Peter Thiel: Our World Is Indefinitely Optimistic

20 May 2017 | Peter Thiel – in Zero to One – argues that our world is indefinitely optimistic. If a vision of the future world defines today attitudes, behaviors, and actions then it is worth to look closer at vision vs. attitude.

A vision of the future world defines today attitudes, behaviors, and actions.


Indefinite Pessimism. Every culture has a myth of decline from some golden age, and almost all peoples throughout history have been pessimists. Even today pessimism still dominates huge parts of the world. An indefinite pessimist looks out onto a bleak future, but he has no idea what to do about it. This describes Europe since the early 1970s, when the continent succumbed to undirected bureaucratic drift.
Definite Pessimism. A definite pessimist believes the future can be known, but since it will be bleak, he must prepare for it. Perhaps surprisingly, China is probably the most definitely pessimistic place in the world today.
Definite Optimism To a definite optimist, the future will be better than the present if he plans and works to make it better. From the 17th century through the 1950s and ’60s, definite optimists led the Western world. Scientists, engineers, doctors, and businessmen made the world richer, healthier, and more long-lived than previously imaginable.
Indefinite Optimism After a brief pessimistic phase in the 1970s, indefinite optimism has dominated American thinking ever since 1982, when a long bull market began and finance eclipsed engineering as the way to approach the future. To an indefinite optimist, the future will be better, but he doesn’t know how exactly, so he won’t make any specific plans. He expects to profit from the future but sees no reason to design it concretely.
Our indefinitely optimistic world includes:
(a) Indefinite Finance. in an indefinite world, people actually prefer unlimited optionality; money is more valuable than anything you could possibly do with it. Only in a definite future is money a means to an end, not the end itself.
(b) Indefinite Politics. According to the indefinite logic of entitlement spending, we can make things better just by sending out more checks.
(c) Indefinite Philosophy. In the late 20th century, indefinite philosophies came to the fore. The two dominant political thinkers, John Rawls and Robert Nozick, are usually seen as stark opposites: on the egalitarian left, Rawls was concerned with questions of fairness and distribution; on the libertarian right, Nozick focused on maximizing individual freedom. They both believed that people could get along with each other peacefully, so unlike the ancients, they were optimistic. But unlike Spencer or Marx, Rawls and Nozick were indefinite optimists: they didn’t have any specific vision of the future.
(d) Indefinite Life. It’s easy for libertarians to claim that heavy regulation holds biotech back—and it does—but indefinite optimism may pose an even greater challenge for the future of biotech.

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