Optimism Resources

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anticonsumerist
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Optimism Resources

Post by anticonsumerist »

Hey everyone

When i’m reading our ERE forums sometimes i perceive a bit of a pessimistic take on where the world is going. i believe this is due to most people being strong realists here. MMM, in contrast, is advocating something like “outrageous optimism” (he had a post on it but cant find now) - and i kind of agree that i would benefit from some more exposure to people with an optimistic mindset.

Do you have any websites, blogs, forums etc that you follow/contribute that gives you more optimism? Do you have a way to get exposure to more optimistic news, people etc?

jacob
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by jacob »

Rather than taking a dose of informational happy pills---there are certainly websites that are curated to contain no bad news---I suggest framing the difference between optimism, realism, and pessimism in a more nuanced way. Read this: https://www.oaktreecapital.com/insights ... ly-matters as it applies to not just trading and investing but also to making quality decisions in life.

Fundamentally, the bias translates into a preference:
pessimism: avoiding losses is more important to you
optimism: achieving wins is more important to you

This determines one's preferred(*) playing style. To use a(n American) football metaphor, a pessimist will focus on developing their defense so as not to give up points. However, less attention on the offense also means they don't score as many points. They "win on defense". An optimist will focus on developing their offense to score enough points to make up for their weaker defense. They "win on offense". It is a rare thing to do both well. It is of course also possible to do neither well. In investment parlance, a pessimistic trader will generate most of their alpha when the market goes down. An optimistic trader will generate most of theirs when it goes up.

Beware of survivor-bias. A group of optimists tend to show a few spectacular wins, but in reality, the majority of optimists are losers, who wonder why they can never get ahead. A group of pessimists may come across as a bunch of debbie-downers, who never win anything, but OTOH none of them ever lost much---the pessimistic strategy has no outliers. An optimist may comment that they never tried [to win]. This is correct, the pessimist put all their effort into not losing.

(*) Also beware of cultural bias. North American culture notoriously has a positive bias ("THIS IS AWESOME!"). Eastern European culture notoriously has a negative bias ("This is surprisingly better than expected?!?").

I prefer a "pessimism of the mind, but optimism of the will"-approach to MMM's alleged "outrageous optimism"-approach. A big problem with pessimism is if it gets to you emotionally rather than logically(*). People doomscroll and make themselves feel so bad that they conclude [based on their feelings] that the situation is hopeless (= "pessimism of the mind, pessimism of the will"). The "pessimism of the mind, but optimism of the will"-approach looks at "how could this possibly go wrong" and then takes step to avoid it. My simplistic take on "outrageous optimism" is that it looks at "what is the best possible outcome" (optimism of the mind) and takes steps to achieve it (optimism of the will) while hoping that nothing bad ever happens.

(*) The simplest but perhaps not easiest solution is to realize that a lot of doomscrolling messaging concerns events that lie decades ahead. Match the timescale to the decision process. Don't read about oceans rising daily. Only read about it before buying waterfront property in Florida. Put it in other words, an information diet is unlikely to immediately create stupid/helpless decisions. Ignorance takes time to develop.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

Some people say the long run is a series of short runs, and if you get those right, you’ll enjoy success in the long run. They might think the route to success consists of trading often in order to capitalize on relative value assessments, predictions regarding swings in popularity, and forecasts of macro events. I obviously do not.
- Howard Marks (in linked article above)

It seems to me that this advice is absolutely true when applied to a fully exploited, highly efficient market, such as the stock market or a professional football game. Therefore, humans with optimistic or trader mentalities will perform better in markets that are exploratory and/or less efficient.

Therefore, my advice to OP is to seek the new new news if you want to maintain an optimistic outlook. For simple example, instead of trading on short news cycle related to long-known metric in a well-known market, look for news about the invention of a new metric in new market, or try to invent a new metric or a new market yourself. There are always pockets of sunlight and fresh growth to be found even in a great old forest collapsing from blight.

Smashter
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by Smashter »

I love the idea of optimism resources! My go to for this kind of stuff is to check Our World in Data. Their driving ethos is summed up by this headline from an article by the founder: "The world is awful. The world is much better. The world can be much better."

Searching statistics around long run child mortality trends via Our World in Data is a great way to become more optimistic.

Image

Same with life expectancy trends (though I know the US has had some turbulence in that regard recently) 



Image

If you want some effective altruism style optimism, this recent post by Scott Alexander does a nice job of summing up the wins coming out of that movement:
Recently, in the US alone, effective altruists have:

ended all gun violence, including mass shootings and police shootings

cured AIDS and melanoma

prevented a 9-11 scale terrorist attack

Okay. Fine. EA hasn’t, technically, done any of these things.

But it has saved the same number of lives that doing all those things would have.

About 20,000 Americans die yearly of gun violence, 8,000 of melanoma, 13,000 from AIDS, and 3,000 people in 9/11. So doing all of these things would save 44,000 lives per year. That matches the ~50,000 lives that effective altruist charities save yearly.

People aren’t acting like EA has ended gun violence and cured AIDS and so on. all those things. Probably this is because those are exciting popular causes in the news, and saving people in developing countries isn’t. Most people care so little about saving lives in developing countries that effective altruists can save 200,000 of them and people will just not notice. “Oh, all your movement ever does is cause corporate boardroom drama, and maybe other things I’m forgetting right now.”
For a specific flavor of tech optimsim, there is always the polarizing and bombastic Marc Andreesen: https://a16z.com/the-techno-optimist-manifesto/

Vitalik Buterin is a tech person with a similar bent. He wrote a long techno optimist take on his blog recently: https://vitalik.eth.limo/general/2023/1 ... imism.html

Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok’s Marginal Revolution blog leans optimistic as far as the potential for western style liberal democracy: https://marginalrevolution.com/

clark
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by clark »

As an aside-

Isn't pessimism, or at least a studied neutrality, a fundamental tenet of ERE? And what separates it from the FIRE movement as a whole? MMM is known for his "the future is gonna be awesome!" posts, but the fact that pretty much the whole FIRE movement recommends "index funds + 4% SWR" shows that they are operating on an optimist's mindset. ERE was where I first heard about maybe not doing index funds, not in order to get into stock trading for bigger gains, but because if the market crashes, you'll go down with it if you're all in on index funds. The word "resilience", implying possible bad times ahead, is used fairly often here (such as the forum subtitle) and not so much in other FIRE spaces. Obviously, a kind of ideological pessimism would be bad, but being willing to map out both good and potentially bad futures and plan for them seems pretty central here (and unique to here). Correct me if I'm wrong.

Perhaps the gap between ERE and consumer society is more of a pessimist/optimist gap than an INTJ/other personality gap. Despite not being an INTJ, I was attracted to ERE in part because of the pessimism (or at least lack of over-the-top optimism).

J_
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by J_ »

As an optimistic wired person I need counterbalance. ere and @jacobs posts has delivered such counter. Example: his early warnings about climate, his early warnings and explications about covid. Another: his warnings about 4% as unreliable. So glad with all ere !

jacob
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by jacob »

clark wrote:
Sat Dec 02, 2023 12:21 am
Isn't pessimism, or at least a studied neutrality, a fundamental tenet of ERE? And what separates it from the FIRE movement as a whole?
The foundation of ERE was a response to resource limits (a "Limits to Growth"-style of modelling of the world). Having a [realistic] view of the entire ecology/economy is thus in the DNA of ERE.

The FIRE movement as it grew out of North America's professional class is based on the innate [economy-only] techno-optimism of that class (a "human ingenuity will provide"-style belief that the economy can do anything). Simplistically speaking, engineers tend to believe they can solve anything and business people think anything can be solved by paying an engineer.

I suppose "resilience" does imply adversity. However, it is equally bad strategy to spend one's life thinking that the world will collapse within the next year only to continuously see it not happen. There are people in the collapse-sphere who have been waiting for the world to fall apart since 1970.

I personally think it's dumb to deliberately ignore either of these two possibilities (whether it's "head in the sand"- or "economy cargo cult"-optimism or "grieving circle jerk"-pessimism), hence the importance of considering both and having a strategy that works in both outcomes. This is why ERE is two-pronged. Here's an old blog post: http://earlyretirementextreme.com/myths ... uture.html

Basically ERE has a foot in both the techno-optimistic camp (where ERE looks pessimistic) and the camp of collapse (where ERE looks optimistic if cynical). Both of these tend to enjoy too much echo-chamber effect leaving ERE the odd one out in both places.

It's also possible to understand this in terms of Wheaton Levels. The FIRE movement is basically described by WL3-5. ERE1 is described as WL6-8. The collapse-sphere is indeed described very well by WL3-5 on the original Wheaton eco-scale, that is, people being sufficiently aware to make a difference but not doing enough to make a difference that actually makes a difference.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

jacob wrote:I suppose "resilience" does imply adversity. However, it is equally bad strategy to spend one's life thinking that the world will collapse within the next year only to continuously see it not happen. There are people in the collapse-sphere who have been waiting for the world to fall apart since 1970.
Very true. I recently picked up a copy of "Going Dark: Revised Second Edition" by Guy R. McPherson, and "dark" is an understatement. Even Kunstler's follow up to "The Long Emergency" in which he describes the lifestyles of some other rational pessimists is pretty depressing. The rational optimist in me keeps hoping that The Primitive Technology guy will some day upload an episode to YouTube in which he managed to fashion a functioning radio out of the raw wilderness, while the rational pessimist in me observes that the collapse is already happened/happening in my neck of the woods; scavengers everywhere and children with dirty hands who won't manage to learn about fractions before puberty distracts them.

clark
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by clark »

Thank you for the explanation, Jacob. That was what I was trying to grasp at but couldn't articulate clearly.

Also, to anticonsumerist:

One video series that has made me more optimistic is "Introduction to the History of Drugs."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Up_qu1l ... ymeZw8DcN4

This is a good overview of the incredible progress humanity has made on the medical front over the last two hundred years or so. Very well explained. At the very least, it will make you grateful for what we have figured out up to this point, whether or not you think the good times will continue.

anticonsumerist
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by anticonsumerist »

@Smashter thank you! great resources!
@clark thank you!

white belt
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by white belt »

jacob wrote:
Sat Dec 02, 2023 10:27 am
The FIRE movement as it grew out of North America's professional class is based on the innate [economy-only] techno-optimism of that class (a "human ingenuity will provide"-style belief that the economy can do anything). Simplistically speaking, engineers tend to believe they can solve anything and business people think anything can be solved by paying an engineer.
I've found software developers to be among the worst offenders regarding the "I can solve anything, and the physical world doesn't matter" mindset. These of course also make up the core of the techno-optimist crowd. Software might be eating the world, but you can't eat software. Or to put it in other terms, there's a large swath of our society that really needs to "touch grass".

Like Jacob, I think categorizing perspectives into a dichotomy of optimist/pessimist is way too simplistic. In my experience, whenever someone has an "optimistic" view of an issue, it usually means they are totally ignorant to fundamental details of the issue. I'm sure the same happens on the other end of the spectrum, but I have way more experience with the former since I work in a techno-optimist career field.

I take a different approach to negative/pessimistic news or whatever you want to call it. Instead of getting down about war, crime, disease, destruction of nature, etc (core features of the human existence), I instead use it as an opportunity to be grateful for the comfort/stability of my modern life. Maybe I am an optimist after all? If you think any situation going on in the world is bad now, I'm sure you can crack open a history textbook and find countless examples of similar situations that were worse in every possible way throughout human history. The developed world for many (not all) is paradise and I think most would be horrified by what humans are capable of when the thin veneer of "civilization" is scraped away. Maslow's hierarchy and such.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

white belt wrote:I instead use it as an opportunity to be grateful for the comfort/stability of my modern life.
Yup, it's nice to snuggle up cozy in the back-seat of the warm car and just watch all the pretty lights go by while Daddy drives the car. Wait, what's that ahead? A cliff! And the tank's on Empty! Hit the brakes, Daddy! Hit the brakes....

;)


I picked up "Going Dark" by McPherson again yesterday and his cynical idealist pessimistic outlook grew on me as I read along. I especially liked this bit:
But I think Nero had the right idea, creating art as Rome burned. So I will create humor while taking advantage of opportunities to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Frita
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by Frita »

[quote=jacob post_id=282441 time=1701001656 user_id=

I prefer a "pessimism of the mind, but optimism of the will"-approach to MMM's alleged "outrageous optimism"-approach. A big problem with pessimism is if it gets to you emotionally rather than logically(*). People doomscroll and make themselves feel so bad that they conclude [based on their feelings] that the situation is hopeless (= "pessimism of the mind, pessimism of the will"). The "pessimism of the mind, but optimism of the will"-approach looks at "how could this possibly go wrong" and then takes step to avoid it. My simplistic take on "outrageous optimism" is that it looks at "what is the best possible outcome" (optimism of the mind) and takes steps to achieve it (optimism of the will) while hoping that nothing bad ever happens.
[/quote]

This approach combines the skillful aspects of both optimism and pessimism, sidestepping the distorted thinking landlines of each. I am reminded of the koan “The Strawberry:”
Buddha once told a parable in sutra:

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted! (Source: https://www.dailybuddhism.com/archives/903)
For me, my practice involves a middle-ish way of accepting life on its own terms while choosing agency. Simple but not easy. I observe that many people are caught up in the dichotomy of choosing a camp. It amuses me.

chenda
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by chenda »

What if God got bored: https://youtu.be/ckiNNgfMKcQ

Life is but a dream.

mathiverse
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by mathiverse »

This website has a lot of positive information about how the world has changed over the years: https://www.gapminder.org/

white belt
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by white belt »

7Wannabe5 wrote:
Sun Dec 03, 2023 8:07 am
Yup, it's nice to snuggle up cozy in the back-seat of the warm car and just watch all the pretty lights go by while Daddy drives the car. Wait, what's that ahead? A cliff! And the tank's on Empty! Hit the brakes, Daddy! Hit the brakes....
I think perhaps I wasn't very clear with my post. I have practitioner-level expertise with war and have spent every day of my career for the past 8+ years immersed in it in some way. Many wars are conflicts over resources, so things like collapse and meta-crisis represent core components. I empathize with the hungry because I have starved, I empathize with the exhausted because I have felt the malaise of severe sleep deprivation, I empathize with front line fighters because I know the discomfort of that life, I empathize with the civilians trapped on the battlefield because I feel their vulnerability, etc.

I say this all to contrast with the typical [American] white collar worker who spends his/her days immersed in a much different world. I’ve found that frequent engagement with the meta-crisis leads to the most well-balanced perspective, however things can become overwhelming if one feels totally hopeless. For example, 7WB5’s tutoring of disadvantaged youth provides a constant reminder of the meta-crisis and all that it brings. I think having some connection to “improving” the meta-crisis can actually lead to a sense of empowerment, even if it comes mixed with frustration.

Therefore, my comment relating to “touching grass” is more directed at those who occupy the cushioned world of the knowledge worker. That fact that one feels “overwhelmed” by bad news is a sign of dissonance. So, instead of hiding from the pessimism, I encourage others to do some introspection to determine the source of the dissonance. This is the first step towards empowerment and regaining a sense of agency.

Perhaps it is my own arrogance that makes me feel others must “earn” the right to be pessimistic, but my empathy gauge runs low for the most privileged. DW has told me I’m inherently optimistic so MMV for others.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

@white belt:

I did grok what you meant with your "touch grass" comment. I think maybe I was just projecting the guilt I feel along with the gratitude every time I realize that I am one of the lucky ones who can (for now) be readily air-lifted out of the collapse zones where I live and work. When I was a little upper-middle-middle-class girl living in the extremely safe white bread bedroom suburbs, where every brick-faced house had a Daddy who put on a suit and a hat and a stay-at-home Mommy who occasionally vacuumed and frequently flipped through magazines (or vice-versa), on the weekend we might be driven into the city for a treat like the circus, a ballet, or a children's play. We would drive past all the teenage hippies throwing frisbees in the park, and then Daddy would check, "Girls, are your doors locked?", because now we were driving through the "dangerous" neighborhoods where ashy-kneed kids would sometimes stare or wave at us from the sidewalks. After the circus, all the twinkling lights of the neighborhoods would blend together in the darkness, and I would nod off after the excitement of the day with my belly too full of cotton candy and hot dogs, while Daddy drove the car back home.

IOW, by the age of 10, I had accumulated a level of privilege that I won't be able to depreciate in this lifetime, even in the face of the meta-crisis, unless I suddenly develop an extreme craving for crack combined with late onset schizophrenia. So, I agree with you that when others aren't self-aware about their level of privilege, and choose to hold the perspective that all that has come to them is just deserts; it's not that I feel like they are "bad"; it's more that I know they are irrational or unrealistic. They are not "appreciating" all of their assets. That's why I keep arguing for more Level Green inclusiveness at ERE2. Without inclusiveness, without reaching out to more than an already motivated and open to the message classroom of grad students, it's just a somewhat lower rent DIY version of a billionaire escape pod community.

Western Red Cedar
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by Western Red Cedar »

Kevin Kelly - The Case for Optimism:

https://www.warpnews.org/premium-conten ... -optimism/

Kevin Kelly - The Future will be Shaped by Optimists:

https://www.ted.com/talks/kevin_kelly_t ... _optimists
Kevin Kelly:

A fair and rational evaluation of the scientific evidence demonstrates that progress is real over historical times. Progress is particularly evident in the last several centuries ever since science has been put into practice. The evidence is unambiguous that lifespans, security, well-being and opportunities for the average person have increased. So, on average, the optimistic view has been correct over longer time frames. There is no guarantee that this long run of progress will continue forward. It could happen that after 10 centuries it suddenly stops. While that sudden stop is possible, it is statistically more probable that it will continue, at least for several more decades. This long and on-going trend operates on a scale way beyond our own lifetimes. It is a phenomenon far bigger than ourselves. Being optimistic puts you in alignment with the long arc of history, and a part of something much bigger than yourself.

jacob
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by jacob »

Looking at the abiotic-producer-consumer-decomposer graph (ERE book chapter 7), the news for the producer and the consumer has been almost universally good since about 1880-1920, whereas the news for the abiotics (resources) and decomposers ("nature") is generally bad. Zooming out, it's pretty obvious that optimists occupy a very humancentric if not egocentric perspective. When they talk about "the world getting better", they're mainly talking about the human economy.

Worldcentric perspectives that also include and identify with the rest of nature (recognizes the cost of that progress) tend to be more pessimistic if not neutral. I'll leave it at that.

The "up up and away" perspective really is rather unique to the last THREE centuries, specifically the industrial period where the human-sphere began to consume the nature-sphere. Before that humans had a more static/cyclical perspective on whether things were going. In that regard, the cyclical boom/bust perspective has been correct over even longer time frames. The question is whether humans ought to let those longer time-frames define their perspective on the world. One thing is for sure, even if the timescales are longer than a lifetime, they still affect a given lifetime even though the person living [in] the trend likely doesn't recognize the underlying trend. Fish/water.

white belt
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Re: Optimism Resources

Post by white belt »

Western Red Cedar wrote:
Mon Dec 04, 2023 1:28 pm
Kevin Kelly - The Case for Optimism:

https://www.warpnews.org/premium-conten ... -optimism/
Reading that article makes me want to vomit, so I suspect I’m not the target audience. You can substitute God/faith for every mention of optimism in that article and everything still flows. Optimism is really the religion of the technologists.

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