Book Five Synopsis

Book Five Synopsis

Series Overview | Dead Serious and Light-Hearted | Grading on the Curve
A Reasoned Case for Optimism | No Dog in the Fight | The Brilliance of Many

A Reasoned Case for Optimism
America in the Early 21st Century

          A Reasoned Case for Optimism is the fifth book in The Chance of a Lifetime… series. This book presents the many reasons why Americans should have and exercise optimism in the resolution of the fundamental issues facing our country. This book further suggests that despite the acrimony of our contemporary American debates, we may be in a period of peculiar opportunity.

There are at least three reasons for addressing the subject of optimism. First, America is going to need a lot of it. Second,  it seems to be in short supply of late. Third, without it, America will have an understanding difficulty is exercising both the patience and the effort which is going ot be needed.

There areas growing areas of consensus. We Americans are more and more understanding of the nature and extent of our problems. We are slowly coming to the conclusion that our problems will not come from tinkering with public policy or from the election of a new crop of politicians. We agree that some of our problems are both deeper and fundamental. This book suggests that the solutions will have to come first from changes in how we, not they, behave, think, reason, and lead. Those solutions will require a sustained effort by a wide swath of our population, and those solutions will require a blend of focus, energy, patience and humility – the last two of which are not America’s strong suit.

At first blush, there is a troublesome kumbaya ring to these suggestions — “fundamental changes” and “wide swath of our population.” But these matters are not left vague. They are not left open for widely personalized interpretation. Instead, the next book, The Ten Changes Necessary for the Remaking of American Life, identifies the decisions which we must make and what we must do as a country. But as tempting as it is to dive in to discussing such needed ten changes, the issues of focus, resources, energy, patience, and humility – and ultimately optimism must first be addressed.

A Reasoned Case for Optimism presents substantial evidences that America has the focus. We are a smart people. We know that except for certain aspects of our society and certain sectors of our economy, we as a nation have been aimless for several decades. We know there are changes which need to be addressed.

This book next presents substantial evidence that America has the resources and the energy even though our energy has, of late, been the wrong type. It has been jumpy, caffeinated, agitated, and angry. Our energy has stemmed too much from fear and anxiety rather than from hope and optimism. But we can regain a steady confidence. Eventually confidence can again flow from our progress. Initially, however, our confidence must flow from a regained sense of optimism.

Even though America has historically been an optimistic nation, pessimism has crept deep into our thinking. Times have changed, and we know that fireside chats are not going to be enough. We know that we all have a lot more to fear than fear itself. The last decade neither began nor ended well. Our horizon is cloudy, and declinist books are everywhere. We carry around that Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the … in our heads. Most of us never read it, but we know the theme.

Thus, the reason for this book. The subject is optimism. It is critical.

A Reasoned Case for Optimism explains how America can reclaim that optimism. This book explores how our optimism has become lost amidst our arguing. It has been buried under the headlines. It is waiting to be reclaimed, and it is time to do so.

The bases for optimism discussed in this book are not rooted in giddy hope, wishful thinking, blind faith, quiet prayers, or some kind of pathetic, we-are-all-in-it-together, lifeboat analogy. Instead, this book’s conclusions are based upon America’s traditional sense of resilience, our history, and our resources.

Pushing even further, A Reasoned Case for Optimism concludes that America may be in a period of peculiar opportunity. There may be an opening for something different, but some changes will need to be made. The television may need to be turned off, the radio may need to be turned down, and the breaking news of the day may need to be received with less alarm and more perspective. We must stop the empty banter and slowly, even if begrudgingly at first, we must find ways to reach out to one another. Our leaders are not going to lead us to unification. It will have to come from us.

There are other reasons why we may be in a period of peculiar opportunity. Americans are coming to better understand that few of us are able to withdraw from the American community. Like it or not, the doors cannot be made thick enough. The community walls cannot be built high enough. The woods are not deep enough. Our stake in America’s future is shared.

And exactly because we are in the foxhole together — looking over the edge and trying to sneak a peak at the future — there are signs of a growing commonality amongst us. More Americans are holding the growing sense of shared struggle. More Americans are holding the common feelings of loss, fear, failure, confusion and frustration.

These feelings result partly from America’s recent economic collapse and partly from the conspicuous dysfunction of our political system. There are social and personal dimensions as well. Some people actually miss the silence. They miss the calm, grace, and common courtesies of days gone by. While those days cannot be fully reclaimed (and it is important to remember that for some Americans, the good old days never were) and while we cannot go back, we can decide how we wish to go forward.

But we have to relax and remember. We have to relax and remember that, just like high school, there will always be the 2% who will remain balloon-boy crazy, stupid stubborn, or brain-locked by disposition or habit. But also just like high school, the noisy influence of 2% crazy needs to be contained – even disregarded. Seeds of optimism can be found in that many Americans, out of sheer frustration or exhaustion, may be open to changing the way they think, behave, and converse. Curiously, it is these feelings of shared frustration and exhaustion that may unite us. Our collective displeasure may finally work in our favor.

Some of the changes which we need to make will, at first, be the subject of strong beliefs and divisive opinions. But there are matters of wide concurrence as well. Many, but certainly not all, believe that America’s allocations of income, wealth, and opportunity can be improved. Most Americans believe that education is important; that innovation needs to be encouraged, and that honest effort and constructive ingenuity should be rewarded. For now, these can serve as places for starting-line consensus.

Optimism can also be rooted in remembering the very nature of democracy. It is a god-love-it, imperfect and terribly inefficient system of governance. On our best, flag-waiving day, our democracy rests on the rough theory that, as Bertrand Russell said, 51% of the people are right 51% of the time. Those are, very bluntly, not good numbers, and they curiously reflect the percentages of our recent national elections. And so patience and a sense of optimism will be required. A lot of it. There is work to be done, and the place is everywhere.

Optimism can also be drawn from remembering both the nature and the proximity of our communities. Our national community is important, but sometimes it siphons too much of our attention. The place to begin may be closer to home since matters directly around us and within our hearing or our sight oftentimes affect us the most. And these matters can most readily be changed.

There are exceptions, but most Americans live as a part of one or more distinguishable communities defined by family, friends, neighborhoods, religion, age, and interests. Our place of worship is down the road. Our favorite restaurant is around the corner. Our favorite stores are not far away, and our children’s schools are close at hand. These aspects of our American life are close. They are within our reach.

It may be national political or economic matters which most often inflame our tempers, but things closer to home affect us the most. Upon reflection, many Americans are more impacted by the obnoxious neighbor next door, by the litter along our roads, and by the graffiti in our parks. We are hurt more by the rudeness of surly clerk or the grumpy silence of the passerby than we do. We work longer due to the employee who doesn’t show up or by the co-worker who doesn’t carry his load. These things are close to home. These are the things which impact us the most. And these things we can change. Marginal tax rates of the wealthy may be important. The GSA’s Las Vegas convention absurdity may be offensive. But for right now and from a perspective far closer to home, many Americans would gladly take a waive from a neighbor or a gesture of kindness.

It will require a measure of optimism to improve our own lives and to re-define the American creed of behavior and social expectations. It will take optimism to stretch those expectations so that they are reflected in the operations of our economy and our politics, in the programming of our media, and in the education content of our schools. But it can be done.

The bases for such optimism are set forth in this book. Such optimism about our capacity for change rests upon the history and resources of our country and our capacity for resolve. The reasons for optimism as presented in this book are carefully presented. They are not rooted in shallow hope. Almost surprisingly, they are matters of data, not emotion.

The decisions which we must make; the things we must do, and the changes which we must implement are set forth in the next book – Book Six entitled No Dog In The Fight – The 10 Changes Necessary for the Remaking of American Life.