When Did Optimism in Politics Become so Outmoded?

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Here I go again with a new piece of mind about the current political status we are at.

Being French, I am following closely the undergoing presidential elections taking place at the moment. And while making research, reading programs, listening to debates and analysing the different candidates and the electoral behaviours; something struck me in the reactions people have towards politics today: they think optimism is overrated and we should go back to a more traditional set of values and system.

If you focus on these last two years when it comes to politics, you will notice a latent pattern: people tend to vote for candidates that claim “the world is falling apart” or that “their country is going to hell” and that their program will change that.

 It is surrounding us everywhere: fear, anxiety, the threats of superpowers, the threat of globalisation, the threat of terrorism. Everything resolves around fear and it is well known that fear begets fear. Plus, we are paradoxical as we want a globalised economy in nationalist social policies

Nevertheless, if you glance out the window you’ll see blue sky. Of course, there remains troubling issues such as the rise of extremism, mass shootings and racism but most of our worldwide indicators have been positive for the last couple of years. If you want some facts, you are now more likely to die from eating too much than eating too little. The Arab representation and presence at the level of top leadership have never been so high. Women are shattering the glass ceiling more and more every day. And a more paradoxical one, you’re more likely to kill yourself than to be killed by any sort of crime (war, murder, etc.)

Moreover, it is scientifically proved that the science of optimism is a mental attitude that heavily influences physical and mental health, as well as coping with everyday social and working life. Optimists are considered more successful than pessimists in aversive events and when important life-goals are impaired.

So how come that extreme leaders that promote nationalism and the ideology of closing (borders, economy, etc.) are on the rise?

One of the first reason for that would be the role of medias. If you’ve read a couple of pieces I wrote before, you know I condemned their propaganda several times. In today’s fear-laden environment, the media constantly reports torrents of bad news, they highlight scare stories and overstate anger. They want to write about everything, all the time, without filters.

But if you ask me, the core reason for this is that pessimism has become the “new black”. It is the new mainstream. It is everywhere, in every corner, every newspaper, every daily insignificant conversation. It’s the new cool, if you don’t complain or consider the world is an awful place than either you’re naïve or you’re not informed enough about the current state of things. Such attitude is, generally, part of an overall culture of skepticism and cynicism.

Cynicism is often seen as a rebellious attitude in Western popular culture, but, in reality, cynicism in average people is the attitude exactly most likely to conform to the desires of the powerful–cynicism is obedience

And believe me, the French are good at that. And the British and the Americans proved to be world leaders in pessimism as well.

Bear with me for a second, so that I can hope to change your mind.

If you look at the world today, the glass looks way more than half full.

  • Job growth has been strong for years with unemployment below where it was most of the last decade. Americans for example are more productive than Chinese citizens.
  • Pollution, discrimination, crime and most of the diseases (such as polio that has nearly been eradicated) that we know are in an extended decline. Education, longevity and living standards continue to rise.
  • Today 84% of people can read, whereas they were on 10% in the 1850.
  • Universal basic income is being trialed in some countries (Switzerland, Finland, Canada) to promote equality and growth.
  • Between 2000 and 2015 nearly all of the United Nation’s millennium goals were met (only the environmental goals weren’t reached). These goals covered everything from decreasing hunger and disease to preventing war and violence.
  • Renewable energy sources are increasing. In Germany in 2000 only 6% of energy sources were renewable. In 2015, 33% were renewable.
  • Recently, The Netherlands had to close some prisons because they didn’t have enough prisoners to lock up.

So obviously, there is still a long way to go. But instead of looking at everything that is wrong with our generation or more broadly or century; why do we not take time to focus on the long way we have come over the last decades?

That is the main problem with today politics’ even progressive thought embraces Judgment Day. Climate change, inequality and racial tension are viewed not as the next round of problems to be solved, but as proof that the world is horrible. Especially the United States or the European Union

And yet if we wish to develop the postindustrial economy, while addressing issues such as inequality, greenhouse emissions and the condition of public schools, it will require a huge amount of optimism. Pessimists think in terms of rear-guard actions to turn back the clock. Optimists understand that where the nation has faults, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

If we look back at some predictions that had been made in several political campaigns, today petroleum would be exhausted, huge numbers of major animal species would be extinct, crop failures would be causing mass starvation, developing-world poverty would be getting worse instead of declining fast.

The lack of optimism in contemporary liberal and centrist thinking opens the door to Trump-style demagogy, Theresa May-style lies and Le Pen-style rejection.

And because optimism has lost its standing in public opinion, past reforms, among them environmental protection, anti-discrimination initiatives, income security for seniors, auto and aviation safety, interconnected global economics, improved policing, don’t get credit for the good they have accomplished.

In almost every case, reform has made the world a better place, with fewer unintended consequences and lower transaction costs than expected. This is the strongest argument for the next round of reforms. The argument is better made in positive terms.

Recently Warren Buffett said that because of the “negative drumbeat” of politics, “many adults now believe their children will not live as well as they themselves do. That view is dead wrong: The babies being born today are the luckiest crop in history.

How not to be a dick to someone with a birthmark / skin condition

Unless you know me personally outside of the virtual sphere and has been around while summer, you probably don’t know I have a prominent red port wine stain on the left leg. Growing up with a birthmark that goes from the top of my thigh to the bottom of my knee has been a challenge when it comes to body positivity and self-acceptation.

Obviously, it’s been there my entire life and I often forget its even there until a stranger decides to start staring at it a bit more heavily or children point at it in the streets. A lot of people are confused because it has a red tint instead of the usual brownish color. The reason behind that is kind of confusing and gets really sciency but I’m willing to explain if anyone is really curious.

I often get asked if I had an accident, if I got badly bruised, if someone hit me or if I burn myself, or as a memory I cherish a lot as a child if I “fell in a swimming pool of blueberries when I was young”. When I was younger, it never really bothered me, I was super cute and super smart so you know who cares. But as I got older and started caring more about my appearance, I started to be self-conscious. Not because of how I looked, but because I was tetanized thinking about the reactions people could have when seeing it.

My friends and family always say they can’t imagine me without it and I wish I loved this part as much as they do, but because of the way people have reacted over the years, I find it very difficult not to want to hide it. One of the most painful thing someone might have said was, while discovering it, “Omg it’s such a shame”. Never asked why, don’t want to, but you know I guess this person considered my birthmark was so important it was ruining the rest of the good I had in me. High school has been a major struggle in the “relation” I had with my birthmark. I started despising it, doing everything I could to pretend it wasn’t there. I felt bad wearing shorts during summer because it was “out there for everyone to see”.

I cried a lot.

I hated it for “ruining my life”, I hated my parents for “making me with this awful part”, I hated people with “regular legs or body”.

But I grew out of it. We all have our personal struggles and battles, the only difference as a dear friend of mine would say is that “the only difference with your struggle is that it’s for the eyes of everyone to see”.  Anyway, I guess the moral of the story is this: if you meet someone who has a noticeable birthmark, scarring, or really any sort of feature that’s out of the ordinary there are a few things to remember:

1. Don’t be afraid to be curious! I’m never offended by someone asking about my birthmark. It’s not something you see every day and I get it! That’s cool. But…

  1. Think before you ask. While I don’t mind curiosity, make sure your questions aren’t rude or ostracizing. If you make the person feel like a freak you aren’t going to be welcomed very warmly.
  2. Don’t act alarmed. I can see myself in the mirror. Yes, I know it’s there. This seems like it would be understood, but I can’t tell you the number of times people have stared at me wide-eyed in shock. And that’s not very good for the self-esteem department.
  3. .” What happened?” is hardly ever a good question to ask. In my case the answer is, “nothing”. But in case the person actually was in an accident the odds of them wanting to replay if for a stranger are basically zero.
  1. I won’t feel bad if you complain about a spot you have on your forehead. Yes, my “condition” is worse but it doesn’t prevent me from understanding the little desagreements we experience in life. Just try to be reasonable

When Did Optimism in Politics Become so Outmoded?

Here I go again with a new piece of mind about the current political status we are at.

Being French, I am following wisely the upcoming presidential elections taking place at the moment. And while making research, reading programs, listening to debates and analysing the different candidates and the electoral behaviours; something struck me in the reactions people have towards politics today: they think optimism is overrated and we should go back to a more traditional set of values and system.

If you focus on these last two years when it comes to politics, you will notice a latent pattern: people tend to vote for candidates that claim “the world is falling apart” or that “their country is going to hell” and that their program will change that.

 It is surrounding us everywhere: fear, anxiety, the threats of superpowers, the threat of globalisation, the threat of terrorism. Everything resolves around fear and it is well known that fear begets fear. Plus, we are paradoxical as we want a globalised economy in nationalist social policies

Nevertheless, if you glance out the window you’ll see blue sky. Of course, there remains troubling issues such as the rise of extremism, mass shootings and racism but most of our worldwide indicators have been positive for the last couple of years. If you want some alternative facts, you are now more likely to die from eating too much than eating too little. The Arab representation and presence at the level of top leadership have never been so high. Women are shattering the glass ceiling more and more every day. And a more paradoxical one, you’re more likely to kill yourself than to be killed by any sort of crime (war, murder, etc.)

Moreover, it is scientifically proved that the science of optimism is a mental attitude that heavily influences physical and mental health, as well as coping with everyday social and working life. Optimists are considered more successful than pessimists in aversive events and when important life-goals are impaired.

So how come that extreme leaders that promote nationalism and the ideology of closing are on the rise?

One of the first reason for that would be the role of medias. If you’ve read a couple of pieces I wrote before, you know I condemned their propaganda several times. In today’s fear-laden environment, the media constantly reports torrents of bad news, they highlight scare stories and overstate anger. They want to write about everything, all the time, without filters.

But if you ask me, the core reason for this is that pessimism has become the “new black”. It is the new mainstream. It is everywhere, in every corner, every newspaper, every daily insignificant conversation. It’s the new cool, if you don’t complain or consider the world is an awful place than either you’re naïve or you’re not informed enough about the current state of things. Such attitude is, generally, part of an overall culture of skepticism and cynicism. And believe me, the French are good at that. And the British and the Americans proved to be world leaders in pessimism as well.

Bear with me for a second, so that I can hope to change your mind.

If you look at the world today, the glass looks way more than half full.

  • Job growth has been strong for years with unemployment below where it was most of the last decade. Americans for example are more productive than Chinese citizens.
  • Pollution, discrimination, crime and most of the diseases (such as polio that has nearly been eradicated) that we know are in an extended decline. Education, longevity and living standards continue to rise.
  • Today 84% of people can read, whereas they were on 10% in the 1850.
  • Universal basic income is being trialed in some countries (Switzerland, Finland, Canada) to promote equality and growth.
  • Between 2000 and 2015 nearly all of the United Nation’s millennium goals were met (only the environmental goals weren’t reached). These goals covered everything from decreasing hunger and disease to preventing war and violence.
  • Renewable energy sources are increasing. In Germany in 2000 only 6% of energy sources were renewable. In 2015, 33% were renewable.
  • Recently, The Netherlands had to close some prisons because they didn’t have enough prisoners to lock up.

So obviously, there is still a long way to go. But instead of looking at everything that is wrong with our generation or more broadly or century; why do we not take time to focus on the long way we have come over the last decades?

That is the main problem with today politics’ even progressive thought embraces Judgment Day. Climate change, inequality and racial tension are viewed not as the next round of problems to be solved, but as proof that the world is horrible. Especially the United States or the European Union

And yet if we wish to develop the postindustrial economy, while addressing issues such as inequality, greenhouse emissions and the condition of public schools, it will require a huge amount of optimism. Pessimists think in terms of rear-guard actions to turn back the clock. Optimists understand that where the nation has faults, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

If we look back at some predictions that had been made in several political campaigns, today petroleum would be exhausted, huge numbers of major animal species would be extinct, crop failures would be causing mass starvation, developing-world poverty would be getting worse instead of declining fast.

The lack of optimism in contemporary liberal and centrist thinking opens the door to Trump-style demagogy, Theresa May-style lies and Le Pen-style rejection.

And because optimism has lost its standing in public opinion, past reforms, among them environmental protection, anti-discrimination initiatives, income security for seniors, auto and aviation safety, interconnected global economics, improved policing, don’t get credit for the good they have accomplished.

In almost every case, reform has made the world a better place, with fewer unintended consequences and lower transaction costs than expected. This is the strongest argument for the next round of reforms. The argument is better made in positive terms.

Recently Warren Buffett said that because of the “negative drumbeat” of politics, “many adults now believe their children will not live as well as they themselves do. That view is dead wrong: The babies being born today are the luckiest crop in history.

The Anxiety Trick hidden behind the Politics of Migration

What is the anxiety trick?

The anxiety trick is this: you experience discomfort and you get fooled into treating it like danger. You become afraid of fear itself.

What do we do when we’re in danger? We only have three human reactions: we fight, we flight or we freeze. If it looks weaker than us, we fight it. If it looks stronger than us, we run away or deny it and if it looks way unobtainable we freeze. That is all we have for danger.

When people experience the fear of a panic attack or a phobic encounter, they instinctively treat it as a danger. They try to protect themselves with a variation of those fight, flight or freeze.

And this is what the world of politics materializes in today.

 

Especially if we focus on the refugees’ crisis, people experience discomfort as migrants from politically instable states flee their country to come find a new home. Those migrants are instantly treated as danger as they represent a misshape in our daily life. As they all are in a weaker shape and position, economically, socially and politically speaking, we fight them, push them away. Climate change seems so stronger and powerful than us that we would rather denying it, focusing on other “more important issues” as our beloved new president of the United States is doing.

 

You might wonder then why don’t people come to see this pattern, of repeated episodes of fear that never actually translate into the feared outcome, and why don’t they lose their fear gradually?

 

The answer lies right here: they took safe and protective steps and it didn’t end up in a catastrophe. They tend to believe that these steps they took prevented the catastrophe from happening. But this process only leads us to worrying more about what will happen “next time”. It convinces us that we are terribly vulnerable and must constantly protect ourselves at any cost. Closing borders, creating visas from migrants from “unsafe countries”, issuing mandates against strangers, fearing the unknown, those are all examples of protective steps we take when facing migration.

But the truth is that people get through the experience because the experience is not actually dangerous. Nevertheless, it is understandably hard for people to recognize that at the time. They are more likely to think they had a narrow escape that leads them to redouble their protective steps: they believe that if they did not suffer from any kind of economic recession or terrible internal conflict it is because they decided to avoid letting refugees enter their countries. It’s the protective steps which actually maintain and strengthen the anxiety trick, which makes you believe that if you avoided a catastrophe or in this case for example, terrorist attacks, it is because you closed all possible way of entrance for the migrants. And you’re going to get more stuck in the habit of “protecting yourself” by these means.

This is how the problem gets embedded in history. You think you’re helping yourself and your country but you’ve been tricked in making it worse. Because you protect yourself against something that is not necessarily dangerous and this makes the fear worsens over time.

 

So how do you overcome that?

The thing that makes phobias so persistent inherently implemented in our society is that anything we do to oppose, avoid, escape or distract ourselves from this “threat” is turned against us and makes it a more persistent part of our life.

All too often, our politicians or representatives get the idea that exposure means going into a place or situation where you’re likely to be in danger, for example the country or a camp and don’t feel any anxiety or danger. That’s not the point. The point is to go there and feel the danger but be sure to stay there and let this fear of danger leave first. Always keep in mind that exposure is practice with fear, and do nothing to oppose, avoid, or distract from the fear during exposure.

The way to disarm the Trick is to increasingly spend time with that fear of danger and unsureness, to expose yourself to the thoughts and sensations, and allow them to subside over time.

 

“Depressive Realism”, the syndrome of the people that want to change the world

January 1st ; “This year is gonna be your year”, you ruminate the same endless and a bit naive sentence again and again. And then, you start your routine again, live, make mistakes. Months go by and one day you wake up to December.

You look back on your year, swearing time has never flown by so quickly and “Damn, where did November go? And what about March?”. However, for the first time since the 16th of June 1997; this time I am looking forward to starting again and to the symbolic countdown on New Year’s Eve. Because we will never say it enough, 2016 fucking sucked. And more than that, it depressed me.

Indeed, I have always been a quite positive, optimistic, always smiling, always defined by her “joie de vivre” person. And believe me, sometimes I wished I could just give up and just bury myself under my sheets. But I had this thing you know, “it’s not a big deal”, “you live, you’re in good health, you have a family that loves you, it’s not important just move on”; and to be completely honest, it worked very well. For 19 years. And then, 2016 happened.

And do not get me wrong, I hate as much as you do, those random people that complain about everything or are really pessimistic. And I never could fully comprehend how people could feel depressed, or sad without reason, or even what they call “anxious”. Not that I rejected the idea, I just could not picture it. I did not catch the depth of these illnesses. And again, 2016 happened.

Being lucid and happy has always been quite a challenge when you are a student of political science and international affairs. Dealing with daily atrocities and being constantly reminded the darkness of the world call into question a lot of things. I, somehow, did it for two years without questioning it “more than that”. I never thought I would end up one day on my balcony, smoking a cigarette in my year abroad and suddenly bursting into tears of despair.

“Luckily” and thank to my enormous pride, as I’ve always considered sadness the worst emotion you could ever feel and the most vulnerable it could make you, I decided to research and understand. So I read a lot of articles about this feeling of hopelessness, doubt and self-consciousness and I came across this article that explained to me “depressive realism”.

I am not depressed and I do not think I have ever been. My mom used to repeat to me all the time, as a child “Emma, if one day YOU are depressed, the whole world will become suicidal.” What I am talking about is a state of mind, an underlying feeling, a concept.

Ever since this proposition was put forward in the 1970s by psychologists Lyn Abramson and Lauren Alloy, psychologists have struggled to reconcile how depressive realism (also called the sadder-but-wiser effect) can co-exist alongside the inaccurate and distorted thoughts associated with depression. This concept may, at least in some cases, be turned onto its head and positively redefined as something like ‘the healthy suspicion that modern life has no meaning and that modern society is absurd and alienating’. If people look at the world and see bad things everywhere, it’s because the world is an ugly place. In other words, those people are not depressed, they are realists.

Reality bites. That is the disagreeable truth. And when you are surrounded by disasters and catastrophes; when you are constantly fed with the news of the world falling apart, it is hard to hold on. I will not list you the horrors I had to face this year, because that’s not the point. A dominant theme in our society is that you should be happy, and if you’re not, there’s something wrong with you. Life can be difficult at times. It is in the labelling of people as depressed that the greatest injustice is done.

So then, the questions arose :
Do we need to view the world through rose tinted glasses?
Do we have more to be happy about than we do to be depressed about?

How do you balance having to deal with earthquakes and emotional roller coasters while keeping sane relations and changing the world?
Are you supposed to give up your mental sanity if you want to see the reality of the world?
Are we damned to crippling depressions? 

We are part of those that don’t want to watch and see. Neither do we want to view the world in an overly negative way. We simply want to know the reality so we can deal with life head on.

So we take small steps, we all want to change the world, but we have to be careful not to quickly run up against despair, and worse, come to harbour the idea we can’t make any difference whatsoever.

When it comes to ourselves, I see this as this: if we care enough about something, we take action. If we don’t take action, that means we don’t care enough, for whatever reason. Perhaps we’re just busy with other things. In which case: stop worrying and pretending. Also, stop finding excuses, because you can do things. You can donate money to refugees in Aleppo, you can educate masses or people not to make the wrong choices, you can demonstrate to express your views, you can use social medias to make your voice matter, you can use some of your time to help people that need to be helped, you can donate clothes, energy, blood; and the list is long.

You change the world by living it.

You change the world by facing your fears.

You change the world by applying to internships you consider “out of your league”.

You change the world by seeing it as it is, by being lucid, by taking baby steps and having the strength to make a move.

You change the world by overcoming sadness and doubt because you have an ultimate goal.

That is how you try to change the world without completely going insane.
That’s what 2016 taught me the hard way.