Looking for Hope Wherever I Might Find It

My wife regularly points out my tendency to expect the worst in any situation. In fact, she goes so far as to call me a catastrophizer (though I’m not sure just how she would spell that word). There are times when I have to admit she’s right, but there are also days when I see my take on things as realistic. Today is one of those days.

A friend asked in an email last week if I “think the fears about AI wiping out humans well-founded.” My reply was somewhat cynical and hyperbolic, but still honest. “I don’t know which will get us first – AI, climate change, financial collapse, infrastructure collapse, or the failure of democracy.” In short, I’m feeling rather uneasy about the fate of our culture. The world will survive – some creatures living now will even flourish – but I fear the world generally, and our culture in particular, of the next decade will be significantly different than what I’ve learned to appreciate as I’ve lived my life.

I was somewhat encouraged this morning to read Jefferson’s reflections on his life as presented in a letter to John Adams: “I think with you that it is a good world on the whole, that it has been framed on a principle of benevolence, and more pleasure than pain dealt out to us. There are indeed … gloomy and hypocondriac minds, inhabitants of diseased bodies, disgusted with the present, and despairing of the future; always counting that the worst will happen, because it may happen. To these I say How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened? My temperament is sanguine. I steer my bark with Hope in the head, leaving Fear astern. My hopes indeed sometimes fail; but not oftener than the forebodings of the gloomy” (The Adams-Jefferson Letters, p. 467).

I would like to find some encouragement from Jefferson’s counsel, and I have to admit that if I had consistently kept score in such things, I would likely see that my fears about the future were realized less often than I feared they would be. But the news of the day makes it difficult to steer my bark in Jefferson’s wake. I should note, though, that Adams replied that he was right there in the bark with Jefferson over 200 years ago. And we’re still here, at least for the moment.