Posts Tagged ‘extinction’

The Case for Optimism: Episode Two

April 25, 2017

THE UU PATH: Fireflies in the dark

by Hallas Midgette

Hallas Midgette

This is the second episode of the four-part series featuring the thought-provoking talk on optimism delivered by Hallas Midgette, a retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. and retired science instructor at Brookstone High School. The talk was presented to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus, Georgia on April 23, 2017. You can read the first episode by scrolling down on this blog.

In the first episode, Hal explains why he believes the UU path is an optimistic way of navigating through life. Just as millions of fireflies he once saw lighting up a field in Kansas one Summer, “In a world of many religions’ UUs stand out as a light in the darkness. That light is optimism. Unitarians are optimistic.” Hal went on to say that four books perhaps shaped his optimistic worldview. This episode features his explanation of why.

Episode Two

The Books

There are four books that have influenced my optimistic views, besides all those science fiction novels.  The first was Voltaire’s “Candide,” where, with all the terrible events in his life, Candide kept proclaiming that this “is the best of all possible worlds.”  I read this in college and it stuck with me.  Once, in the middle of the movie “The 25th Hour” …as close a parallel of the story of Candide as I have ever seen, but in a World War II setting…..I stood up to leave because it was Voltaire’s “Candide” all over again and I just couldn’t take watching a human being suffer so much, especially when he accepted the suffering without protest or fight.  Michelle urged me to sit back down, possibly because we were on a double date and the other couple were the drivers.  I reject that this is the best of all possible worlds because that is not realistic.  We can’t resign ourselves to tolerating violence, cruelty and suffering.  I have confidence that the world continues improving, not necessarily  linearly, but in fits and starts.  This feeling that the world is getting better all of the time is one of the reasons I joined this fellowship, because it is engaged in what I view as the battle of good and evil and is on the side of improving the human condition.

The second book that had a major impact on my optimistic view is David. M. Raup’s “Extinction:  Bad luck or bad genes.”  His book was my first forray into looking at extinctions on a geological timescale.  I never before had realized how many localized and worldwide extinctions there have been in the Earth’s history.  There are all types of mechanisms that can cause extinctions besides the one we are probably most familiar with…..fast moving, big rock from the sky.  Or, for some, coming in contact with Europeans.  There have been five major extinctions in Earth’s history, some causing as much as 95% of all life to go away.  The amazing thing is that life just didn’t slowly creep back to its former level, but it virtually exploded back and became more extensive and varied.  Raup was the first author to alert me to the fact that we humans not only might be in Earth’s sixth major extinction event, but most probably are causing it.  But, being a glass half full person, I have faith that humans can and will discover ways to avoid an end to our species.

The third book that influenced my positive world view was Edward O. Wilson’s “On Human Nature.”  Initially he studied social insects, then turned his brilliance to analyzing how humans interact and why we evolved to be so social.  As a social species, our fate is interconnected with one another.   In the past, as we evolved on the savannah of Africa, alone, we were food, but as a tribe, we were the dominant specie to be reckoned with.   We, according to Dr. Wilson, have evolved to live in tribes, and are fairly predictable in what we do, how we behave, and what our limitations are.  Human’s have done well, even in the face of severe adversity.  The world, with its extremes, highs and lows, continues slowly getting better…..like a high tide slowly coming in.  Waves come in and recede, but gradually get higher and higher.  I contend that we haven’t seen, or perhaps can’t even grasp what the high water mark of human achievement might be.  Former President Barack Obama said, “Progress isn’t always a straight line or a smooth path.”

Finally, the fourth book, and the most positive book I’ve ever read is “Nonzero:  The logic for human destiny,” by Robert Wright.  Looking through the lens of gaming theory, the author sets out to prove why humans are where we are today, and that we are now in the storm before the calm.  Yes, I did say storm before the calm.  Through meticulous logic the author detailed how our universe, at least the portion we live in, is primed to move from entropy to organized systems.  While, according to his analysis, life, while not guaranteed, was certainly favored.  He contends that the evolution of life was for more complex systems, that life can’t be a zero sum game, where the winner takes all, like tennis or football.  Life has to be a nonzero sum game, and this is what propels us forward.  A nonzero sum game is like trade, where both sides of the bargain gain….maybe not equally, but they gain from the interaction.  His analysis of history and culture accomplish the same….showing that evolution of civilization was positive, that while there were setbacks, the general progression has been greater complexity and forward, with Mankind having greater control over his own fate.

Episode Three will explain how the Seven Principles affirmed by UUs “virtually scream optimism.”

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The Case for Optimism

April 23, 2017

THE UU PATH: Fireflies in the dark

 

by Hallas Midgette

 

With all of the mess going on in the world, it is hard to be an optimist. However, my friend Hallas Midgette has a made good case for being one. He made it in a talk he delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus, Georgia on April 23, 2017.  Because I found it quite thought provoking I decided to share it with you. I know you have a lot to read, so I’m going to publish it in four episodes. 

Hal, who is one of the most intelligent persons I know, is a retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. and retired science instructor at Brookstone High School.   

Hallas Midgette

Episode One

Optimists are hopeful and confident about the future or the successful outcome of something.  Optimism is thought to have a heritable factor, as well as being influenced by environment.  I believe the UU path is an optimistic way of navigating through life, and in my talk today, I will try to explain that opinion, but first, I’ll share my personal journey into optimism, starting with the title:  “The UU Path:   Fireflies in the Dark.

Some of you might be thinking that if fireflies were illuminating the UU path, it must be pretty dimly lit.  As a child, here in the South, Summer evenings were filled with the sounds of frogs, the buzzing of mosquitoes, the sweet smell of honeysuckle, and the delight of fireflies flickering in the yard and trees.  I knew from an early age that the light in fireflies wasn’t really fire, but bioluminescence.  Only later would I learn that the females were in the trees flickering in specie specific frequencies to lure the males from the yards below, and that sometimes carnivorous beetles would imitate the female fireflies in order to lure the unsuspecting males up to dinner, but not one of their choosing.  I had so much to learn….and still do.  This is how I viewed Summers for decades until one warm Summer evening in Kansas.  It was night and I was returning home from Kansas City, driving through the countryside…and that is when I noticed the fireflies.  I pulled over and for the next ten minutes witnessed the most amazing sight I’ve ever seen.  Untold millions, perhaps billions, of fireflies were lighting up, filling the whole field with light in a way that was and is still hard for me to comprehend.  In a world of many religions, UUs stand out as a light in the darkness. That light is optimism.  Unitarians are optimistic.  We are not Pollyannas, but realists, and I contend, are fundamentally optimists who see the possibility of a positive outcome for the human condition.  It is not there for the taking, but has to be fought for, and we are engaged in that fight.

I’ve always been a glass half full person, rejecting the half empty view.  While not always being happy, I’m optimistic about humans and our future.  Part of this might be explained by what I read as a child, starting with science fiction.  In science fiction, humans usually are pushing out from Earth, voyaging into the unknown and often finding strange worlds, and even stranger sentient beings.  Sometimes the stories are bleak as the aliens had ambitions to destroy us, but eventually we either overpower them with human ingenuity or befriend them, and ultimately humankind lives happily ever after….walking hand in tentacle into the sunset.   Perhaps these books shaped my views, or maybe I chose them because they fit my worldview…or those of my optimist genes.  Only psychoanalysis can tell, but I’m afraid of couches.

Those four books are “Candide,” by Voltaire, “Extinction: Bad Luck or Bad Genes,” by David M. Raup, “”On Human Nature,” by Edward O. Wilson, and “Nonzero: the Logic for Human Destiny”, by Robert Wright.  In our next episode, Hal will explain why those books shaped his worldview.