Two columns ago, I asked if you’re a pessimist or an optimist. But it’s possible to be both. Some people are long-term pessimists but short-term optimists. Some are short-term pessimists and long-term optimists. You’ll find me among the latter.
Which got me thinking about Murphy’s Law, the gospel for any short-term pessimist. If you’re a Murphy’s Lawyer, you have, like me, become adept at identifying the worst-case outcome in any situation. Especially when it comes to Chicago sports teams, whatever can go wrong more than likely will go wrong.
The Cubs were really good this season. But you often have to be lucky and good to win a World Series. It helps if you don’t run into a hot team with really good pitching.
It’s no coincidence that Murphy’s Law should be named after an Irishman. Things have been going wrong for the Irish for eight centuries. Even the economic “tiger” of the early 2000s went wrong in a big way in 2008. As a proud Irish American, I have deep respect for the terrible beauty of my ancestors’ futility.
Cub fans count many Murphys among their multitude and can’t be blamed for feeling resigned to ignominious endings every season. But when you haven’t won a World Series in 107 seasons, should you assume you never will? Not if you’re a long-term optimist.
Call it the optimist’s corollary to Murphy’s Law:
Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong—until it goes right.
The Cubs, as became clear this season, have been doing things right. For the first time in over a century, they have taken their time and built a solid foundation. Good, young talent; a good manager; a competent front office; an owner patient enough to wait for the desired results.
The Cubs haven’t lost every year because they were jinxed or hexed. They lost every year because their ownership and front office sucked. Murphy’s many pitfalls aside, things are likely to go better for the Cubs in the future. But will they win a World Series?
For that, they also need luck. When you’re lucky and good in the same year, things really go right. Just ask the 2005 White Sox.
So I’m proposing an optimist’s version of Murphy’s Law:
Whatever can go right, will go right—in the long run.
Or as the young proprietor in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel likes to say, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it is not all right, it is not yet the end.”
Odds are an asteroid will strike the Earth in the future. If it is large enough, it will cause another great extinction. But odds are it won’t happen for a long time, so by then we may have developed the ability to intercept it, change its course, or blow it into more manageable bits that won’t destroy life on Earth.
Unless, warns Murphy, we miss.
A friend who seems to be a short-term optimist but long-term pessimist, after reading my recent “evolutionary” column, warned me about the Fermi Paradox, which suggests that humankind’s technological advancement actually makes it more likely we will destroy ourselves before we reach the next stage of evolution (or contact extraterrestrial intelligence, whichever comes first).
But where you place those odds depends on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, doesn’t it? We’ve had the capacity to destroy ourselves for roughly 70 years now and it hasn’t happened. Are we becoming wiser? Are we making progress as a species?
What’s your guess? Is it based on something other than your personal inclination toward pessimism or optimism? And whichever inclination rules worldwide, will that become our self-fulfilling prophecy?
Odds are, given enough time, the Cubs will win a World Series.
Odds are, the world will end before the Cubs can win a World Series.
Odds are, given enough time, humanity will evolve to the point where we will not destroy ourselves.
Odds are we’ll destroy ourselves before we reach that evolutionary turning point.
If the latter is true, we’ll have to put our hopes in the extraterrestrial corollary to Murphy’s Law:
Some superior intelligence elsewhere in the universe — or maybe God — will save us before we can destroy ourselves.
It will be obvious when that day is at hand.
Right after the Cubs win the World Series.