“Things will get better” is the rally cry of the indefinite optimist. In his book, Zero to One, Peter Thiel describes four types of thinkers based on their optimism or pessimism and whether they are definitely or indefinitely minded. Read more here. I wanted to write this article because there is a glaring parallel between America’s inability to deal with it’s problems, and the overproduction of indefinite optimists in government.
Indefinite optimists believe that things will get better, but don’t necessarily have a plan or course of action to ensure that they do. Conversely, definite optimists believe in a better future, but they also plan and work toward it. If you think about America in the 1930’s and 40’s, you can see a country that was struggling, and only prevailed due to the thinking and planning of it’s leaders. After the Great Depression, the government knew that things were not going to self-correct. It wouldn’t just “play out” magically for the good of the country. As a result, they went to work. They created the New Deal, and worked to rebuild the country. When aggression reached American soil, they worked together to defeat the enemy. They didn’t just let World War 2 play itself out (although they tried), they took it by the reigns and built a New World Order.
Fast forward to 2020. We see an America plagued by racial division, income inequality, and an inability to effectively deal with a pandemic. While it is the job of a President to reassure the people, Donald Trump’s indefinite optimism gives us words with no action. The federal government has done little to protect the lives and prosperity of its people. The most dimwitted among us think things will get better on their own.
There are many parallels between America before and during WWII and America in 2020. If we are wise, we will see that the way our forefathers made it through a most difficult winter was planning and action, not sitting around waiting for it to get better. We need a New New Deal. We need a government that will step up and provide leadership, guidance, and a vision for the future.
Donald Trump himself is the textbook example of the pathology of an indefinite optimist. A man with many business failures (and to his credit some successes) thinks things getting better just happens. It sometimes does happen that way when you inherit a large sum of money or a family business. But he is missing the insight that his father probably had. It doesn’t just fall into your lap, you have to make it. We see in Donald Trump a man of extraordinary privilege who thinks he is self-made. In a way, his philosophy checks out. “I can be mediocre and have things work out well for me”. It kind of has worked out for him. But for most people, the blueprint for a better future is unwritten and we must be the authors.
What America needs are visionary leaders who know a future is not guaranteed unless they plan for it and create it. We are at a tipping point where if we “let things run their course”, we could be decimated in the process. This is not a scathing review of our President but rather a light into the pathologies that have left our (supposed) leaders impotent when we need them the most. Hopefully, we as a nation can renew our definite optimism and begin re-building an America that works for all.