There’s a deeply muddled attack on optimism in the current issue of the UK’s far-left magazine New Statesman, “The happiness conspiracy: against optimism and the cult of positive thinking”.
The article spends most of its time pressing the well-worn buttons of the political left, in a hilariously scattergun order. The central point appears to be that the happy-clappy variety of personal optimism is being reduced to a commercial formula. By the evil mind-bending commercial forces of erm… daytime TV, advertisers, social media, and the “entire positive thinking industry”. Really, who knew? The New Statesman article makes no mention of the deeply ingrained pessimism and ‘bad news bias’ of the UK news media, movies and TV series, and the like.
But media pap is not the article’s main target. Having whipped up the mob, the label “neo-optimism” is wheeled out late in the article. Scary and political, and not too far from the 1990s hate-label “neocon”. This newly minted label is then swiftly tinged with the slur of science denial, being extended a few sentences later into “quasi-scientific neo-optimism”. Predictably, the article’s payload then splutters down to arrive at its real target — evidence-based rational optimism for overall human progress. It lands on Steven Pinker (The Better Angels Of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined), but he needn’t worry as it’s very much a damp squib. The article’s payload contains such an utterly shallow ‘argument’ that even the New Statesman editor must have cringed as he read it.