Do you still believe in the future?

This text of Bernard Baruch’s 1953 radio address has been circulating via email among some people I know, generating some interesting discussion. It appeared in last week’s Wall St. Journal and as an essay on This I Believe in Aug. 2009 (audio and text) where the sidebar says:

1950s-baruchb-16354-200Financier and elder statesman Bernard Baruch found his beliefs shaken by the atrocities of World War II and the advent of the hydrogen bomb. But by believing in courage, intelligence and reason, Baruch is able to feel hope for the future…

Bernard Baruch rose to prominence as a financier and member of the New York Stock Exchange. He advised Presidents Woodrow Wilson during World War I, Franklin Roosevelt during the New Deal and World War II, and Harry Truman in the post-war era.

Why I Still Believe in the Future, by Bernard Baruch.

 

When I was a younger man, I believed that progress was inevitable—that the world would be better tomorrow and better still the day after. The thunder of war, the stench of concentration camps, the mushroom cloud of the atomic bomb are, however, not conducive to optimism. All our tomorrows for years to come will be clouded by the threat of a terrible holocaust.

Yet my faith in the future, though somewhat shaken, is not destroyed. I still believe in it. If I sometimes doubt that man will achieve his mortal potentialities, I never doubt that he can.

I believe that these potentialities promise all men a measure beyond reckoning of the joys and comforts, material and spiritual, that life offers. Not utopia, to be sure. I do not believe in utopias. Man may achieve all but perfection.

Paradise is not for this world. All men cannot be masters, but none need to be a slave. We cannot cast out pain from the world, but needless suffering we can. Tragedy will be with us in some degree as long as there is life, but misery we can banish. Injustice will raise its head in the best of all possible worlds, but tyranny we can conquer. Evil will invade some men’s hearts, intolerance will twist some men’s minds, but decency is a far more common human attribute, and it can be made to prevail in our daily lives.

I believe all this because I believe, above all else, in reason—in the power of the human mind to cope with the problems of life. Any calamity visited upon man, either by his own hand or by a more omnipotent nature, could have been avoided or at least mitigated by a measure of thought. To nothing so much as the abandonment of reason does humanity owe its sorrows. Whatever failures I have known, whatever errors I have committed, whatever follies I have witnessed in private and public life, have been the consequence of action without thought.

Because I place my trust in reason, I place it in the individual. There is a madness in crowds from which even the wisest, caught up in their ranks, are not immune. Stupidity and cruelty are the attributes of the mob, not wisdom and compassion.

I have known, as who has not, personal disappointments and despair. But always the thought of tomorrow has buoyed me up. I have looked to the future all my life. I still do. I still believe that with courage and intelligence we can make the future bright with fulfillment.

5 thoughts on “Do you still believe in the future?”

  1. I believe that the next 50 years (SWAG) will see a complete transformation of the human condition due to the transition from petrofuels (oil, coal) to other forms of energy. I believe that businesses and governments that attempt to rekindle the glorious growth of the past will fail in that attempt and may bankrupt our children and grandchildren in the process. I believe that in the future we will enjoy arts and music much more, and manufactured, expensive toys, like boats and cars, much less. If this makes me a gloomy Gus or a Casandra, well, the veil of immaturity has been lifted oft mine eyes (which is to say, I am a codger). I used to believe in the future per Star Trek, but now I am much thinking much more of Road Warrior or Children of Men. It would be nice to arrive in the future in a soft landing, because, as any pilot will tell you, it is much easier to run out of gas sitting on the runway than it is to run out while you are over an ocean somewhere (exception).

    We have choices to make and I fear many of our politicians are unable to lead us to that future. Unfortunately, many of the people who do see this changed future are also conspiracy theorists, fervent with the energy of the True Believers and often could not teach a rock to fall to the ground because of that wild-eyed fervor. Rational, calm and cooler heads must cease being wallflowers at the political dance, must seize the floor, and must work together to mainstream and make happen a better vision of the future, a vision that does not sacrifice some 6B people in the process.

  2. There’s a lot to like about this essay. I especially like “decency is a far more common human attribute, and it can be made to prevail in our daily lives.”

    But I’m not sure it helps to elevate words and phrases like ‘reason’ and ‘the power of the human mind’ and ‘measure of thought’ since it could be argued that mistaken thinking, both at the individual and mob level, is the cause of all our problems as a species.

  3. Maybe it’s because it’s the middle of a cold night, and not being able to sleep, I’m up having a cup of green tea… but I’m with Bruce on this one:
    If we don’t take our future into our hands, who will control it, or nurture it?

    I like all the synonyms for reasonable: judicious, logical, rational, sensible, moderate, equitable, fair…

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