Not for Sale
It is much easier to say that the sky is falling than to explain why it is not.
A New Decade – Bring It On!
THE OPTIMIST'S WAGER
Going Negative on Negativism
by Jerry Murley
When digital TV became the norm, the TV went blank. When local NPR moved to all talk, the speakers went dead. When the local newspaper headlined "five things we know" about the local football team for the twelfth consecutive weekend, the newsprint flew straight into the fire. When books dwelt on pain, war, persecution, captivity, incest, abuse, rape, famine, disease, calamity, and hopelessness, they were returned to the shelf.
When movies show no restraint or intelligence or joy, it's time for brighter lights in the theater. When balance sheets become fodder for morning-to-midnight disaster predictions and gut-churning portraits of personal bankruptcy, the accounts are closed. When childhood and young adult memories start serving as a daily nursery for self-loathing and revisionist history, the memory switch is thrown to open up for kinder, imaginative trade. When lying and hate don't just go viral on the Internet but become commonplace and respectable, the network plug is pulled. When details of major but inevitably flawed legislation are twisted like stick pins in a voodoo doll, the civil examination of negotiable options vaporizes into caricature and interminable distrust, discord, and inaction.
Has anyone else had it with the smirking, snarking, hissing, and barking? If so, it might be time to negate the negativity. It is time for the bitching and bickering to go mute and the hysteria to calm down a notch and listen up. Then maybe one can hear the genuine earth worms at work doing good; then perhaps the "purple mountain majesties" will no longer just reflect patriotic pride or mask unattractive jingoism and nativist bigotry but be an actual beautiful vision for those whose eyes leave the media for the real world. When religion touches humility, mystery, and good works and relegates things of the flesh and politics to their proper proportion, ceasing its preoccupation with self-righteous loathing, then the religious becomes spiritual with an appeal of optimism rather than repulsion of life as it is.
Theocracy, hypocrisy, duplicity, conspiracy, complicity, complacency – thy currency is mean, misbegotten, ill-intended, low-bred chatter. Please shut up.
One outstanding characteristic of negativism is that those who assert definitively assume they know enough. In most instances, they do not know enough. Thus definitive assumptions manifest themselves in inevitable, sometimes shameful, error. Optimism, on the other hand, is a suspension of certainty – it is a calculated wager with allowance for imperfection.
The machine that stops the harangues is made of sturdy stuff; it is an alloy of self-discipline, focus, intelligence, goodness, imagination, experience, hope, restraint, resilience, integrity, method, and history. Smelt the weaponry into plowshares – and the plowshares into lawn chairs – and the lawn chairs into real cares.
Should we bow to the do-nothing pretenders, the doom, gloom, and high-noon ones, or should we individually take up the optimist's wager regarding living and the future? On any given issue things might turn out terrible or great or just okay. The principled pragmatist says the odds and benefits are greatest if we shoot for best but are willing to take better or just-enough steps along the way.
Sure, if one is weighing investments and thinks it best to take the path of the bear and bet on the collapse of a market, that is an investment choice. But it is also an optimistic wager from which one expects to benefit. Sure, we are all going to die and are doing so day by day. But that lends weight to the optimist's wager of seeking, seeing, and acting on better outcomes rather than pining, whining, and giving up. The opposite of the optimist's wager is understandable if one has a hard time with ambiguity and nuanced argument. It is much easier to say that the sky is falling than to explain why it is not.
We all enjoy a little self-indulgence and self-pity. We all suffer what seems to be unbearable pain at times. But we all, in this mad world of over-abundant information, are quickly exposed to people who have much worse pain and suffering than what we ourselves imagine and endure. My personal pragmatic guideline is that if you don't want to be haunted by nightmares, don't continually expose yourself to nightmarish images and ideas. Willful and habitual negativity-seeking represents the creatures that we really should fear – the ones that corrupt live minds and dampen lively spirits – the creatures that destroy for lack of a good imagination.
Our sometimes well-intentioned conservative friends clearly misjudge the character and the temper of principled, pragmatic, conservation-oriented liberals – the group, I contend, that constitutes the fluid majority of America. Liberals can kill and maim with much greater effect than hateful bigots. Witness the American Civil War. Witness the grand and lethal LBJ.
Witness as well two other less-than-stellar examples of 20th-century political combat: thirty years of wrenching forced school busing and the still raging conflict over life and the law. The product of both of these battles has been colored more by ossified and failed institutional cynicism than by true optimistic liberal deliberation. But these modern battles over fundamental public policy, waged day in and day out, are evidence of a strong, determined liberal impulse to counter intransigent and destructive forces, forces that put ideology above all else, an ideology with a temperament to resist any change, no matter how incremental, required to balance justice and improve lives. The many liberal positions on these two issues have never been, and never were considered to be, perfect solutions. These two struggles, to be sure, reveal a darker, more frustrated liberalism. But in both cases, it is a liberalism that has been adaptable and infused with shades of gray. Liberalism permits difference of opinion within its ranks; it can divide on nuance and maintain principle and practicality. Both conflicts are examples of gritty work endured for a long-term good purpose with many painful side effects. Liberalism will wrestle civilly with difficult issues. Shoulder to shoulder, with varying views, from every station and corner of this life, liberals will fight. Many, now extinct totalitarian regimes and bad-mouthed brutes have mistakenly gambled otherwise.
This – all this – is optimism: the wager that it might be better to try than not – no matter how messy the course. This is the binding thread winding its way through every administration since the founding of our democracy. This thread will not be severed.
Hard-working, essentially optimistic liberals, I contend, are the true mainstream and backbone of America and its economy. The political right, ever the partisans whose speech is peppered with psychological projection – that is, the habit of ascribing thoughts, traits, and behavior to others that best describe their own thoughts, traits, and practices – are forever castigating and dismissing liberal positions as muddled by political correctness. But in truth, the talk and behavior of the political right is strewn with and hobbled by the coercive political correctness of a narrowly focused self-righteousness, ever present in its concerted and tedious talking points, code words, and monotonous sloganeering without an ounce of common sense, common decency, or humor.
What renders liberals as a group most powerful is the winning combination of considered thought, articulate speech, social grace, fearless initiative, tireless energy, relevant innovation, tenacity, steadfastness, a sense of humor, and a high tolerance for ambiguity. If liberals were guilty of synchronized sneering and scepticism during the last administration, today's conservatives are guilty of unabated negativism, willful distortion, and laughable (and lamentable) obstructionism toward everything else – even the clean up of the mess left behind by the previous administration.
If we have entered an era when members of the U.S. Congress take their marching orders from unelected religious leaders, especially those whose orders emanate from foreign capitals, we have embarked on a regressive course more perilous than any threat from any of the "isms" we have known and fought back since 1900. No Rasputin is welcome here: no unelected religious or spiritual leader, no preacher, no priest, no imam, no rabbi, no guru, no life coach – none can ever be allowed to direct public policy in this country. MLK, for example, was no exception. Yes, use example, fine speech, and moral suasion, but don't dare threaten access to communion with religious brethren to win a debatable political point. Freedom-loving members of this republic should be ready to bring on the rain if this excess creeps farther. Talk about being ruled (and warped) by political correctness: the new play of religion in power politics that threatens opponents with eternal exclusion for not toeing the party line sounds like a very familiar tactic of other jihadists. No, this is no spotless crusade. Nor does it seem Christian by my book.
Negativity, unlike reasoned optimism, is a contagion, and not unlike synchronized menstrual cycles in a women's dormitory. When discretion holds little appeal for the modern American mind, the babble of deterioration, dread, and defeatism spreads faster than an E. coli outbreak after a Southern family reunion.
Optimism is an attitude, a thought pattern, and a methodology for social living and problem solving – for living rather than assisted dying. It is not a starry-eyed belief in fairy-tale heroes or the perfection of people, philosophies, government, or the mechanisms of nature. What a difference it makes when men and women labor together to make things better rather than groan to bring on the very destruction and evil that is imagined to be prevalent and ultimately victorious.
Haranguers all, it's time to turn off the lights, put the gunnysack back over your head, and go to sleep. Don't make us come downstairs again to your sleazy, fearmongering talk show in your dreary, dank basement. So listen up, and...have a nice day.