William Golding, who wrote ‘Lord of the Flies’ said he was ‘a universal pessimist but a cosmic optimist.’
He was trying to distinguish between the universe, as the sum of man’s empirical knowledge and attempts at management, and the cosmos, as the totality of all there is, including God and man.
And it has always sat sensibly with me: the power of disorder and the power of creation.
Entropy, the tendency towards increasing disorder, is the natural way of man-made things, where the routine selfishness and greed of humans – whether in government, business or elsewhere – makes for difficult things.
Like the cost of living crisis.
Like rampant climate change.
In this universe, when you’d think action on climate change would be a no-brainer, it isn’t. It requires significant energy and sacrifice to promote it.
Just like it took significant energy to stop the slave trade. (Though, as entropy dictates, the slave trade continues in new forms.)
So, optimism that things will naturally get better is misplaced. Entropy trumps well-meaning optimism and vague future hopes of enlightenment’s arrival.
An organisation left to itself rots by degree, as a garden left to itself is slowly covered by weeds.
But it’s far from all bad news because, as history shows, there always are solutions, and it is in these that optimism rests.
Inventors, creators, reformers, social heroes, inspired leaders, good neighbours, kind people alter circumstances through what they do. They hold entropy back.
Perhaps the war in Ukraine makes us renew our love for liberal democracy.
Perhaps the present NHS crisis – no ambulances is quite a thing – renews our commitment to a universal and functioning health care system
Perhaps Covid re-awakened support for those in our community.
Perhaps the cost of living crisis will do the same; perhaps it will bring real social reform from brave government.
As we are bombarded by bad news – the default (and misleading) position of the media – we may find energy awakened in us to be part of the solution, in a way that is possible for us.
This is not the time for boosterism – the bold declaration that things will somehow be OK. That’s the optimism of the bad or insane. Or The Daily Express.
Sunny uplands are not our natural destination.
But it is the time for solutions, small and large; for a gathering of the good and the hopeful all over the world.
How shall we hold entropy back today? We have done it before, often; we can do it again.
As one famous escape artist said, ‘In every puzzle, you have to find the gap.’
There is always a gap; and in finding the gap, and having the balls…
… there lies the optimism.