founded on the idea of a better future. It’s right there in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America, “…in order to form a more perfect union… ” and if that’s not optimism, I don’t know what is.

You don’t fight for freedom from tyranny if you’re not an optimist.

You don’t tell the nation that the only thing to fear is fear itself if you’re not an optimist, if you don’t believe in a better future.

You don’t take to the streets demanding freedom, the right to vote, civil rights, or to rail against the war (whichever war), or to rally America to battle (whichever battle), unless you optimistically believe you can change the world for the better.

For most of our history, optimism wasn’t some silly liberal idea, it was an American idea.

Sure it was.

The movie Tomorrowland begins with young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) at the 1964 World's Fair and this is no coincidence.

The 1964 World World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York, was the very epitome of optimism. It’s where Disney’s Tomorrowland was born. Fifty-eight nations came together in Queens to build 650 acres of technology and innovation under the Unisphere.  Fifty-one million people from all over the world came to see the future as envisioned by General Electric, Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, IBM, Bell Telephone, US Steel, Pepsi Cola, Dupont, RCA, Westinghouse, and Walt Disney. The motto of the fair was “Peace through understanding” – less than two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis nearly ended civilization.

That’s optimism indeed.

The Unisphere still stands in Flushing Meadows to this very day, a testament to innovation and technology, to a time when human beings of courage and vision came together to build a better future. Three years before the fair opened the first American flew in space, five years after the fair closed, men walked on the moon.

That fair was famous. It's still famous as a moment in history when we truly believed.

And that wasn’t the first time. 

Thirty years earlier, on the eve of world war, forty-four million people from all over the world gathered in Flushing Meadows for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The theme of that fair was “Dawn of a New Day” and the world of tomorrow:

The eyes of the Fair are on the future — not in the sense of peering toward the unknown nor attempting to foretell the events of tomorrow and the shape of things to come, but in the sense of presenting a new and clearer view of today in preparation for tomorrow; a view of the forces and ideas that prevail as well as the machines.

To its visitors the Fair will say: "Here are the materials, ideas, and forces at work in our world. These are the tools with which the World of Tomorrow must be made. They are all interesting and much effort has been expended to lay them before you in an interesting way. Familiarity with today is the best preparation for the future.

Beginning in 1851 in France and continuing into the late 1970s, the world’s fairs were about optimism.  The theme was always about innovation and vision. About building a better future. About the world of tomorrow.

But then, somewhere in the 1980's, in the post-Vietnam malaise, at the height of the Cold War when superpowers rattled their sabers and the world could end at any moment in nuclear fire – and nearly did more than once – optimism fell out of fashion. Somehow the world of tomorrow became a liberal hippy ideal to be sneered at and dismissed as na├»ve and old fashioned and unsuited to a bitter and jaded America.

And the world fairs became Expositions of nation branding instead of celebrations of a brighter future. And now? Nobody remembers them at all.

That's a reflection of our world, an America where over the last three decades we've become a nation of bitter pessimists and a people who embrace the terrible future. Who resign themselves to that future, the one of disaster and ruin, because it’s easy. We hope for it. We pray for it. We stock our basement arsenals and dream of a day when we’ll get to live on cold canned hash and use those weapons on our neighbors.

That's the entire message of people like Donald Trump. It is. "Make America Great again" only resonates with people who believe the future is a terrible place and that everything is going straight to hell. It’s a message that only appeals to those who sneered in contempt at “Hope and Change.”

That’s the pessimistic message of America’s largest religion, Ted Cruz’s God. The End Times, Armageddon, fire and brimstone. Salvation by force, under threat of eternal damnation. Everything ends the same way in this religion: Gay people get married? Their god will destroy us all. Trans people can use a bathroom? Death from the sky! Women control their own bodies? Damnation from upon high! Peace treaty with Iran? End of freedom! And so on and on and on. That’s the punchline to every joke with these people, death and ruin and God’s wrath.

Somehow, that bitter defeatist frightened message has become the entire Republican platform. Woe. Doom. Misery. War. Pessimism. You better watch out or God will kill us all!

Everything is a worst case scenario with these people.

From Ebola to the End Times, it’s an endless litany detailing a terrible future. They dwell on it. And they resign themselves to it for one reason, because it’s easy, because that terrible future doesn’t ask anything of them today.

When is the last time you heard one of these people speak of Tomorrowland? That bright shining optimistic future, that better world, the one we ourselves can create now if we only had the will and determination?

It's not just limited to conservatives.

Somehow, over the last few decades, we’ve allowed the pessimists to define the narrative.

Take this last Thursday’s Democratic debate. What stood out? What was the takeaway?

Minimum wage.

That's about the only thing I remember from the Democratic debate. Minimum wage.

Clinton and Sanders arguing over making the Minimum Wage into a Living Wage. What’s wrong with that? Nothing. And everything.

Bear with me for a minute.

Opponents of raising the minimum wage, Wall Street, conservative business owners, Republican politicians, say that minimum wage was never intended to be a living wage (it actually was, but there are damned few places in America you could live on it, even if you worked 60 hours a week). Rather, they say, it was intended for entry-level jobs, burger-flippers and toilet scrubbers and convenience store cashiers. The idea of the so-called American dream is you start out at the bottom, changing the sheets in one of Trump's hotels say, and work your way up until one day you own the casino and can hire a bunch of maids of your own.

This is the very cornerstone of American capitalism.

This is the green beating heart of trickle-down economics. 

In fact, for conservatives it doesn’t go far enough. A number of prominent conservatives have advocated elimination of the minimum wage altogether. The logic being if business can pay employees less they'll hire more employees, Reaganomics in action, and a low wage will incentivize those dull proletarians at the bottom of the heap to better themselves, to move up to better paying jobs, ones that do pay a living wage, instead of being content at the bottom of the ladder. Those that don't? Well, that’s their problem, they had their opportunity same as everybody else.

Except over the last years all those good jobs what pay an actual living wage?

Yeah, the same sons of bitches who floated this Dickensian Utopia have been sending all of those jobs to Mexico and India and China and Bangladesh where they can get away with paying actual slave wages.

Then they moved their Headquarters to the Caribbean so they could avoid paying taxes on the resulting profits.

And so, here we are, arguing over the minimum wage, because those are the only jobs left.

That’s what Clinton and Sanders should have been talking about on that stage. The deliberate and systematic and ongoing loss of opportunity, the fact that we’ve actually accepted that as not only the status quo but the future, so much so that we’re reduced to quibbling over a miserable $3 at the bottom end of the scale.

Yes, I know this is a large part of the substance of Sanders’ campaign. But I’m not talking about his campaign, I’m talking about the national narrative as reflected in the substance and format of our political debates on both sides of the aisle.

We’ve settled.

We’ve resigned ourselves to a future of minimum wage, to a dull gray proletariat ruled over by fabulously wealthy oligarchs.

You see it all around you.

You live in a nation that incentivizes business and industry to pay slave wages overseas instead of building Tomorrowland right here.

You live in a nation where we’d rather put our kids into charter schools instead of fixing public education for all.

You live in a nation where we’d rather pay farmers not to grow food instead of feeding the hungry or employing people and paying them enough to feed themselves.

You live in a nation where a significant fraction of people would rather buy guns and build bunkers and pray for the end of the world instead of building a better future right now where those things are unnecessary.


Because that terrible future doesn’t ask one damned thing of us today.

In every moment there exists the possibility of a better future, but you have to believe in it.  You have to believe in Tomorrowland. You have to believe optimism is an American trait.

And then you have to do the things necessary to make that better future a reality.

They’re out there, you know. The dreamers. The optimists. The ones  working every single day to literally build Tomorrowland. 

Last week something amazing happened: a robot spaceship successfully landed on a robot ship at sea.

An incredible technological feat – but for many it was just a stunt, they have no idea of the larger picture. Because they don’t believe.

You see, Elon Musk, the man behind SpaceX and that landing, he wants to go to Mars.

And not just go to Mars, he wants to build Tomorrowland there.

And if SpaceX can land a rocket on a barge in the middle of the ocean, they can land a ship anywhere. Including Mars. What Musk has here is the basis of a transportation system that can fly men and machines anywhere on the globe in a matter of minutes – any globe, especially one like Mars with a surface gravity one third that of earth. What Musk has is the first step in a system that can loft the parts needed to build the ships that will go to another world and land human beings and cargo there safely. More, Musk’s Tesla company is building high performance cars that can go hundreds of miles on a charge. And that same battery system can be rapidly recharged from a variety of sources. More, that same battery can be installed in a Tesla Power Wall and used to power a house, or stacked in series to run much bigger installations. And then there’s SolarCity, Elon Musk’s pioneering company dedicated to sustainable solar power systems – like the kind you’d need on Mars to charge those Tesla power packs, which in turn can be used to distill rocket fuel from native Martian resources to power those rockets. The rest is just details.

What Musk has is literally the basis of Tomorrowland, a new human civilization on another world.

Elon Musk is one man.

One man of vision and daring and courage and optimism for a better future. A single man who gathered around him those of similar vision and determination, SpaceX, Tesla, SolarCity, and they are literally building that better future right now.

That’s what that rocket landing last week meant. Tomorrowland.

Imagine a nation of such people.

Imagine a nation of optimists.

Imagine a nation of people who believe in that better future instead of the terrible one.

Imagine a nation of people who are willing to make that future a reality.

There was a time when Americans believed in Tomorrowland. Some of us still do. And it is our duty as citizens to be optimists. To do the things necessary to make that future a reality.

Pessimists don't build starships.

If you want a better nation, be better citizens.


A young Cherokee boy came to his grandfather, angry at a friend who had done him an injustice, and asked for advice. 

"Let me tell you a story,” offered the grandfather. “I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times. It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.  But the other wolf, ah! He is full of anger! The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing. Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit."

The boy asked, "Which one wins, Grandfather?"

"The one I feed."
   - The Wolves Within, often attributed to oral history of the Cherokee people
      (edit: the origin of the story is vague, it may or may not be native American)


  1. Thank you. My optimism has been called naive, stupid, even dangerous. But I still want to believe that we can have an amazing future!

    1. Yep. I hear about how I'm weird and stupid all the time for my optimism. Which may be true in America, where pessimism is tagged as realistic and the worst case scenario is the ONLY scenario savvy people see.

  2. Well said. I felt exactly the same about Tomorrowland. I'll be 60 years old this year, and I cried during the movie, because I too feel like we have given up on the future. How can this have happened to the greatest society in history?

  3. This literally took my breath away! Astoundingly good........and really should be a must-read for every American.
    Thank you, Jim Wright!

  4. I've always loved your posts, but this one truly cuts to the quick of it. Thank you.

  5. I'm torn between the idea of engaging more and tuning out altogether, mostly due to the relentless cynicism that infests our modern society. Not simple sarcastic responses I use in commentary about the news of the day, but that true, deep-seated cynicism that turns hope into something to be sneered at. And even when I try to focus on things that inspire or motivate me, it's impossible to avoid the talking heads on ALL sides who find it more convenient or lucrative to push down ideas, substituting their witless commentary for discourse.

    Thank you, Jim, for reminding me that by feeding my good wolf, I can raise myself and others out of the morass.

  6. I went to that World's Fair, at least three times. We were part of the performance.

  7. I am sharing this one with everyone I know! Fantastic writing again!

  8. Bruce Levine said, in "Get Up, Stand Up," "Without individual self-respect, people do not believe that they are worth of power or capable of utilizing power wisely, and they accept as their role being a subject of power. Without collective self-confidence, people do not believe they can succeed in wresting power away from their rulers."

    It's hard for people who feel powerless to dream period, much less dream about a bright future. Sure Elon Musk is doing wonderful things. A lot of other people who had his wealth likely would as well. And it's exciting to see how many young people are ignoring the naysayers and creating wonderful things like inventing a simple test for cancer and a machine that can suck up all the plastic clogging the oceans even without wealth.

    And now it's exciting to see people like me, who watched an earlier dream stomped down and tossed aside 50 years ago, waking up and seeing daylight, embracing the idea that there's still a chance of winning the fight. The trick is to make sure this time it doesn't get stomped on.

  9. Yes. This. I too am an optimist, and try to pass that on to my students. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I succeed. Many times I don't know what they take away from my course. But I hope.

  10. Beautifully written. Thank you.

    "You don't take to the streets..." use of American, should be America I think.

  11. I try and try, Mr. Wright. I try and I hope for the very best of our people, our country and our world. I just finished reading the book 'The Lost Symbol' and this post reminds me just of that. This is a beautiful example of that, what the Ancient mysteries are. I think it's that we've lost what it means to think and to think positively. To learn how to build, to create and that we get what our minds think. So much negative thought. So much of it has caused the world we live in now. I try and try to keep my thoughts positive, hopeful, giving because that opens me, us to our potential. It's to the extent that it's almost childish, the hope in me. Thank you for writing this. Beautiful and thoughtful as always and I will watch Tomorrowland soon. Peace and blessings.

  12. It's probably impossible to reduce the causes of out current pessimism down to a a single explanation, but I can throw out a few tributaries.

    First is the 24 hour news cycle. Bad news sells better than good news, probably for they very basic biological reason that humans are really really lousy at threat assessment. We overreact to threats and now we feel threatened all the time, frequently by events that have nothing to do with us. There's news of an Ebola outbreak in west Africa, and people in the US lose their minds about it. Is Ebola a deadly disease. Yes. Is it going to cause an epidemic in the US. No. Still we end up with a nurse in quarantine, and politicians fanning the flames of fear because they know damned well it's a good way to shut down opposition.

    Second is the elevation of safety as an all consuming priority. This is partially a result of the 24 hour fear cycle, but its also a thing on its own. Everything must be made safe. Playground equipment for children must be rendered so safe as to be indistinguishable from the packing material it came in. Children must never be allowed to explore the world without a parent holding their hand. This safety obsession is antithetical to risk taking which is necessary for great optimism.

    Third is protectionism. The oligarchs who control most of the worlds wealth want to make damned sure they continue controlling the worlds wealth. They don't want to risk even the tiniest fraction of their wealth, nor do they want anyone else to surpass them. They are therefore the absolute defenders of the status quo. No change is good for them, and therefore all change is bad.

    1. There is also the decades of having our dreams for ourselves and the world suppressed, of slaving away in meaningless jobs just to get by. It tears at the soul and deadens hope. I've fought against pessimism for over 50 years now; I'm a tired warrior.

  13. Thank you for reminding those of us that are optimists that we are not alone, and that despite their efforts, they (the pessimists) will not succeed.

  14. I have one of these lines typed up and taped to my computer monitor, because it resonated with me so deeply. You said it a while back and I'm so glad you included it in this talk. "Pessimists don't build starships." Yeah. That right there, goddamn.

  15. Absolutely a fantastic essay. We need more people to buy into this.

  16. Jim, I love all your posts, but this is the best one in a while. I've no pithy comment to make, just want to say thank you for articulating so well the necessity of that coupling of hope and confidence -or maybe surety of purpose- that has driven humanity since the first group of proto farmers planted their first seeds. Well said, Chief.

  17. I've always admired the hippies for their optimism, but maybe it was wider than that.
    Perhaps the feeling of Hunter S Thompsons quote also has wider applicability.

    "It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era — the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run... but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant...

    There was madness in any direction, at any hour. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning...

    And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply PREVAIL. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave...

    So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high water mark — that place where the wave finally broke, and rolled back."

  18. I have mixed feelings about the minimum wage debate. While I agree it needs to be raised, I feel they want too much too soon while missing some key points.

    1) More a rant than anything, but I never hear anything about minors. Ever. These little shits have way too many restrictions on when and where they can work, WITHOUT even getting into school activities and the like. prom, homecoming, sports, school plays, they generally need so much time off that you need to hire 3 kids to hope that one can work any given shift.

    Teens in high school are only rarely worth $15.

    2) Too much too soon. Normally I don't subscribe to the 'higher wage=less jobs' theory, but when you talk about doubling labor costs in a mere 4-6 years, I begin to think they are on to something. The owner of a restaurant I used to work at commented that she operated in the hole by a good margin just in labor costs in winter; that she relied on a busy summer, on a busy friday, just to make up the shortfall. Should her business collapse? lessen her operating hours? I don't feel comfortable saying anything more, but it did get me thinking about my third point.

    3) Raise taxes across the board. Every business in the US has their tax burden increased by, oh let's say 30%. Sounds like a terrible plan, right?

    Part of the problem is people are working multiple jobs because each one doesn't want their employees working a full 40 hours. So you give businesses a tax credit for each full time worker they have under their employ, with a target of effectively cutting their current tax burden by 10% if they have 3/4ths of their employees working full time.

    Numbers are out of my ass, and there would have to be a minimum employee count, and likely a provision for seasonal businesses. but it's a start?

    1. Unfortunately, "teens in h.s." don't have the entrylevel jobs - grownups are faced with family and home at these jobs.
      ¿ThirtyPerCentTax on one year of $20million? On $200K speeches?

  19. Sometimes (back when I was a libertarian cultist) I would have visions of myself astride a horse. Clad in light armor and armed with a bow, I would ride with the Mongol hordes to take what we wanted and not ask for it, trade for it. That was the future as I saw it then. Not some hopeful improvement, but the freedom from the constraints of law and society to be able to exact vengeance on those people who *need killing*.

    I still feel that anger, that need to have vengeance on those who have wronged me over my life. I just don't feed that wolf anymore. I don't have the strength left to waste on self-destructive pursuits. Thanks for this, Jim.

    1. I expanded on it a bit for Facebook https://www.facebook.com/r.anthony.steele/posts/10154277376101178 hell, I may incorporate some variation of it into a similar blog entry I've been working on for 6 months if I ever get around to publishing it.

  20. Thank you Jim a call to action. We have some serious infrastructure repair and creation needed but I agree the money funding the MIC could be put to a better use, technology dedicated to cleaning the earth and moving industry into orbit and opening up a new planet for room to breathe. The challenges are there just need the political will to be the nation we could be.

  21. My husband and I are discussing how to replace my current car. Ten minutes before I read this article, I told him the wolf story and told him I wanted a "Pius" so that I could feed the hybrid wolf.

    1. Exactly my view: don't look for the best deal, look for the right place to put your dollar vote.

  22. and once again, I finish reading one of your posts, and go looking for my dragon, my workbench, and my stack of books. every time I post one of your blog entries, I tell my friends "This is Jim's best ever !" and I think I'm correct in that . essay by essay, each time you write, your light shines a bit brighter You are approaching nova status in light output. Well said, Jim, well said; and thanks

  23. My 60th birthday is looming and with each passing year I fear I become more and more cynical. I detest 'motivational' posters, roll my eyes at the people who see the world through rose-colored glasses, stifle a groan when a coworker refuses to see anything but the most positive outcome of a project. But I would argue that my cynicism is not a result of my own loss of optimism but born from the experiences where time and time again people have chosen the path of least resistance rather than expend the time, energy and sometimes monetary capital needed to aim for the stars. This blog reminds me of a discussion I had with my then elderly father about the caste system that appears prevalent in the workforce. While arguing that the highly compensated salespeople in my workplace at the time would be nowhere without the very (in my opinion) poorly compensated field technician providing the service that builds our company's reputation, that derided statement, 'it's not fair', dared to leave my lips. Of course, my father immediately retorted that life isn't fair. My reply? 'Yes, life isn't always fair, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to make it as fair as possible whenever we can.' Dad chuckled at my naievete. How many times has that phrase 'life isn't fair' been used as an excuse to accept the status quo? My cynicism doesn't come from a lack of optimism, but from the realistic expectations of people.

    1. I am 62 tomorrow and I can really relate to this. I was also a salesman with a Ph.D. so I knew what it was like to be a field technician. When I saw the poor deals the field technician got when installing gear that I had sold in America - I got the management to even things up a bit. It still wasn't fair - but the gap had been lessened. So if the next sales guy to come along after me did the same, then maybe it would end up being fair in the end :)

    2. Exactly what you said, even down to the looming 60th. I know life isn't fair but, being saddled with a naturally oversize sense of fairness and justice, I still find it difficult to stomach HOW unfair it really is. I suppose this would account for my conspicuous lack of optimism which is worsened by the relentless stream of bad news from all sides 24/7. I can't even watch the news any more. I see a nation that worships celebrity and fame and money instead of caring about their fellow man, their planet, and their own efforts to make something, anything better. I know there are a lot of good people, optimistic people out there but no matter how much I would like to, I can't bring myself to be more than cautiously optimistic on rare occasions. I hope more than I believe, in other words. Thank heavens for people like Elon Musk and the other innovators of all ages who ARE looking to the future, positive that they can make it like Tomorrowland. My pessimism also has roots in the job I must endure and the attitudes of everyday people who, as pointed out, make NO effort to look past their own self-involvement and leave the consequences of their attitudes for someone else to sort out. I think the idea of being an optimistic nation is a nice one but it would be a long turnaround to get this splintered, divisive, STUPIDLY delusional country to be as it once was.

    3. There is nothing more fair than life. Everyone is born, everyone lives, everyone dies.

  24. I have always said the change came from Reagan. Be fore him we were a nation who made small sacrifices for long term gains, celebrated & rewarded achievement. Ronald Reagan changed us to a nation of Long term sacrifice for short term gains and rewarding failure with golden parachutes. It started with Regan, it Must end with Us.

    1. I agree with you! I felt it at the time, but was not able to express it as succinctly as that. Thank you.

    2. Either Reagan or Nixon...

  25. I live in WV. The Republicans gained control of the Legislature last year and spend both sessions trying to claw us back to the 1900's. They are doing a full ALEC on us. The Senate Speaker went the ALEC conference and was probably hailed as a conquering hero. One of the first bills he got passed was one to ban Tesla's sales model in the state (surprise, he is a car dealer). They are still stuck on the notion that the State must support the coal industry (read coal bosses) no matter what. Coal, of course, is a dying sector -- and not because of Obama, rather because of competition from natural gas and a lack of easily minable coal

    The local astro turf branch of the Coal Owners Association called "Friends of Coal" (like friend of the library or symphony I guess) ran a jingle "Coal is West Virginia" which penetrated the psyche of the state.

    They also passed a law allowing unlicensed concealed-carry, so now you don't know if the gubber with a pistol in his pocket even knows the basics on gun safety.

    It's all doom and gloom.

    1. It's not all doom and gloom. Where do you think Homer Hickam and the Rocket Boys came from?

      Just remember that a bunch of high school kids from a coal mining town back in the '50s won a national science fair with an amateur rocketry exhibit. It happened once before, and it could happen again - I wouldn't be so quick to write off West Virginia.

  26. Right before you started on Elon Musk I was thinking of him. The world needs both kinds of people but it's these times when the quiet consistent beat of optomistic progress is drowned out by the wailing chicken littles of the world we need to make a conscious effort to feed our better wolf.

    Widespread apocalyptic fear is perhaps a uniquly American construct, being an British expat I never expected to grow into it, but for a while I found my bug in peak oil.. and built an electric truck. You see a future, you go for it.

    Really great piece.

  27. I just graduated from nursing school at the ripe young age of 51 and have just started on my first job. It's all new and exciting for me but I keep running into other nurses who are just burned out or something. One of them was yelling at a patient I just had the day before. My patient was in tears, asking for a pain med and the grouchy nurse yells into the room that it wan't time yet. I peeked and found the bitch was lying, so I offered to help out with the afternoon meds and got the patient two freakin Tylenols. (was that so fucking hard?) This nurse has only been working at my place 3 weeks longer than me, and it's obvious which wolf she feeds. She isn't the only one. I don't know what it is about the culture of the profession, but a lot of my colleagues have forgotten why they studied so hard all those years.

  28. I'd add that this hatred of optimism is gradually turning the US into a humorless paranoid who regards the rest of the world as either a place to be bombed or as a bunch of foreigners to be lectured at. The idea that we could work together with other countries on major problems facing the world, and inspire by example, seems to trigger nothing but anger and contempt from much of the GOP base. No wonder their idea of progress is a large wall! What worries me is that a society that wants to build a wall is one that thinks its problems are only coming from outside.

  29. People talk of the "Greatest Generation" and wax nostalgic about all the great things they accomplished. It seems to me that, at the core, the "greatness" was just that they were willing to put aside their differences and work together for the common good. Once they saw how much they could accomplish in winning WWII it was a no-brainer to just keep going. Success begat success and it was easy to be optimistic. I don't know how we got derailed from that mindset and turned into the every-man-for-himself society we have now, but I sure wish we could get back to what we had before.

    1. IMHO we got there following Ronald Reagan like a heard of lemmings...well, not all of us, but the great majority.....

  30. Is it any wonder that optimism is hard to find? It has been buried by worries that you wont' be able to feed your family and fear your children will be shot. We poison our children in Flint and no one pays.
    Those in power think only of maintaining their own power in the here and now. So they cut funding for education, eliminating science and discourse from the curriculum and on the whole ignore the needs of the next generation.

    We incarcerate a higher percentage of our population than any other civilized country for minor crimes and allow those who perpetrate crimes against the greater community to go free. Prisons have been made into a profit-making industry. They then eliminate inmate training programs and post-release support to ensure recidivism. Turning the prison gates into a revolving door ensuring more profits.
    We elect people to represent us in Washington that squabble like 5 year old children and shut down the government when they cannot get their way.

    And just when you think things cannot get worse people want to nominate a failed billionaire 'reality' show star to represent of our country to the rest of the world. Come to think of it maybe a self-centered, bankrupt, former television entertainer who continually demonstrates his lack of intellectual capacity and inability to control his emotions as well as his general disdain of other people is exactly the representative of what a segment of our country has become.

  31. Mr. Wright. You have a remarkable ability to weave a story into a compelling life lesson. THIS is one of your finest, maybe your most important ever. It is indeed very hard to be optimistic these days, but it is exactly what we need to be.

    As I have seen the current crop of progressives tearing into each other rather than comparing and contrasting their ideas about accomplishing the most critical changes needed, including reaching consensus on which issues those are, I have become very jaded about the chances of the democrats overcoming the asinine, dark, forces unleashed by the right wing toadies.

    Thank you for elevating the the thought process and helping me see the bigger picture. There are reasons for being optimistic, and you are one of those!

  32. Dream like an optimist, plan like a pessimist.

  33. Can I stand up and cheer? This needs to be shared as widely as possible. I'm definitely sharing it among my conservative friends. Thank you. Well said.

  34. Jim, I think that you would be wonderful at turning one (or more) of your essays into a TED talk. Yes, maybe they wouldn't reach all of those who really could use your point of view, but more people could benefit from your insight and experience. I will always be an optimist, even when I have to drag myself to it...I sometimes say that I can find a silver lining, even if I have to polish until the shine comes through. Thank you for your words.

  35. "The one I feed." Signed: Former Fox News Viewer.

  36. Precisely - optimism *IS* an American value. Indeed, I'd say it's a hallmark of our identity. And yes - it *is* a Civic Duty to be optimistic. But tha requires courage and fortitude and a willingness to foergo instant pre-masticated gratification.

    This essay is precisely what all of our sci-fi and fantasy writers ought to have tattoed into the inside of their eyeballs. We used to write optimistic sci-fi and fantasy. Now we don't - it's all dystopian. And our world is reflecting it.

    How far in advance do you need to be booked for keynote speakers gigs at writers' conferences? How much do you need to be paid? I'm going to send this essay to the Board and Planning Committee for the Terroir Creative Writing Festival in McMinnville, OR and strongly suggest they book you as a keynote speaker for 2017.

    You can see the FB for that festival here https://www.facebook.com/TerroirCreativeWritingFestival/?fref=ts

    and the website for the Arts Alliance of Yamhill County who sponsors it here


    I just attended it today, so they'll begin planning phase for April 2017 in a couple of months.

    Best Regards,

  37. I would like to know when we became such a fearful people anyway? A couple weeks ago, I went to Norfolk and I saw a tiny fraction of our Navy there. It was impressive to say the least and I got to thinking, we had more sitting there in Norfolk that most countries have period. Yet we are afraid of a bunch of Muslims.

  38. Wish I could've been in Alaska to hear you deliver this speech! Did someone capture it on video?

  39. Jim, I've been reading you for a couple of years now (ever since I stumbled over the legendary "America" essay) but I've never felt motivated to comment before.

    Just wanted to say that while you necessarily write from an American viewpoint, a great deal of what you say applies to our situation over here in the UK. Which I why I posted a link to this on my Facebook page.

    Thanks for saying out loud what a lot of us struggle to articulate

    1. Ditto Australia.

      Stonekettle speaks truth the whole Western world (maybe beyond) needs to hear.

  40. Jim.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you. This has been one of my most re-watched movies since it came out. We went to see it on 7/7/2015. When the movie opened, and young Frank went to the World's Fair, I sat straight up in the theater... You see, 50 years ago the day before: 7/6/1965 I was at the NY Worlds Fair for my 5th birthday. whoooooah. We got out of the movie, and told my wife and oldest daughter "Elon Musk has a pin". The very end of the movie, when all the people were getting pins, I was in tears. I think that Bono may also have a pin.. reminds me of the young lady planting the tree in Haiti, or the naturalist with the African animals in the preserve. I try to feed the right wolf, but boy, it can be difficult.

    1. I wish I recall the exact date I went to the NY World's Fair - but it may have been around my birthday (four days after yours, and I know it was in 1965 when my mother and I went). Now I intend to get Tomorrowland ASAP - to the top of my Netflix queue!! :-D (I do recall that the main reason my mother wanted to go was to watch The Parable film.)

    2. Hey! I was there too, just turned 7. An amazing adventure, and one I have never forgotten.
      Pins. What a great idea.

      Thanks, Jim.

    3. I was 10 and remember seeing the Pieta, and the General Motors pavillion. I also got a plastic dinosaur from a machine that molded them and you could see the process through a window into the machine. I think the Sinclair Oil Company was behind that.

  41. I love that movie. And in my own small way, I'm working toward a better tomorrow. I am a scoutmaster in the Baden-Powell Service Association, teaching girls and boys resilience, problem-solving, and teamwork.

    I, too, am an optimist.

  42. One typo, I think. "Underneath Tomorrowland is a pointed examination of an America that that has become ..." (only one "that"???)

    Otherwise, excellent. I want to live in an optimistic America again.

  43. So you said those things at the meeting. What was the response? That's the most interesting part of this tale :)
    (A good speech by the way)

  44. Jim, thank you for giving me some amazing fodder for my ongoing journey into my psyche!

    I used to be an optimist, at least on the outside. I believed in the good in people, I took up causes, marched in the streets, put myself out there for my beliefs, etc.

    But I was feeding the angry wolf. If you didn't agree with me, you were stupid and bad, and I would fight and argue with you all day long.

    And on the inside? I was a pessimist. I knew I'd never make deep connections, never find love, never be good at anything. Even when I did manage to connect with people, I knew they'd figure out my flaws and reject me eventually. Typical pessimistic insecurity.

    Then life happened. Things got in the way of the outside optimism. The world didn't change as much as I wanted it to. Paying the bills became more important. Too many people told me I needed to grow up, and praised me for doing so. I kept up (some of) the beliefs and the talk, but was met with sarcastic put-downs ("Really? After all this time you *still* think that way? How cute!"), and so I stopped walking the walk. I became cynical, a pessimist through and through.

    As I lost the optimism, I blamed the world for not changing and for changing me, blamed myself for giving in, and that all fed the angry wolf even more.

    On the inside, the pessimism remained.

    Lately, thanks to some major life changes, I have started looking at the world differently. I have started learning that the only person I can change is myself, and the only person who is responsible for me is me. I am starting to realize that I can feed the good wolf.

    When I remember to do that, I am calmer, happier, and more optimistic. On the inside *and* the outside.

  45. I'm not following your logic. Optimism can be misplaced either when actions don't support the vision or through sheer folly. Certainly there was reason for optimism in '64. IBM, GE, Dupont and the others had a strong track record of innovation. The country embraced success.

    As for Elon Musk, most of his business ventures are losing money, but the innovation is undeniable. He is racking up technical achievement if not financial achiement. He's not looking to colonize and explore space. A martian colony would be the ultimate test of his business model because it would have to be completely sustainable, with the only incremental input being solar power, which would have to be captured with his panels and stored in his batteries. The aim is to make earth more sustainable.

    And what does that have to do with the minimum wage? My parents taught me I needed to work hard and make smart choices so I could make a living and support a family. Now you are going to get handed a living wage even if you have no skill or initiative and are depriving a teenager of their "spending money wage" job.

    No skills or initiative? Living wage for you! Dropped out of middle school, fathered three kids, and flipping burgers? Living wage! Unemployable because of a long rap sheet? Living wage!!

    Herbert Spencer said "The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools." Disasterous economic effects of a minimum wage set high enough to invite replacement through automation aside, policies like this subsidize foolishness. I'm pessimistic because the only thing we manufacturer in bulk these days is fools.

    P.S. Elon Musk is going to take all the rich folks to Mars as soon as the whole US turns into Chicago. He better hurry.

    1. Why do you feel it is appropriate to punish people who - to paraphrase you - have no skills or initiative, dropped out of middle school, fathered three kids, are flipping burgers, or are unemployable because of a long rap sheet by not paying them a living wage? What do you think will be accomplished by denying them a living wage?
      As for automation, it is coming with or without the living wage. However, with creativity and optimism, other solutions could be found.
      Which wolf are you feeding?

    2. When I was a kid, I knew lots of adults who weren't too bright, who hadn't finished high school, and they had good jobs in factories. They were able to support themselves and their families because those jobs existed. Now the only jobs for these people are minimum wage service industry jobs, most of which are not held by teenagers. So maybe they should have gotten skills, but they didn't. Or they used to have better paying jobs before the factory shipped itself overseas. Now they are in their 50s and they are stuck stocking shelves in a Walmart and looking at a pathetic paycheck at the end of the week.

      Worse, they have folks like you telling them it is all their fault.

    3. I oftentimes wish it were possible that every low wage, low skill worker people like you disparage could, for a quarter of a year, quit doing whatever it is that they do. Janitors, cleaning people, food producers, cashiers, every single solitary one of them, not only go on strike, but stop spending any money. Then, every single student with a crushing loan, simply stop making payments for a quarter of a year.
      Then the economic oligarchs and the 'my shit don't stink' middle class water carriers could then get a taste of what it is like to live without their invisible legions of low wage and debt slaves they rely on to keep the wheels running.

      Meanwhile, I have to get back to reality.

  46. I loved Tomorrowland for so many reasons, but the big one was that the girl was the Hero. Yes, the girl was the Hero. And you, Jim Wright, are my hero, for this post and for all your posts. I watched Elon Musk's rocket land 100 times, and cried for joy at the possibilities ahead. And I just read the most wonderful "speech" in Arthur C Clarke's "Imperial Earth" that did the same to me. Hope. What a concept. Thank you Jim, thank you very much for being one of us Hopeful ones.

  47. I'm an optimist too; I have to be. In getting to this point I've had to move from 'I can't...' to 'How do I...' and 'I don't know...yet.'. I've come to the conclusion that I'd rather help build a viable future on top of stuff that works than start from scratch, and that there never was a golden age.

  48. I love this post, but "the wolves within" is a hoax. It is not from Indigenous teachings.

    1. The two-wolves story at the end of this piece was copied verbatim from the webpage of the Cherokee history project. You'll have to take it up with them.

    2. It is not a hoax, it is a fable. The attribution may or may not be correct but that has little to do with the point of the story.

  49. I love watching ideas swap political sides. Remember "America, love it or leave it?" Some of us saw an America had some serious problems, that could be something better, and said so. The response? Everything is just fine, quitcherbitching, hippie. Then Reagan envisioned a city on a hill, and the right saw that America had some serious problems, etc. Now it would seem that even Reagan's romantic view is declasse. And so it goes.

  50. I heard President Obama say in his SOTU address that we can cure cancer in our lifetime. And then I heard the GOP say we can bomb Iran. That about sums it up.

  51. I adored this film. I saw it on opening day. Saw the critics savaging it, and went out and started grabbing friends (most of them science fiction and comic writers), and took them to see it. This is why we fell in love with the genre in the first place. The idea we could have the stars. I'm sick of people telling us we can't. Bravo to you, Jim for using this as the jumping off point for a powerful speech.

  52. Damn it Jim, I'm an optimist, not a quitter. This is one of you most inspiring blog posts and I am sharing a link to it with everyone I know with a recommendation to read it twice, slowly and thoughtfully.

    1. Damn it, Jim. LOL! I love the Star Trek reference!

      And great post, Jim. I am a short term pessimist and a long term optimist. As in I probably won't get a good parking space so leave home early (short term). But in the long run everything will be ok unless we totally fuck it up.

  53. This may be the only essay you've every written where I disagree with you. I don't think it's pessimism so much as exhaustion. Since I've been old enough to vote (1980), the choices have been horrible. Up until Obama's first term, every presidential election was a case of hold-your-nose-and-vote-for-the-lesser-evil. Obama's first term, I believed that "Hope and Change" bullshit, and for the first time voted *for* someone. Yeah, well, I got schooled on THAT pretty quickly. This year's choices are back to crap, except for one who I keep hearing has no chance against She Who Is The Anointed One.

    I feel like a salmon: I've been swimming upstream all my life, and I'm tired.

  54. It was for the same sorts of reasons that you outline in your piece that Star Trek was such a monstrously popular series. It gave people a hope that there was a future where we managed to extricate ourselves from our self destructive navel gazing and boldly go where no one had gone before.

  55. You got me with this one Jim. Well done!

  56. Tears welled up in my eyes as I read your latest essay... I grew up on hope and making things better... I loved science fiction and the optimism of being prepared for everything so you could achieve anything... we are still out here, raging against the dying of the light... Pushing back at the rampant ignorance and arrogance that would rip us away from sanity on tides of despair.

    It's hard to keep a grip sometimes but it still needs to be done... we *can* achieve that "greatness"... but not by hunkering down and burying our heads in the sand. We all need to rise up to the challenge again... to challenge those naysayers to come up with better... if they can't put up a rational solution then they need to sit down and shut up while the rest of us carry on and build that future. Each generation leaves a legacy... I hope our "hippie" generation can finally be known as the one that stemmed the tide of ignorance and arrogance and set us back on the path to the stars!

    I thank you and salute you for reigniting the embers of that "fire in the belly"... we *can* do it... each one of us doing just that little bit more.

  57. Another great commentary, thanks for sharing.

    "When is the last time you heard one of these people speak of Tomorrowland? That bright shining optimistic future, that better world, the one we ourselves can create now if we only had the will and determination?"

    I do not support Trump nor Cruz in any way, I also do not believe Clinton nor Sanders have solutions, nor do I wish for the end of our species and possibly all others, I see it as inevitable. We, as a species, stick our heads in the sand, others breathe optimism and hope---for what?.

    I have taken a long hard look and say "how sad, we are like flies in a bottle." If you see a solution I would be quite pleased to read what you would write about it.

    Data and quotes from the book Inferno by Dan Brown:
    In ancient mythology a hero in denial is the ultimate manifestation of hubris and pride. No man is more prideful than he who believes himself immune to the dangers of the world.

    Population growth is an exponential progression occurring within a system of finite space and limited resources.

    there will be some nine billion people on earth before the midpoint of this century. Animal species are going extinct at a precipitously accelerated rate. The demand for dwindling natural resources is skyrocketing. Clean water is harder and harder to come by.

    "being trapped on a ship where the passengers double in number every hour, while he is desperately trying to build a lifeboat before the ship sinks under its own weight."

    passage in Machiavelli—When every province of the world so teems with inhabitants that they can neither subsist where they are nor remove themselves elsewhere … the world will purge itself.

    Any environmental biologist or statistician will tell you that humankind’s best chance of long-term survival occurs with a global population of around four billion.

    Demand for clean water, global surface temperatures, ozone depletion, consumption of ocean resources, species extinction, CO2 concentration, deforestation, and global sea levels. All of these negative indicators had been on the rise over the last century. Now, however, they were all accelerating at terrifying rates. Ozone depletion, lack of water, and pollution are not the disease—they are the symptoms. The disease is overpopulation. The Population Apocalypse Equation equation predicts that the current trend can have no outcome other than the apocalyptic collapse of society.

    Quotes from Green Capitalism: The God That Failed
    (All as a result of overpopulation)
    "the costs to the world economy of ensuring that atmospheric co₂e stabilized at present levels or below would be prohibitive, destabilizing capitalism itself." No amount of "green capitalism" will be able to ensure the profound changes we must urgently make to prevent the collapse of civilization from the catastrophic impacts of global warming...no capitalist government on the planet will accept mandatory cuts in GHG emissions."

    "The global ecology is collapsing; land, water, air and sea have been transformed from life-support systems into waste repositories. Seven billion people pumping emissions and dumping excreta and toxics into air and water has changed the chemical composition of the world's oceans, threatening the lives of all living creatures."

    As for Mr. Elon Musk, whose efforts I wholeheartedly applaud, he and the rest of us all miss the real point of the electric car:
    Electric cars could be even be more polluting than gasoline-powered cars because they are only as clean as the fuel used to produce the electricity. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), coal use is growing. Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels and used for global electricity generation.

    Producing electric vehicles creates different resource consumption and pollution problems:
    Producing nickel and lithium batteries
    Mining the iron and copper and rare earths that go into the motors and controls
    Disposing of billions of large, toxic, worn-out batteries

    Johnny Hogue

    1. You're really behind the times.

    2. Are you disagreeing with me or with Mr. Wright? Enlargement of your comments along with enlightenment, education and sources would be nice.
      Johnny Hogue

    3. Optimism that our problems can be solved doesn't require reality to be ignored. Just the contrary in fact. Solving problems starts with recognizing problems.

      For one thing, we're going to have to face the fact that everyone having their own personal manufactured everything is a terrible expense of resources and waste production. Wanting what we don't need is human nature but it's not going to hurt to deny that.

      For another thing, we will have to colonize other worlds if we want to expand the human population. We can do it if we make it a serious priority and not just a lark of national pride or some other vanity project.

      If no one works on these things, well, at that point no amount of optimism can save us. But as things stand we seem to be at least shambling in that direction.

    4. I understand where you are coming from, and yes, things do look grim.

      However it is important to be both realistic and optimistic if one is to survive difficult scenarios and to never, ever, give up (see book 'Deep Survival'). Quoting e.g. the equation that do you and then stating there is no way out just closes doors and restricts thinking. Even when all seems lost there is hope - your assertions may well be on the wrong track for any number of reasons e.g. incorrect assumptions or ignorance. Reference Malthusian Doomsday (related to your own Population Apocalypse Equation I suspect). By Malthus' calcs we should have all been toast a long time ago, yet technology and other factors have allowed us to beat his equation (so far). Also, Black Swan's (of Nassim Taleb) fame can and do occur and they can be positive as well as negative, so never write off the influence of the unexpected and unforeseen.

      If Tomorrowland doesn't seem practicable to you as a viable future, then do also check out John Michael Greer's 'Archdruid Report' blog (I actually see that blog as a complement of sorts to this one, or at least having some synergies, though I'm not sure either blogger would agree with me :). His interpretations of a deindustrial ecotechnic future is not as inspiring as Tomorrowland's heights (which I absolutely think we should still strive for, even if we never make it) but is also a world away from bleak oblivion, and would be a fairly realistic fallback position if the problems you outline do overcome our ability to shoot for the stars.

  58. Gung ho! is the epitome of optimism, but I get the feeling it's been harnessed by the right for repression and elitism.
    It doesn't take much to change the calculus of an election 2-3% is typically the difference, that's it, 2 or 3 people in a hundred. That's the difference between President Gore, and President George the lesser. 2 or 3 people in a hundred is the difference between Tomorrowland, and dystopian movie de Jour.

  59. Minor typo early: It's *an* old fashioned Disney film,

    Otherwise great as always.

  60. Besides, of course, your brilliant defense of optimism and of building the future in the face of pessimism and fear... thanks for defending Tomorrowland, a movie I also thought was great. :)

  61. Excellent piece, as always. I would add the we have only lost optimism because we have lost compromise. We have lost the ability to have discussions, to argue and come to a resolution, often a resolution slightly unpalatable to both sides but that both can live with. Good people on both sides of the political aisle have basically given up, having been beaten to a bloody pulp NOT by the other party but by the extreme wings of their own party. There used to be alliances. The parties (yes, both) used to have big tents. These days, it is about ideological purity. Those in a party who can scream the loudest or hit the hardest or who have the power of the gavel (or the dollar) decide the platform and the rest of us with nuanced views can either get in line or get the hell out.

  62. Thankyou.

    I love that proverb of the two wolves and I do dream and hope and know that so many people are so much better than the worst of them make them (us!) appear.

  63. One of your best Jim, one of your best.

  64. Greg - ETC(SW) USN RetiredApril 18, 2016 at 10:25 AM

    I agree with all of this and this may be sort of unrelated, but I'd like to hear more about the experience of speaking at that forum. How did it come about? How were you received? Any lessons learned you'd like to share with those interested?

  65. Excellent, Jim...this was a true eye-opener. I did not see TOMORROWLAND, and heard nothing but bad things about it, but now, I am going to look for it and see it.

    No, I'm not one for dark, grey futures, but I'm not exactly into shiny utopias either. But I would prefer a future that is at least somewhat bright and hopeful.

    Again, another excellent essay, Jim--a lot of food for thought here.

  66. I loved Tomorrowland, but I also experienced how disjointed it felt from our current zeitgeist. And what a pity that is... Thanks for a great article.

  67. Okay Jim, that was good. Really... but I still hate Tomorrowland, especially that earworm of a theme song. "Its a Small World after all..."

    1. You're talking about the movie, right? (I ask because I haven't seen it) Because last I checked, the "It's A Small World" ride at Disneyland isn't in Tomorrowland... although it might be. I haven't been to Disneyland in over a decade...

  68. Jim:
    And here I thought I was the only one who felt that way about the Tomorrowland movie!
    I have printed out a flyer for my volunteer office at the local Navy base and given you credit:
    Pessimists don't build starships.
    If you want a better nation, be better citizens.
    Old Navy Comm O

  69. I have a hypothesis: We have become pessimistic because we are being fed a diet of post-apocalyptic books and films. Understand first that I adore post-apocalyptic fiction. I was raised the the 60s and an early memory is having all the kids in my school sheltering in the hallways as practice for a nuclear attack. I've been working on my post-apocalyptic skill set since I was a kid since I was also always positive I would someday have to survive on a desert island. (Yes, I was a weird kid.) But it used to be a couple of apocalyptic movies or books here and there. "On the Beach," "Alas, Babylon," for example.
    But lately the number of films and books about zombies or devastating plagues or other end-of-the-world scenario has been pretty much continual. Hell, you can spend a couple of weeks on Netflix watching nothing but zombies.

    Is this is a result of the loss of optimism or is it helping fuel the pessimism?

    1. Alas Babylon!!?!? My wife and I thought we were the only people who'd read that book.
      It's our code word when we're overseas if we feel unsafe .

    2. Haven't read "Alas, Babylon" in years, but I loved it. Glad to find another fan.

      I also absolutely loved and own a hardcover copy of "A Canticle for Leibowitz."

    3. 'Alas Babylon'! I thought I was the only person left alive who had read it. It was set more or less exactly in the very place I grew up. Scared the shit out of me. I even hoarded coffee.

    4. I had a philosophy teacher in college who said pop-culture was essentially the Collective Subconscious expressing itself, so themes in pop-culture are great indicators of what any society is going through and thinking about itself at the times they are produced. That it's self-examination writ large, essentially. So perhaps it's not necessarily that we are being fed (though I'm sure there's a little bit of that as the various Corp players try to capitalize on the "hot" trend), but that there is interest because the post-apocalyptic theme touches something we know, but don't know we know and are trying to say?

      The "Captain America" string of movies, for instance - this latest one in particular, "Civil War" - could essentially be described as wholly symbolic expressions of the dichotomies between the American social ethos pre- and post- the late 1960's-1970's (Captain America would be the strong/courageous/principled America with the moral high ground who can't lose or ever stop fighting, Tony Stark would be the Apex-Capitalist America who has everything but really struggles with people - and who has shrapnel slowly moving toward his heart btw), and how the two are really (*really*) struggling to co-exist. (I actually love the Captain America series - minus the 1st one- for precisely this reason, it's really deep/smart film behind all the explosions & cgi.)

      This being the case, my guess is that a lot of the pessimism is real, and some of our problem is that we have no clear direction to be optimistic about. We are in the midst of deciding who we are as a people, and are maybe in dire need of a visionary or 3. And perhaps a few more people who do stuff like the original post/Tomorrowland (which clearly was basically an Optimism Booster Shot for a lot of readers/viewers) to see us through to the vision.

  70. "what pay an actual living wage" should be "that pay?"
    I agree with the others: you continually impress more and more. Good work.

  71. Just finished reading Erik Larson's "Devil in the White City,"about the 1892 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Amazing on the innovations (Ferris Wheel, Shredded Wheat and maybe Disney Land) therein - as well as the individual horrors.
    I'm reminded of the first scene from the series "Newsroom"
    We can do better, we can have nice things, Optimism isn't dead, public will is.

  72. Mr. Hogue I seriously beg to differ with your last paragraph... The Electric car that Elon Musk is building can easily be powered entirely by solar panels on your house... there is a 10kW storage battery that is about the size of a large suitcase that will store that power for when you need it, is expandable, and the initial cost is only $3k... it will likely go down in price as sales increase. That is the plan. Many of those materials are already recycled fairly heavily and the number of lead acid batteries far outstrips any of the others... lead is also more toxic... The use of coal may be rising in some areas but it has also been at a historic low for quite some time... I fully believe this is a last gasp from that source as it will soon be for oil. It is no longer a fad, it is reality... it is why utility companies are fighting tooth and nail to get laws passed to restrict these technologies because they have finally caught up and will pass the old ways... I choose to leave the horse and buggy for re-enactors and nostalgia... I would LIKE to have a better future... for everyone! and I will do what I can to help bring it about.

    1. 1)
      Did you read the "Green Cap" article?
      Fewer people in the USA recycle than do not. World-wide the waste and pollution produced by 7+ BILLION people is staggering.
      Where do solar panels come from and what are they made of? Search for it, I will quote a part of one article which gives us an idea:
      "Compact fluorescent bulbs reduce electricity consumption by 75 percent but come with a dash of mercury"
      "...solar panels also have a dark side; namely, greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals involved in manufacturing, and a lack of regulation regarding recycling...with solar growing in popularity thanks to falling prices and various tax incentives, we could see a wave of e-waste in the next 20-some-odd years if the industry doesn’t take action now."

      The Chinese want to put over 100 MILLION cars on their roads for their rising middle class. Rising class expectations in India bode for a similar rise in personal vehicles. Americans continue to use vast amounts of resources in proportion to their population especially in electricity usage for all the gadgets, heating, cooling, etc. Such extravagance is not supportable world-wide.

      Read the "Green Cap" article and then please advise us how a rising population with rising expectations is sustainable for 7-8-9 or more BILLION people.

    2. Why yes I did... a single op-ed piece regarding some potential issues... did YOU go through all the links yourself to understand the underlying sources? You would find that several of the links were broken or addressed a general sheet from Wikipedia... not exactly primary source material... and/or other stories that bore only a tangential reference to the original op-ed... the take away was that the sources quoted were weak at best and "alarmist" at worst... (OMG, OMG!! also nazis) Finally, if you read the very last paragraph of the op-ed you are quoting... "So, do any of the above disclaimers mean we should say see ya to solar? Of course not. Even with the energy and waste involved, PV power in exchange for all our fossil fuels would still reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent."

      Kind of blows your concerns out of the water, eh?

      Mind you, I am NOT saying that we should let it idly pass by... more efforts are needed by every last one of us if we want to keep populating and enjoying... but overall... I think it will take quite a while before the potential "downsides" of the solar industry can catch up to what we use now... 9 to 1 ratio... nine years of energy for every one year worth of pollution... and let's not forget that solar panels are manufactured ONCE ( where all the nasty stuff you mention comes from) and lasts for decades... the other power generation methods put out a full measure of those "nasties" every single year as well as using up a finite resource...

    3. I'm not concerned about recycling as long as the it's not leaking into ground water, or dumped into the oceans. In the future people could mine old landfill for recyclable materials. It'd still be cheaper than mining ore, or drilling wells.
      Solar is great for suburban and rural houses and businesses, but an 80 story building is a different animal, and requires a different solution.
      Nuclear energy has the potential to solve most if not all of those problems. Especially LFTR technology, and before the knee jerk anti-nuke response.
      Thorium can only be made into a "dirty" bomb, and not a very dirty one at that.
      LFTR can use previously "spent" rods as fuel, thus reducing the dangerous waste we've already got at WHIP.
      And is a built in fail safe system, unlike heavy water reactors LFTR must be made to work, a heavy needs to be very closely controlled in order to be kept from going critical.
      In the future farming could be done in multi-story greenhouses giving a controlled environment, and a building with a 1acre foot print, could be as productive as 10 acres of it had 10 floors. And moreover it could have multiple grows per year further reducing our need to farm more acres.
      Seawater desalination is real technology, used in the real world, today. Its energy intensive, but that's solved above. We have oil pipelines from the Texas to Canada, and from California to New York, Kansas could have a dedicated seawater pipeline from the Gulf or, the Atlantic no problem.
      All our material problems are things we can already fix, we just need to roll up our sleeves and do it.
      Our political problems are just as slove able I'm sure, but I work in engineering so I mostly work on building the material stuff.

    4. Richard Smith, the author of Green Capitalism, cites 95 different sources in his essay, many of which ARE primary source material. I did not find one Wikipedia source in the list. And no, what he concludes with does NOT "blow my concerns out of the water." Solar panels are not pervasive, hundreds of millions of them will have to be manufactured in the US alone, not considering the rest of the world. This is also true of electric cars "(where all the nasty stuff you mention comes from)." There are not yet any serious measures to compel people to use them anywhere, so "the other power generation methods put out a full measure of those "nasties" every single year as well as using up a finite resource..." will continue to be in use for a long time, probably decades.

      You did not refute anything he or I argue; namely that continued unlimited growth and exploitation of resources in the face of rising populations who want to move into a middle-class lifestyle is simply not possible.

      And, his "single op-ed piece" is now a book:

      Thanks for your reply, Johnny Hogue

  73. Found someone feeding the good wolf..good people doing good things. If you want to meet a bunch of crazy optimists, talk to some teachers


  74. minor edit: When was it that optimism become a liberal ideal?
    should be 'became'

  75. I have read this about a dozen times just to reassure myself that I am not alone. We can do better and I want to do better. But I feel surrounded by people willing to act out like toddlers and take the low road. They care more about their guns then they do about the rest of us living in peace. Marginalized groups are supposed to just be happy with the rights they have now but never push beyond second-class citizenship. No. I will not embrace the lowest standard. For this, I am isolated.

  76. from your moth to the world's ears.

    1. *teasing* Are you saying Mr. Wright gets his articles from a moth?! ;)

  77. You don't see the election and re-election of President Obama as a triumph of optimism? I personally think that the Hillary Clinton running for the presidency with an excellent chance of being the first female president is proof of our optimism and hers (no matter how mundane the debate was). I agree that optimism is necessary but I think I see more of it than you do. And that minimum wage debate, I think that it is cynical pessimism that says "all or nothing" and optimism that says "we can't get exactly what we want now, but we'll take that and build on it until we do get what we want'. I enjoy reading your posts and thank you for your efforts to provide a safe space for reasonable discourse. I wanted to give you this link with an article by another favorite writer of mine, that discusses the use of that 'two wolves' story, although in the context of religion rather than politics. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2016/03/19/an-old-cherokee-story-and-other-lies-from-the-pulpit/

  78. Mr. Wright, I've enjoyed your writing for quite some time, and this time you've said something I've been feeling for a while.

    I saw a press screening of 'Tomorrowland', and when my PR contact at Disney asked me what I thought, I wiped away my tears and told him it was a religious experience. Brad Bird gave me back my future.

    I wrote an article about it (you can find it here: http://bluecollar-blacktie.com/the-future-aint-what-it-used-to-be/), as well as a review at GeekDad.com, in which I explained my thoughts on it, which echo yours in many ways.

    After the movie flopped, I began to think about why, and came to two conclusions...

    1. Brad Bird made a children's movie for people over 50. Younger people don't have the context to make sense of it.

    2. The notion of Tomorrowland is now branded as socialism.

    In 1963, hard-nosed businessman and staunch Republican Walt Disney, like pretty much everyone else who thought about the future, assumed that when machinery and technology eliminated the drudgery of manual labor, the profit generated by the robots would benefit all of society. That's the fundamental promise of Tomorrowland, that work is for machines and humans will be liberated to lead lives of purpose and meaning.

    But when it slowly began to happen, the business owners and corporations found they could keep the profits for themselves.

    In 1985, I worked as a paste-up artist for a publisher of a specialty magazine for the radio industry. We had 10 paste-up artists, a stat camera operator, 4 typesetters, and a driver who delivered the boards to the printer. At the printer, there was a guy who made negatives, another who prepared them and cut color separations, a guy who made printing plates from them, before they finally got to the press. That's 18 people. Today, none of those people have jobs. All by myself, I do everything those 18 people did, and I produce more work than they did. The productivity savings are staggering. But I'm not getting 18 people's paychecks. Where did all that money go? Into the boss' pocket.

    It's recently been estimated that within 10-20 years, more than half the population will be unemployed and unemployable due to technology; the robots will be doing the work. What will we do with all those people?

    Will we just leave them to die? Provide subsistence-level aid for them to keep a mob of peasants around so that the oligarchs can feel like feudal overlords? Or will we share the benefit of technology with all the heirs of it and create a better world?

    In Robert A. Heinlein's first novel, "For Us the Living..." (1938) he talks about this very problem and describes the prospect of what's currently being proposed as the Universal Guaranteed Income. Heinlein called it "our inheritance." Our Legacy.

    My former boss didn't invent Photoshop, Postscript, digital typography, direct-to-plate printing or any of the other advances that allowed him to replace 18 people with one guy and a Macintosh; why should he be the sole beneficiary of this technological revolution at his company, instead of all 18 of us as well?

    And there's the rub of Tomorrowland. Aside from demanding that we work toward it, it demands that we be good enough and smart enough to share the bounty provided by it. Will we?

    1. I would argue that reducing the top marginal tax rates have actually proved to be an incentive to max out profits. In the past, you could still get rich, but there was a point at which there was little to gain by squeezing out an extra million from your business. You might as well put it back in the company. Now the incentive is to squeeze all the money you can out of the business, no matter how it affected people.

  79. I haven't read any of the other comments yet, just your piece, Jim.

    I loved Tomorrowland, too. It's on my DVR and I'll likely watch it at least a few more times this year alone. Because I AM one of those Future-dreaming folk who see WHAT IS POSSIBLE instead of what is probable.

    It's why I've been asking people in my Congressional District shouldn't we be doing more than putting up Wind Turbines and creating cleaner energy? Why aren't we manufacturing the materials to build those wind turbines out of? What about installing solar-covered parking at our public schools K to 16 (including public colleges and universities)? Lower carbon footprints, add power to the school at very low cost compared to buying it. Create living wage jobs during installation of these structure and then living wage jobs permanently afterward for maintenance and upgrades.

    There are better ways to move forward, most of it involves people believing in a Bernie Sanders campaign hashtag: #NotMeUs

    Because when we, as human beings, act less out of self-interest and more out of Interest in all humanity, then it's a lot easier to build towards that better future.

    I just love your writing Jim. I wish a national publication would pick you up for syndication. But of course, then they'd be paying your wages, and that might involve a change in what brings me here.

    Your voice, unaltered or filtered. Brutally honest and bluntly indignant, when the need arises. You are one of my favorite writers, ever. Thank you for that.

    1. Because when we, as human beings, act less out of self-interest and more out of Interest in all humanity, then it's a lot easier to build towards that better future.

      Ref: Buckminster Fuller...try "Critical Path'.

  80. A worthwhile read with the associated comments you'd expect.

  81. Your piece rightly decries the loss of optimism, the loss of "American exceptionalism."

    More and more, I'm convinced George Orwell was a prophet, and "1984" was the unknowing blueprint for the future we've become.

    This is the corporate oligarchy's mission, as stated by O'Brien to Winston Smith: "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever."

  82. I haven't seen "Tomorrowland", but I was at the '64 World's Fair. You're right: It was an optimistic time, especially for a nine-year-old. I remember a guy flying a jetpack: It was LOUD. "It's A Small World" was a great ride, and I pestered my mother into buying the 45 so I could hear the song at home. (I loved the yodeling.)

    I also remember the DuPont (iirc) pavilion where you put your dime into a slot, it rolled down a chute, got was zapped by radiation, rolled down another chute to be in front of a Geiger Counter which demonstrated that it was radioactive, rolled some more and out popped a vacuum sealed collectible coin cardboard container with your dime.

    Yessir, optimism. But not all optimism was warranted, and some futures were more realized than others. This is why I read science fiction: To explore.

    I'll see the movie and judge on my own. I hope to feed the right wolf.

    -- not really anonymous (Baron Dave Romm on FB)

  83. Thank you, Jim. Thank you. I so needed to read this at this moment. My resolve to be an optimist has been flagging mightily lately. It's HARD to be an optimist sometimes - it's damn hard. It's easy to let cynicism and pessimism creep in, even when the rest of life is looking pretty good. It's easy to wallow in the muck of fear and anger - maybe even rage. It's easy to remain blind to what IS possible, to what the future CAN be. Thank you for your excellent writing and for this line in particular (which I will be framing): "Pessimists don't build starships."

  84. Optimism doesn't instill the fear necessary to get people to vote republican. I think that's why it's a liberal ideal.

  85. As someone who is called an "eternal optimist" and often derided for it I applaud you for pointing out that it is not necessarily a bad thing.

    I am a glass half full gal, not because I don't see what is going on but because I see the small things that happen as well.

    Huge wildfire, tens of thousands have to run for their lives with basically the clothes on their backs- horrific.
    Tens of thousands of people donating time, money and energy to try and make their lives a little easier while they rebuild.

    A child getting bullied on a playground, then another child stands beside him/her and then another until the bully no longer has the advantage of fear.

    Those things will keep me eternally optimistic.

  86. Great writing, and I am in so much agreement for the most part. There is a root cause that keeps history repeating its self. What is that root cause? We are a bunch of animals with the intellect to rationalize our animal behavior. If we were not such animals we would have a united world with complete equality. We have the intellect, resources and technology for us to all be well off and equal. If we were humans no one would have more than another. That said, let me take it one step further. What is it that we rationalize that causes most of our problems? Inequality! It leads to the accumulation of wealth, that leads to power, that leads to corruption, that leads to exploitation, that leads to conflict (terrorism) , that leads to a new system and it all starts over. Now let me again take that one step further. The belief that because we work harder than another we should have more is one of the ways we rationalize inequality. Also, feeling that we are superior to others in some way, translates into our having more. We do not see that we are all in this together. That hard work and being superior should translate into benefiting all of humanity. I would like to add that some will probably call this Christianity and other will call it Communism. Ether way, humans are not good enough to be Christians or Communists. I see no hope of that ever changing. The fall of any system is always replace by a system that contains those wanting to get rich. There are those that would accept equality, but it would take everyone becoming human.

    1. Hey, I am not disagreeing with anything you've said in particular, Bill Hampton. But from here it looks as though you are caught up in details. We are individuals with different talents and abilities. Trying to do it all would be pointless, right? We have the option of using our individual talents, abilities and smiling at the same time and leaving something left for others to do. And yes, I am very much aware of climate change/global warming. for example, as I speak. :-) Respectfully, LAS

  87. This may be a good place to post this. People need to wake up to what it means to be liberal.
    I feel the need to address this again. With what it means to be a liberal, I find it sad that liberals are calling their selves Progressives. Most Christians will tell you that they are not good enough to be s Christians, but are proud to be trying. Liberals should stop calling their selves Progressives and do the same. Define liberal and be proud that you are trying to be one. Here again is something I wrote that may help you out with that. “I have a dictionary with a copyright of 1966. According to it, Here is what it would take to be a liberal. You would need to be open minded, be against prejudice and bigotry, generous, favorable to progress or reform, favorable to or in accord with the concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, and in favor of representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies. From that definition, I would say that there are many closet liberals out there, that do not even know that they are liberal. Of course there are also, many that will argue with the dictionary. If you Google liberal, you will find it hard to put together that definition. Could it be that the wealth owned media is causing the definition to be changed? From that definition, here are a few things that make one a non liberal. Narrow minded, selfish, prejudiced, and a bigot. I take it as a compliment if I am called a liberal. I am probably not good enough to be one, but will keep trying. Too bad so many have already been brain washed into believing that liberal is something it is not.”

  88. :-) Thank you, Sir Jim! I've been away and am glad I managed to get back in time for this. :-)

  89. Really needed to read something like this right now, thank you.

  90. At the risk of sounding like a spoiled brat, I need a new kickass Stonekettle piece. (It HAS been over a month now)

  91. Great article but why the love for a man profiting off public funding. Why not pat the back of NASA that is investing in Musk. If we want tomorrow land, we need less Musk and more NASA. More NSF funding. Another ARPA. All musk does is take inventions other people make and turn them into money. He dreams small because Mars is easy compared to making tomorrow land on earth.

  92. Thank you for convincing me to watch this film; well worth it.

  93. " The RNC would have to pay for a whole new convention. With no notice. Hell, just renting the convention hall would be damned near impossible given the timeline – they’d end up having it in a cow pasture and be grateful for that."

    Max Yasgur's farm is available.

  94. Musk is DD Harriman and Shipstone. Since this is life and not fiction, there have to be some revisions to the tale. As for the World's Fair, it was great. For the future, maybe we'll be looking up to Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein, with Correy, Anvil and Schmidt thrown in for good measure. And others not mentioned.

  95. I live in the vicinity of Flushing Meadow Park. I have in various locations all my life. My first ever amusement ride as a tot was some silly Ferris wheel at the 1964 World's Fair. I, too, was fascinated by the hope of what was possible, and throughout my life, no matter which of the different locations I lived growing up, always found time to go back to Flushing Meadows Park to remember the hope I felt, and still do, from the World's Fair.
    It is not a hard feat. The Panorama of NYC is still there, in the Museum Building, The Unisphere and fountains remain as impressive and as beautiful as they did back in 1964. The Hall of Science still stands unique and proud, and I spent many a day there standing under the [real - donated by NASA] rocket ships that were grander than any skyscraper or Navy vessel I ever saw. I've snuck in and climbed around the now shuttered NYS Pavilion (Made famous again thanks to Men In Black and Iron Man 2) and marveled at it's mosaic tile floor map still intact, though weeds are finding there way through the borders. Plus the added nostalgia of finding some of the hidden gems and markers of the 1939 World's Fair still give me tingles.
    I wasn't alone growing up in this fascination. The family rushed to Walt Disney World in Florida when it opened in 1971, I believe, and the first hints of Tomorrowland were opened. The awe still inspires me as almost 40+ years later. I still take regular yearly trips down there just to marvel. Rides are fun, but it is the inspiration that I go for, and try to share with others. Especially the younger ones in the family. Even as fantasy, it is more real and tactile than most experiences I have had in life. If I have one regret in life, it is that I was never clever enough academically to become one of the pioneers of tomorrow.
    Sadly, these trips have become more nostalgia than reality. I do not know why we gave up being that America, though you made some valid pointed explanations. What also boggles my mind is that just by being there you can see what we are capable of doing, yet that is never what is embraced by most people.
    I, too, loved that movie; loved that America. It is also an America that honored scientists and inventors. The movie was a bright surprise that touched all the feelings I have had my whole life. We need that America back.
    Mr. Wright, while we may have grown up on opposite ends of the country and had totally polar opposite growing experiences, I must say you are like one of those rare friends that 'got me' when I was young and has remained my friend my whole life sharing similar experiences. I guess that does give proof to the fact that many Americans, no matter where they came from, really can and do share common beliefs. It is welcoming and refreshing. Let's also hope, through your writing and my 'nostalgic' trips with family, it can be eye opening to even one person. Like the expression goes, "then my work is done here."

  96. "The idea of the so-called American dream is you start out at the bottom, changing the sheets in one of Trump's hotels say, and work your way up until one day you own the casino and can hire a bunch of maids of your own.

    This is the very cornerstone of American capitalism."

    This is what we call a Pyramid Scheme ... otherwise known as a scam.

  97. Jim, this is a wonderful post. During the campaigns I kept begging for a vision of hope and optimism. Hell, I just wanted to see someone smile as they projected their vision of possibilities for the future. Like you, spent many years in Alaska, then moved to Florida. The biggest change was not the weather, but the attitude and resignation. I was not prepared for the negativity and malaise. In Alaska, all I needed for inspiration was a walk outside. I was surrounded by a natural world in harmony, and it has a profound impact on me. I met a lot of people living by their wits, and we always helped each other out in rough times. In Florida, I found that people I met didn't care to make new friends. Everyone lived in their air conditioned bunkers and did not trust someone they didn't know. It was a very difficult time for me. In retrospect, I believe that the power of nature in its pristine form has a huge influence on the way we think,act, and communicate. It makes me feel that anything is possible with human ingenuity and innovation. It inspires me to solve problems, help my neighbors, and be grateful. Seeing destruction of both our environment and optimism about the future is sad beyond words.


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