“The future is inside of us. It’s not somewhere else.” – Thom Yorke
My advisor from graduate school, Mike Little, retired this year and donated many of his books to his colleagues and former students, including me. I owe Mike a lot in terms of my education. Now I also owe him a box of books.
I was flipping through some of the items he sent and one of them was “How Humans Adapt: A Biocultural Odyssey,” edited by Donald Ortner (1983). The prolog was written by the late microbiologist René Dubos , who struck an optimistic tone about human plasticity, and how we adapt to – and also shape – our environments.
He wrote that all organisms…
This seems relevant.
“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.
It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the sufferings of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return once more.”
Friday, July 21, 1944
On Finding Optimism (July 2013)
Nature, Not Always Red in Tooth and Claw (January 2013)
On Optimism and Human Nature (April 2011)
This photo from a BBC report on the ongoing fighting in South Sudan made its rounds on the internet today, showing refugees being segregated by ethnicity at a UN compound. As of last month, an estimated 93,000 people had been displaced by the conflict, indicating the scale of the crisis (source: reliefweb).
Sign at a camp in Bentiu, South Sudan, segregating refugees by ethnicity. (Source: BBC)
(Dec 31: Here’s to an optimistic New Year, and that as individuals and societies we can learn from, and possibly even get the chance to rectify, our mistakes).
Some days, it’s harder to find optimism than others. But it’s always there. “In any event, it is the only way we can live.”
From Bobby Kennedy:
“There is discrimination in this world and slavery and slaughter and starvation. Governments repress their people; millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich and wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere. These are differing evils, but they are the common works of man. They reflect the imperfection of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, our lack of sensibility towards the suffering of our fellows. But we can perhaps remember—even if only for a time—that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek—as we do—nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.
Earlier this week, the writer/ documentary filmmaker Soo Na Pak and I had a conversation about anthropology, which she transcribed and posted on her blog. She emailed me after finding the post I wrote on the loss of my brother titled “Life is Beautiful,” and asked if we could talk about some of these things more in depth on the phone. The discussion was a lengthy one that spanned a variety of topics, but I think the main themes were about how we can find some anchors in science which provide optimism, resilience, and hope under difficult circumstances. We also talked about the evolution of humans as a biocultural species, plasticity, and whether some of our more powerful emotions – like grief and love – can be considered adaptive. There’s also some personal stuff in there too. It was a fun experience. Thank you, Soo Na.