Is Optimism Possible?

I have been, for many years, pessimistic about the future of liberty and prosperity in America (e.g., here). I am not alone, of course. The estimable Arnold Kling isn’t as openly pessimistic, but it isn’t hard to read between the lines of his many posts about the present state of affairs. Take this one, for example, in which he writes about

some possible outcomes for the future:

1. The “good left” ([Jonathan] Rauch and others) overpowers the illiberal Woke left. p = .05

2. The illiberal Woke left suffers a catastrophic electoral defeat at the hands of a non-populist right. p = .05

3. The illiberal Woke left and the populist right continue to dominate political dynamics, with today’s level of discomfort or more. p = .40

4. The U.S. experiences an era of Woke totalitarianism that lasts for a couple of decades, but which eventually collapses into something else (not necessarily good) p = .25

5. Academia, journalism, traditional media, and government become empty battlegrounds, as technological change results in very different forms of social organization (call this the Balaji scenario, if you will). p = .25

There is a sixth possibility, or perhaps it’s a combination of Kling’s #1, #2, and #5, with a higher probability that Kling assigns to them.

People, except for a small but loud minority, will simply quit caring about ideology and just get on with living their lives and engaging personally with people who matter to them. This turn of events won’t be obvious at first, but it will begin to show in such ways as the declining use of social media. Astute politicians who have been too quick to embrace “wokeness” will sense the turning tide and begin to moderate their positions in the hope of appealing to a broader electoral base. As things go in politics, this new moderation will catch on. The illiberal left won’t shrink in numbers or volume, but the moderate (i.e., more liberal) left will grow in influence. And there will be much more common ground for the empowered moderate left to share with the sane liberal right (i.e., actual conservatives as opposed to attitudinal zealots). A new center will form around deeply shared values (defense of life, liberty, and property) as opposed to fatuous slogans (defund the police, all whites are racist, etc.). The media, in turn, will embrace this new zeitgeist and quit antagonizing viewers with daily injections of wokeness. And so it will go, until something line the zeitgeist of the 1950s has been restored.

A lot of history would have to be overcome, including (but far from limited to) decades of leftist indoctrination in public schools and universities, massive dependency on big government, political and bureaucratic inertia, and the degree to which key institutions (e.g., schools and media) have become locked in to wokeness. But if history teaches us anything, it is that the tides of human affairs do turn.

I don’t expect to see the tide turn (by very much) in what remains of my lifetime. But I still hold out hope that it will, for the sake of my children and grandchildren and on down the line.