Optimism: The Good News About Hard Reality

by | May 15, 2004

Q: I need the spirit of optimism in daily news analysis. Is there something wrong with me that I need to hear good things from other people? A: Not at all. A news commentary should tell you that there’s hope, if there is hope. At the same time, a news commentary should not pretend that […]

Q: I need the spirit of optimism in daily news analysis. Is there something wrong with me that I need to hear good things from other people?

A: Not at all. A news commentary should tell you that there’s hope, if there is hope. At the same time, a news commentary should not pretend that reality is other than what it is. This does not only apply to news commentary. It applies to all of life. Rational optimism is what I recommend, both as a psychologist and as a writer. I’ll cover here merely one aspect of this very big issue.

If you’re expecting to find good in the evil (or in the bad, or in the wrong), then something is wrong in your thinking. At the same time, it’s helpful to sometimes remind yourself of how weak and vulnerable the evil is. Take the example of terrorists. They’re clearly evil and it’s almost impossible to feel any sense of optimism when thinking about terrorism. At the same time, terrorists can only do so much, especially if our leaders do their jobs and match terror with equally if not more terrifying force. Terrorists are weakened because they must operate in secret and on the run. We would have had ten more 9/11’s by now if terrorists weren’t on the run as much as they are. And to truly succeed at what they want to do, they have to commit suicide in the process of each individual terrorist act. Yes, there’s a shocking availability of terrorists who want to commit suicide. At the same time, their most prominent figures and leaders–Osama bin Laden, most notably–show no intention of planning to commit suicide nor even risk death, now or ever. And of course they can’t risk death if they are to continue providing “moral” and practical guidance to their followers in their evil crusade. In short, even the most dangerous and depressing people on the face of the planet today are sitting on a gigantic contradiction: kill but in the process face extinction.

A less extreme example was illustrated in my Daily Dose of Reason the other day. For those of you who share my view that making money is a moral and practical way for both an individual and society to flourish, it’s quite depressing to see all the impositions on this value placed by a myriad of politicians (John Kerry merely the next in line eager to do so). Yet even John Kerry, the great liberal of our time, acknowledges he’s got something of a contradiction going on here: in order to expropriate the wealth creators, he has to hate them. But he recognizes he can’t hate them if he’s going to get what he wants from them. He married a rich Republican, so on some level he probably doesn’t hate wealth (imagine such a thing for a liberal Democrat!) Reality places a check on his ability to tax and regulate wealth creators that our constitutional system, regrettably, doesn’t do such a good job of anymore. There’s reason to feel optimism because the socialists and the statists can only go so far in a country already used to the wealth and comfort that even hampered capitalism delivers.

The evil are ultimately weak. The wrong and the mistaken are caught in their own contradictions. This is true by the very logic of their status as evil, wrong or mistaken. Don’t apply this only to politicians or terrorists. Apply this to dysfunctional, unreasonable or downright bad people you know in your own life. Don’t feel sorry for them; but do think about how weak, ineffectual and contradictory they are. The irrational or the bad can at best survive for a time, but only through irrational means (usually intimidation, force and/or fraud) and much less so in a context where people are used to the benefits of relative rationality and won’t put up with too much nonsense. Even today, as we face a dismal presidential election season; a haggard, defensive President Bush; and a continuing, very real threat of terrorism, I can think of no better reason for optimism than this.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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