Movie Friday: Optimism

During the panel on social justice last weekend at Eschaton, someone asked us if we were optimistic or pessimistic about the future – whether we saw the world getting better, or if it was in fact getting worse. It’s a complicated question, because we are now more aware of what is going on in the world than ever before. Stephen Pinker’s book suggests that there is less violence today than at any point in our measurable history, so that’s something to be glad about I guess. My answer was pretty equivocal: we are still struggling with the same challenges we always have; we just find different words and technologies in which to contextualize them. Unless we radically change the foundational assumptions of our civilization, we’re going to keep having the same problems forever.

But seeing as how depressing that answer is, I decided to point to some things that made me happy, one of which was the subject of a post here on the blog – a story that reminds us that human beings are capable of finding solutions to completely novel problems if given the time and the opportunity. Here’s another such story:

This kid is undeniably a genius. Imagine what it would have been like if he had been born under the circumstances that, say, I was. Ready access to both the raw materials needed to learn, but an environment that encouraged him to learn and experiment and explore. As it is, there may be thousands of Kelvins all across the African continent who, for reasons having nothing to do with their intelligence, are languishing in poverty and desperation. We are doing ourselves a disservice as a species by not providing the opportunities for all human beings to realize their potential, regardless of their wealth.

Which is why this story makes me a little optimistic. As our borders become more permeable, and as globalization forces an increasing awareness of parts of the world that were formerly completely ignorable, it is possible that we will see stories like this become increasingly common. The way to get there is to begin listening to the stories that we previously did not have access to, and to be willing to expand our notion of “us” wide enough that we can provide opportunities for personal growth and development to people who may not share our geography or ethnicity, but who embody our aspirations for a better world. Not necessarily just for their sakes, but for ours as a species as well.

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  1. says

    Not just Africa, either; much of the populations of South America and Asia are in similar straits. The smartest person ever born most likely died young in a hovel after a life of backbreaking labor, because almost everyone ever born has so far done so.

  2. sharoncrawford says

    What you say is true. I even knew in some way that it was true but I so appreciate how you stated it.

  3. says

    For what it’s worth, iTunes University has some amazing free course material for kids like him. If he wants to, he can audit physics lectures at MIT, for free.

    I’m passionately hopeful about things like iTunesU having an unexpected impact. You’re right – there are Ramanujans out there; they just need the catalyst and the tools. And, for those that manage to find a path to break out, we can only hope they don’t forget where they came from, and keep an eye focused behind them as well as ahead.

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