Staying Upbeat When the News is Bad

A reader wrote and asked me to please be more positive in my articles on politics/society, like I am with my psychological articles.

He asked me to please make people feel uplifted about our political and social situation, the same way I do for people in more personal, psychological contexts.

The basic question here is: ‘How can I be positive when so many other people are wrong-headed, self-defeating or otherwise uninspiring?’

Here’s the first thing that springs to my mind: Individualism.

Individualism is the very thing motivating and inspiring my articles against socialism, and in favor of free markets and individual rights.

Consider one implication of individualism: That any one individual can have disproportionate influence.

History is full of such examples. Aristotle. Galileo. Christopher Columbus. Thomas Jefferson. On and on.

More recently: Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Ayn Rand, Maria Montessori, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs.

The history of human progress is primarily the triumph of individuals.

Clearly, one person can make a wild amount of difference. This is one major reason for optimism. We don’t necessarily need a majority for a rational turnaround in any context, because innovation doesn’t generally happen due to a group. Most often, it happens because of one.

When I talk about what’s wrong with Obama, or—since he’s only the latest in a centuries-long line of authoritarian twits—my underlying premise is: It doesn’t have to be this way. People have the capacity to think, to change, and reverse course, any time they wish.

Sometimes, the best way to make a course correction is to identify what you’re doing wrong. I actually find it liberating—not depressing—to conclude, ‘Wow, I have been on the totally wrong course, in this area.’ Knowing this makes me more connected to the truth, and the truth does set you free.

Many Americans are completely ill-informed, especially when it comes to matters of politics. Economic ignorance is widespread, and moral confusion (I know this as a therapist) is just about everywhere. In a way, who can blame them, given the dishonesty dished up by most politicians in both parties, not to mention those who pose as intellectual or “spiritual” leaders?

Talking about what’s wrong is the only way to make course corrections. Yes, a drug addict or alcoholic could say, ‘I don’t want to hear about what’s wrong. It’s just depressing me.’ So could any other chronically self-defeating person.

But you have to accept that you’re on the totally wrong track before you can ever change anything. You can complain it’s a ‘downer’ to hear about what’s wrong, but without accepting that—and without clearing away all your rationalizations, mistaken assumptions or even evasions—you’re never going to get anywhere.

On some level, I think a lot of Americans sense that we don’t face easy situations politically. Either we start cutting and privatizing programs now, or we allow the debt to build and build and build, with ever more negative consequences (deflation, inflation, little or no economic growth). Either way, it’s not going to be easy.

Our leaders—and I include both parties here, with the exception of some of those in the ‘Tea Party’ movement—simply will not act like leaders. They won’t tell us the truth. They perhaps don’t want to face it themselves. That’s why you see all the self-evident dysfunction in Washington D.C. It’s what denial and evasion look like.

The finger pointing, the petty squabbling and defensiveness? They’re all the result of people who wish to distract you, and themselves, from the hard truth. We’re beyond broke.

I don’t know how to sugarcoat that. I don’t know how to convey, ‘It’s OK, it will all work out somehow in the end.’ That’s what some people wish to hear, but I don’t know how to ‘make’ people feel that way when it simply isn’t true.

The bottom line is as follows, politically speaking.

We don’t live in a dictatorship. Not yet, and possibly not ever.

There’s no question that more and more socialism eventually leads to dictatorship. It has to, because socialism fails even on its own terms, and as that becomes more apparent, the rulers must cover up the errors and compel people more and more.

Compulsion and coercion are all around us in today’s society, and the last major area to regulate or control is free speech. Sooner or later, it’s absolutely coming—on our current course.

But no course is inevitable. That’s what some people are missing, when they complain that I’m ‘too negative.’ I’m saying that we’re inevitably heading towards disaster, so long as we keep doing what we’re doing. I’m not saying we will inevitably stay on our current course.

It’s not over until it’s over. People quit alcohol or drug abuse all the time. Some never quit, and some even die from these problems. Even if they survive, they stagnate or decay from within.

But many people overcome, quit and get on a more rational path. It happens all the time.

Do you assume that it cannot happen? That individual rights are, by their very nature, doomed? That mankind will never be free? I beg to differ. Mankind has already been free, and is still partially free—and witness the amazing results.

Regardless of politics, we are—and always will remain—free to think.

Free will, defined as the choice to think and make course corrections consistent with that rational thought’this is the reason why there’s absolutely always hope.

In America, perhaps more than anywhere else, there is always hope. Because, after all, we have known much better than most, and therefore have much more to lose.

I don’t know how to make it any more positive, or more honest, than that.


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