One of the most destructive ‘constructive’ injunctions of our age is that we should always be positive. This is seen at its most pernicious in the title of a book – ‘You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought’.
Of course, there are some cases when being positive is better than being negative – like when confronting, for example, a serious illness. In such cases to wallow in negativity and self-pity would be off-putting – although even here I’m not totally convinced that the unrelenting pressure to be stoical is altogether healthy for the sufferer.
My point is that this positive ‘fing’ has gradually seeped through to all liberal society to the stage where it is misplaced and malignant.
I first noticed it when my mother was viciously beaten by a ‘yoof’ outside her home. He knocked her to the ground and then kicked her in the head several times, doubtless like a footballer would strike a ball. (Come to think of it, maybe he WAS a professional footballer given what we know of the behaviour of such people.)
My mother’s blood was still fresh on the doormat when some people were urging me to ‘move on’. You could tell this advice was coming when people – hearing the news – professed not so much indignation at the recent event but rather an eye to the future along the lines of ‘ok..a..y..’ (extended final vowel) let’s see what can be done’, accompanied by a fatuous smile. A few bothered a (perfunctory) condemnation of the attacker, comparing him to an animal. (Actually no animal has ever done anything so bad to any member of our family.) Yet on the whole it was the cue for some trite comments, especially from the Hampstead fraternity. Nobody stopped to think about what kind of society produced these alleged animals.
The behest ‘to be positive’ means that few people are now willing to look evil in the eye and call it by its name. The Left, in particular, view human beings as fundamentally good, corrupted only by heartless governments and hideous ‘inequalities’ – the latter always causing them to froth about appalling living conditions without ever considering that everything is relative and that the poorest persons in the UK are usually fairly privileged compared to citizens of other countries. Such attitudes refuse to accept that some people are simply sadistic and do unconscionable things purely because they have no conscience. Everything, according to the Left, has a particular social context that explains certain behaviour – unless, of course, it is the greed of ‘fat cats’ and bankers.
The other reaction to some appalling act of barbarity is fleeting concern, quickly giving way to much greater anger over ‘a cause’. It is symptomatic of modern society that compassion has been broadened but not deepened, that we are moved by a great tragedy in the general but not so moved by an individual incident. A depraved attack on an innocent person – in this case an old lady – leads quickly to the follow-up question – ‘did they steal anything?’ – as if such attacks must stem from financial hardship. The speed with which such people broaden the discussion is designed to make you feel that your anger over the incident in question is somehow excessive or that you are in a state of denial about (wider) social injustice.
The corollary of the positive injunction is that one is never supposed to condemn individual misdeeds. Few forms of behaviour are considered egregious. Of course, most people would agree that beating an old lady IS wrong but too often these days it’s accompanied by a sliding scale of extenuating circumstances.
It’s often the complainer who is made to feel guilty and it is the wrongdoer who is excused. Hence the person who gets drunk on a Friday night and throws a brick through a window is merely ‘letting off steam’ whereas the person who takes exception to casual rudeness is ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘elitist’. Or the person driven mad by a neighbour’s loud music should ‘chill out’ and adjust to the new ‘beat’ of modern life.
All forms of nastiness, according to this theory, are the responsibility of the government. Those who comment on individual failings are considered ‘old fogeys’, ‘lost in the past’ or just ‘square’. The ‘be positive’ injunction means that all kinds of appalling conduct escapes censure. We can’t say anything is truly awful and unacceptable any more lest it smacks of wanting to turn the clock back. Celebrating ‘diversity’ means we have to accept all kinds of wretched behaviour as part of modern living.
So I conclude by saying this. Let’s NOT be positive. Let’s instead be realistic and if that means being depressed and – God forbid! – discriminatory AND NEGATIVE about aspects of individual human behaviour, then so be it.
Gabriel Hershman is a British journalist living in Sofia. He is strategically placed to report on the first Russian tank divisions on their way to liberate Greece from Brussels’ yoke, where their crews expect a tumultuous welcome from Athenians.