Optimism in The Rational Optimist

“The Rational Optimist – How Prosperity Evolves” by Matt Ridley is a book that will change you and then you’ll start to change your world, and as a result change the whole world. Positivity and optimism will become a movement! I’ll start with a quote from the last chapter of this book.

“In this book I have tried to build on both Adam Smith and Charles Darwin: to interpret society as the product of a long history of what the philosopher Dan Dennett calls ‘bubble-up’ evolution through natural selection among cultural rather than genetic variations, and as an emergent order generated by an invisible hand of individual transactions, not the product of top-down determinism.”

“Futurology always ends up telling you more about your own time than about the future.”

The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley

This book is so full of legitimate reasons to be optimistic about the future that it’s hard to quote from, hard to pull out one piece and attempt to get you excited about reading it. But I want you to read it. It’s still (10 years after publication) what we need to hear as we continue to pull each other down across the internet.

Politicians, activists, scientists, and media producers have always been telling us that the world is getting worse. If they told you that everything was great, we are right on track, and not to worry, it would seem that we need fewer laws, lower taxes, and fewer politicians. And they aren’t doing it intentionally or because they are evil. They do it because optimism doesn’t sell, pessimism is what keeps them employed. It’s the same reason the new soap company tells you that your old soap is causing you problems and theirs is going to solve all those problems you didn’t know you had.

The book does not deny that things can be improved. It’s rational optimism, not putting on rose colored glasses. It doesn’t deny climate change or science. It doesn’t claim that the world is so damn rosy that we can just sit back and enjoy the ride. His claim is that things are getting better and will continue to do so IF we can keep communicating ideas between each other and have the freedom to work together in amazing ways.

This morning I read in the August issue of Reason magazine, “When things are worse, or perceived as worse, people grow less tolerant, less empathetic, less open to compromise, and they offer each other less leeway. A sense of scarcity or impending scarcity fosters a zero-sum mindset.”

The more we believe what they say instead of evaluating our own experience (through their lens not our own), the angrier and more distrustful we are of the people around us, which creates the negative experiences we read about and then gets amplified on social media because we just have to warn the others. It’s a spiral downward.

I loved this book because he doesn’t claim to have the answers. He doesn’t even claim that everything will work out for the best in the end. What he does say is that we should be aware that this world is changing so rapidly, no one can clearly predict what will happen and what we should do about it now. In the past, freedom and less control are what seem to get us where we want to be with the fewest casualties, maybe we should try staying on that track.

And there are rational reasons for optimism, despite what the news and the politicians are saying. I can see that in my own life, without ever opening my computer or watching the news. My life is much easier and richer than my parents’ was, and my children are already better off than I was at their age. Watching them find jobs and housing this past year was FAR easier than when I was doing it. Your field of search is unlimited. You can search, interview, and apply for an apartment, all online from a thousand miles away.

Don’t know how to do something? Google it and you’ll find a step-by-step video from a hundred different people or a free online class. Want to visit a place? Whip out your phone, read reviews, make reservation, all while you’re driving following directions that tell you where the traffic is lighter. Want to skip the crowds? Order online, have things delivered, or look at an app that tells you how crowded a restaurant or park is in real time.

And there’s not just optimism in our personal lives. The whole world is getting better, and he shares all the statistics to prove it. We feed more people, live in cleaner environments, and live healthier, longer lives. And richer we get, the more we have to share and help others get where we are.

It all starts with the freedom to trade, the building of technology, and trust. The more we see the positives, the happier we all are, and the more we start to trust and help each other.

So…yeah, this was a great book. I’m glad I read it again. Have you read The Rational Optimist? You should! If each of us started to have a slightly better outlook about the future of humanity, just think how much good we could do!

Want to read my original thoughts about this book? Go back to my first post, The Rational Optimist: New Read.