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.


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