There is the belief that technology will lead us out of the oil crisis. Some argue there are infinite pools of abiotic oil deep beneath the surface of the ground. Others expect the food to continue to appear on supermarket shelves, that pure water will always pour from the wells and faucets, that cash will have value forever, that this recession is just part of a downward cycle and will go back up, that the stock market will continue to climb, that there will be new places to work, that football season will resume each fall , the trains will run on time and the ferry will go back and forth every thirty minutes. We are a country of positive thinkers.
It wasn’t always this way. As Barbara Esenreich points out in a 2008 New York Times opinion piece titled the Power of Negative Thinking, our country was founded in a stern Calvinism.
The Calvinists were harsh. They thought negatively. Newton’s Third Law of Motion mandated a reaction to this negativity and in the 19th Century positive thinking arose “…with its crowd-pleasing message that God, or the universe, is really on your side, that you can actually have whatever you want, if the wanting is focused enough.”
Generally, Americans think everything is going to be okay. But the reality is that, “We have nearly totally dismantled our once colossal manufacturing base, we have shipped millions upon millions of middle class jobs overseas, we have lived far beyond our means for decades and we have created the biggest debt bubble in the history of the world.”
As Mr. Kunstler points out in his weekly essay: “We’ve ramped up a living arrangement that has no future… We’re uncomfortable with the mandates of reality, which is trying to tell us we have to live differently. The American people don’t want to hear this. The president doesn’t want to tell them.”
We thought change was in the air during the Obama campaign, writes Kunstler. “It turns out that change was exactly the one thing not really in the air. America does not want change, except from the cash register at WalMart.”
Kunstler is pretty negative. A lot of people don’t like him. We don’t like that negative thinking because…well, because it’s negative.
In her book The Positive Power of Negative Thinking Dr. Julie Norem asks: “Are you tired of always being told to “look on the bright side”? Are you criticized for imagining worst case scenarios? Do you wish your optimistic friends would just leave you alone and let you be negative? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be one of the millions of people who have learned to cope with the pressures of modern life by using Defensive Pessimism, a strategy of imagining the worst-case scenario of any situation.”
I find that negative thinking or Defensive Pessimism comes pretty easy for me as the result of my training as a military intelligence analyst (which requires tough-minded evaluation of information) and as an insurance underwriter (where you try and imagine worst case scenarios and attach probabilities to them).
Hard for me to see the downside of working to become more self-sufficient and living more slowly and locally.
Preparing for worst cases seems prudent even if everyone around you sees the behavior as negative.