Can it be coincidence that, only two months after the launch of the EcoOptimism blog, Ode Magazine has changed its name to The Intelligent Optimist?
Uh, yeah, it’s coincidence. Much as I’d love to think we’ve already had that kind of influence, they’ve been around a lot longer than we have, and co-founder Jurriaan Kamp writes about the name change here. He relays a discussion about the renaming he had with Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, in which Zander says “I think of intelligent optimism as a discipline, the rigorous discipline to stay in the state of mind of possibility.”
As I write this, their new website is not yet fully launched and the “about” section is labeled “Under Construction.” That may be unintentionally appropriate given Zander’s point about possibilities: “The disciplined intelligent optimist says, ‘It’s too early to judge,’ and asks, ‘What’s next?’”
Possibility is always under construction.
But we can check back with OdeWire’s “about” page (OdeWire is their online component), which says “…OdeWire is always looking at the most authoritative news sources for stories that focus on solutions rather than problems, and on positive changes rather than negative ones.”
Not surprisingly, given the related names, there is a strong parallel between Ode/The Intelligent Optimist’s mission and ours.
EcoOptimism seeks to show how we can come out the other side of our concurrent ECOlogical and ECOnomic crises (ECOoptimism, get it?) in a better place than we started; that not only will the planet be healthier, but we, as individuals, as families, as communities and as a species, can feel fulfilled and be more prosperous.
Our emphasis on optimism doesn’t mean we are always optimistic. We see clouds as well as silver linings. (I’ve never quite understood the phrase ‘every cloud has a silver lining.’ Wouldn’t it mean that we see the silver outer lining rather than the storms awaiting us inside, meaning things look better than they are? But whatevs, as ‘the kids’ are saying these days.)
Regardless of occasional digressions from optimism (‘reality checks’ some might call them), it strikes me that optimism is the only productive route. In terms of environmentalism, the alternative pessimistic route would be adaptation – acknowledging that the sky is indeed falling and we’d better strengthen our roofs.
But does EcoOptimism imply that we not pursue adaptation, or its more positive variation: resilience? Not at all. That would put it in the category of one of my nemeses: the false dilemma. (Note to self: create comic book villain named “False Dilemma.”) We can – and should – work on both prevention or mitigation and adaptation or resilience. The vastly preferable path, in terms of both cost and disruption (“disruption” would be an optimistic/euphemistic description of the potential perils), is prevention. But it may well be that we are past the point of prevention of some ecological disasters. For instance it may be that climate disruption has already been set in motion and, therefore, it would be foolhardy to ignore the steps necessary to lessen the impact. Perhaps there are responses available there, too that are in the vein of EcoOptimism – adaptations that also improve our economy and lives, only without the ecological benefits.
The other appeal of EcoOptimism is its very nature. Fear is usually a great motivator, but it hasn’t been working here, probably because the things to be afraid of are too abstract. We aren’t directly experiencing them or have trouble ascribing seemingly isolated events to a larger picture that we’d rather not see.
Fear motivates in crises like war or epidemics or severe weather (as opposed to climate) where the danger can be felt or easily anticipated, or where we have experienced it before. Ecological disruption falls into none of those categories and that means we need a different motivator. If not fear, then the motivator needs to be desire, which is where the purpose of EcoOptimism comes in.
Optimism is also a nearly genetic part of being a designer. (Non-designers are welcome; it’s not an exclusive gene pool.) Designers look at a thing or a problem and immediately start imagining what could be. Pretty much by definition, that’s optimism. It also means that, in the eyes and minds of designers, things are always “under construction.” There are always possibilities.