April 16, 2024

News and Political Commentary

Why pessimism is pointless — and pernicious

2 min read

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The world of self-help teems with motivational quotes about the power of positive thinking, and the importance of reframing the negative. “Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.” “Positive thinking is more than just a tagline.” “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” (That last one is from Shakespeare himself, via Hamlet.)

Yet when it comes to the way in which we think and talk about the world outside our own heads, its future in particular, striking anything other than a very gloomy tone is not the done thing. We seem to have collectively decided that we must at all times pursue and project a sense of relentless, spirit-crushing pessimism. Not only will you sound careless and insensitive to all the suffering in the world if you say anything optimistic or upbeat, you will also find yourself lacking gravitas and just sounding deeply uncool. 

Over the years, I have often been struck when, upon asking a friend or acquaintance how they’re doing, they answer me with something along the lines of “Oh you know, not great, the world is just so f***ed right now”. I tend to nod along, not always entirely sure what particular aspect of f***edness in the world I’m nodding along with. The plethora of dreadful things they could be referring to at any given moment (is it Gaza, antisemitism, climate change or AI this time?) proves that it is not hard to find stuff to be pessimistic about. 

But there is plenty to be positive about too. I don’t intend to list it all here, but just last year infant mortality hit a new record low, a breakthrough came in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, a cheap and effective malaria vaccine was approved and golden eagles reached record numbers in Scotland following a conservation project.

We might think we are being clever when…

2024-03-03 00:00:33

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