Text of this morning's thought.
Last night I went to St Georges in Bristol to hear a talk by Chris Patten, the former MP for Bath and the last governor of Hong Kong. Patten was talking about his book, What Next?, which has the sobering subtitle, “surviving the 21st century.” His list of what we might euphemistically call challenges included terrorism, the global economic crisis, war, water shortages and environmental degradation.
Patten said he wrote the book without being suicidally gloomy because all these problems are soluble. His optimism was grounded in a belief that things have been much worse in recent history, yet progress has still been made.
For example, when Patten went to university in 1962, the globe was facing nuclear destruction as Russia and America squared up to each other over Cuba. And we think the world is dangerous now.
He also talked about when he first went to America in the sixties. In Montgomery, Alabama he discovered two civil rights activists had recently been shot, and the police often set dogs on black would-be voters. Now Barack Obama is president-elect.
Events in Mumbai are a reminder that “Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment,” as Franklin D Roosevelt said in 1932, as he became president during a much worse depression than the one we are currently facing. But, he continued “We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered, because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it.”
Patten reminded me that the human race has come a long way, through darker days. Remember that, and belief in progress is not only possible, but rational.