What is your outlook?
Stephen Gerald Breyer is an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Appointed in 1994, Breyer is often regarded as more liberal than most other members of the court. He is highly regarded across the political spectrum for his pragmatic, rather than ideological, approach to the Constitution. In Bush v. Gore, which settled the controversial 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, he issued a widely respected dissent which criticized those who would decide the case on the basis of equal protection. Breyer, a Rhodes Scholar, was educated at Stanford, Oxford and Harvard. He is the author of Breaking the Vicious Circle: Toward Effective Risk Regulation. Ideas recorded at the 2007 Aspen Ideas Festival on: 7/5/07
Stephen Breyer: I don’t know better than anyone else, but it’s the number of people. Eventually people will get, I suppose, population under control. But there is a large and growing number of people. They all have to be fed. They all have to be housed. They have to learn. They’re all gonna have families, we hope. They’re all going to have lives. Each one of them is an individual life. And as you have more and more, the great positive thing is people . . . they’re . . . it’s religion, if you like; but people have within them the capacity for great good and for terrible things. And societies come together, churches come together, philosophers come together, people come together with sets of behaviors which we try to teach children so that they’ll get those bad instincts under control. And so we’ll bring out the good ones. And if you’re gonna bring out the good ones, people are capable of marvelous things. I mean just tremendous organization. So that’s why I thought India was so interesting, because I thought, “My goodness. It’s like a microcosm.” And here we have the points of light, and the dangers of darkness. And of course we all know now we can destroy the whole planet. It’s possible. It’s possible. And yet we’re working . . . and that’s why I’m so enthusiastic about these different organizations – whether they’re local, or whether they’re national, or whether they’re international – that are trying to knit things together, that are trying to create structures. So when future people are born in the world, they will have structures within which they can work to try to use their good instincts, their capacities, their abilities, to create worlds that are better. And if you contrast this century with the 19th, in the 19th they were certain that it was progress; but we’ve lived through – I have – this terrible, terrible 20th Century. And now people are not at all certain whether the forces of progress, whether the good within people is so good that it can overcome these tremendous problems. But we’re working on it. So I’m an optimist, and most people are. We work on it. We do our best.
If you can bring out the good in people, they are capable of tremendous things.
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