Increasingly it is becoming unacceptable to voice legitimate distress. If you lose your job, become chronically ill, or fall prey to loneliness or depression, you are likely to be told - often abrasively - to look on the bright side. With unseemly haste, people rush to put an optimistic gloss on a disaster or to suggest a patently unworkable solution. We seem to be cultivating an intolerance of pain - even our own. An acquaintance once told me that quite the most difficult aspect of her cancer was her friends' strident insistence that she develop a positive attitude, and her guilt at being unable to do so.
In our global world, we can no longer afford to edit out the uncomfortable spectacle of human misery. In the past, we have sometimes pursued policies that have resulted in great suffering, telling ourselves that all would ultimately be well. We have let conflicts fester until they have become intractable. We have supported such allies as Saddam Hussein, ignoring the atrocities they inflict upon their people. We are now rightly outraged by his massacre of his Kurdish subjects, but at the time we ineffectually turned a blind eye. Today we are reaping the reward of our heedless karma. The pain that we ignored in some parts of the world has hardened into murderous rage.
It's an interesting argument: suggesting that we in the West have allowed atrocities to be carried out in our names because of positive thinking. It reminds me of the claim, a number of years ago, that the (then) stock market boom was the result of massive use of Prozac and similar antidepressants causing investors and others to become irrationally optimistic. Could such chemically-induced optimism possibly make people more willing to cause suffering elsewhere in the world, in pursuit of their ideas? Or, perhaps, if you want an image of the future, imagine a jackboot with a smiling face, forever.
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