Some time ago, on a slow day, I made this simple graphic.
What was I thinking?
The world is simpler than it appears. My observations of it indicate that humans can be neatly divided into two groups, optimists and pessimists. The vast majority of humans are optimistic by nature, and when I say "optimistic" in this post, I am talking about those who are sanguine about the human future, regardless of any current problems, and regardless of any worrisome ongoing trends. In extreme cases, as with technological optimists, they are actually excited about our bright future regardless of current problems and disturbing trends.
In a recent post Humans Are Clueless About Themselves, I noted that "optimism bias" has actually been found in the brain.
In a series of experiments, [neuroscientist Tali] Sharot thas identified a region in the brain that seems to be responsible for this bias. She temporarily disables this region using a magnetic field and then asks people what they think. The bias disappears. People stop being overly optimistic. They start to take risks seriously.
This is a remarkable finding which confirms to some degree my strong suspicion that optimism is built right into humans at the genetic level. Turn over any rock on this planet, and you will almost invariably find an optimist. I see that proposition confirmed by observation over and over again.
If optimism is innate in humans, you would expect that there will be a class of exceptions to the general rule because the complex combination of biological determinants which give rise to this trait is bound to "fail" in some individuals (via mutation or genetic switches or whatever). And that's exactly what we find.
Thus we have a much, much smaller group of pessimists whom I call "Doomers". I defined that group in my post Contemporary Eschatology. Pessimists are not rare, but they make up a very small percentage of the general population (< 0.5%).
Of course, you wouldn't know that if you do this youtube search. Pessimists may be infrequent in the general population, but they are vocal attention seekers. (Maybe that's due to the frustration of being a pessimist in an optimistic world.)
Whereas the optimist sees a bright future, the pessimist sees no future at all. Literally. The pessimist is waiting around for the collapse of everything, which will occur any day now. Sometimes they wait for decades.
Thus we see that optimists and pessimists might be regarded as two sides of the same genetic coin. I came to this conclusion through my observations of the world and my experience writing this blog.
Now, you will have noticed that there is a third group in my simple graphic whom I called "Realists". Also note the text not drawn to scale. If the graphic were drawn to scale, the realists would be invisible, and even the pessimists would be very hard to see
The people in this group have neither an optimism bias nor a pessimism bias. Realists look at the current problems and the worrisome trends, and make a considered judgment about the human future based on the evidence available. Only realists can assess risk correctly, for they lack the bias which colors the judgments of all the others.
If all the foregoing is correct, you would expect that realists are very rare indeed. Out of world population of 7+ billion people, I'm guessing there may be several thousands of them. Assuming there are 10,000 "realists" on Earth, this group would make up 0.00015% of the general human population.
In the context of the foregoing, you can readily see that realists make themselves. They are not born that way. And so it was with me. I am a recovering optimist.
And now, I'll return to my original question — what was I thinking when I made that graphic?
I was thinking that DOTE has no natural constituency, for I am a realist, and realists are very rare indeed.
Bonus Video — An old favorite. Some realist made this. That person obviously had a sense of humor. A rich sense of humor is the sine qua non of the realist.