I've spoken of negativity before. Times are getting bad in the world and the U.S. certainly, but what I've been most surprised and disappointed in is witnessing Objectivists overemphasize the negativity around this degradation, almost seemingly oblivious to the objective sunny side. It's important to recognize how bad things are in order to recognize that there is, indeed, a problem actually there to fight, but the way people engage in such acknowledgements places all the focus on how bad things there are, totally ignoring what ways there are to fight them and that there are chances of succeeding. This isn't just irritating and depressing, but demotivating, which is why I make an effort on my own part to point out the good, however small, in any bad situation. Too few people, if any at all, do it.
The crux of my concern is what such negative emphasis will do to the willpower of those who have taken to fighting bad ideas, whether it be by writing letters for publication, talking to a neighbor, or even just e-mailing a politician. Even with my optimism for the future I have to admit that I am sometimes tempted to crawl under a rock what with how bleak everyone paints the picture. It doesn't erode my view of a sunny horizon intellectually, but emotionally -- spiritually -- it makes the storm on the way there feel more daunting and unbearable. I can still recognize in my mind there's a good chance of a future looking forward to . . . but in my heart my endurance is chipped away at by witnessing such focus on the negative. I managed to personally overcome this barrier by making it a mental habit to call into mind both the good and bad aspects of a situation, so that my emotional estimates don't become imbalanced in favor of the bad, but I'd like to call for everyone to try to do the same.
Think of it this way: Right now America is in an ideological war, a war fought not with weapons, but with ideas and thinking. For all purposes, however, go ahead and visualize physical combat. Now, let's say you've got your troops pulled aside for rest and are having sort of a pep rally. What are you going to say? How bad everything is, how terribly outnumbered you are, how powerful the enemy is, and how depressed you are? What kind of effect do you think that would have on your troops, who need moral resolve to keep fighting? You're either going to lose respect as a leader (too depressing to listen to), get overthrown by someone more inspiring, or, most likely, lose the war. No one in an actual war would be stupid enough to talk to their soldiers like that.
Instead, you concentrate on how you can outsmart the enemy despite their greater numbers, how mind and muscle equal more might than the enemy's pure bodily exertions, how you only lose when you give up, and so on. Train yourself so that when disaster strikes all you see is opportunity, that when the enemy gets more powerful the bigger your triumph will be, and that life is always worth living.
To give a concrete example, take this article about the FCC exercising more dictatorial power over cable companies, violating their property rights by forbidding them from taking stations off the air during contract disputes. You could see this as another upsetting, irrational use of force by the government, further eroding respect of our rights -- or you could see this as an opportunity to reach out to those businessmen. Given their anger, is this not a golden opportunity to gain their ears and explain why they're being treated like this, why they're morally in the right, and what they should do about it? As bad as things may be, odds are this is the best time ever to engage in activism, because now bad ideas are becoming less "abstract" to the public given their horrible consequences are now becoming reality. Seize the opportunity: Sadly, our disasters may have been necessary for people to take ideas more seriously, for in good times evil and tragedy seem too much like immaterial ghosts.
Or how about the debt ceiling debacle? Maybe our economic crisis has been postponed, but now it's going to be even worse once it does arrive, which it inevitably will. Depressing sure, but there are ways to bear it. The good? The public seems to be largely upset with what the politicians did -- though, of course, mixed cultural premises forced politicians into this corner -- and it is yet another opportunity to take advantage of public outrage to explain what ideas are leading to these bad consequences, what virtuous alternatives should be adopted, and how to implement them. We may still have a reckoning to endure, but the way I see it: The politicians are acting so explicitly statist that they're virtually naked ideologically, and in terms of ideological might it's giving Objectivists and other helpful allies more opportunities for activism, more interested listeners, and a stronger intellectual case.
So, in summary, try to balance out your negative news with positive aspects, such as how public outrage might indicate the public isn't willing palate idly what their politicians force on them. There's a sliver of hope, I think, in just about every scenario.
Now, again, I know things are bad and that they must be recognized as such, but can't you see the good as well? The opportunity? The various, even if just small, advantages? Now more than ever moral resolve is going to be needed, because as things get worse we'll need to keep the spirits of our persevering heroes -- the intellectuals for freedom, the *good* politicians, objective journalists -- fueled to keep fighting the good fight, to have a limitless capacity for endurance. Don't chip away at their motivation by whining how terrible things are. In an ideological war, this is not the way to keep the troops inspired.