Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible. Frank Zappa

The German language contains clever words and phrases to describe complex subject matter. For example, weltanschauung basically means “world view.” From the long-winded pronunciation side of the Saxon-influenced spectrum, the German word for fire insurance, just in case you really need to know, is feuerversicherung. In keeping tradition with the Deutsches Wörterbuch, my favorite German word used to describe world weariness is weltschmerz. Weltshmerz, according to English translation, refers to apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state. In more complicated terms, weltshmerz describes the existential dilemma and lugubrious predicament between what the philosopher David Hume described as the is and the ought. Whatever ought to be the case is usually brought down to the prosaic level of what actually is the case, and the subsequent realization can result in frustrated resignation or despair (but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to improve conditions anyway).

An English word of dubious origin that has become a popular neologism is protopia. Protopia is a word I’m rather fond of because it squares the circle between the concepts of utopia and dystopia. Protopia essentially means a state of being that is better today than yesterday. The unrealistic fantasy of utopia and the devastating contemplation of dystopia are usurped by a proactive model for realistic social progress built on daily increments (cue the “one day at a time” trope). Whether this improvement is social, economic, or ethical; gradual remediation starts with acknowledging how things currently are while incorporating human ingenuity to implement the best that our scientific advances and educational disciplines have to offer. For example, if universal human suffering can be reduced by a marginal fraction, it would be senseless and morally insane not to endorse that equation. Likewise, instead of advancing technologically faster than we can evolve psychologically, perhaps a minor shift in priorities could result in the crucial difference between what is sustainable and what is inevitably annihilative. Sometimes only a modicum of adjustment in existing social structures is necessary to create a windfall of improvement.

To be honest, it’s often tempting to bathe in the cascades of nihilism and disavow all promising trajectories for human civilization, but some of us still enjoy drinking our coffee in the morning, and there should be nothing in principle to prevent us from developing a better brew.

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