Pessimism Porn Redux

In our Policy Watch from March 2009, we wrote about the dangers of Pessimism Porn during the recession.  We said, “Are you obsessing over the bad economic news, unable to leave your PC as you cruise the Internet searching for more tales of downturns, layoffs and financial failures?  Is it hard for you to put down the business section of the paper or stop listening to MSNBC or its ilk?  Do you find yourself craving news of the latest economic disaster while running out of people who want you to share it with them?  If you answered yes to these questions, then you are experiencing Pessimism Porn (as coined by Hugo Lindgren in a New York Times article of the same name, February 1, 2009).  This is the latest meme used to describe people gorging themselves on dismal financial news and economic forecasts.”

As you read that passage, it may occur to you that we are experiencing something similar now but with the political news.  We are hooked on the cable news shows with their constant Breaking News stories of the latest flouting of our political norms and the political leaders’ responses.

In that 2009 issue of Policy Watch, we said, “If you find yourself getting addicted to Pessimism Porn, watch out.  There are consequences to such as irrational despondency.  This wallowing in the mud of despair can lead to a loss of perspective and focus.  If you dwell too much on the negative you can over-react to the breaking news and work against your own best interest.  You can find that your obsession is interfering with other parts of your life. You may get a “rush” from each news item, leading you to seek out more extreme sources.  And you may lament that the people around you just don’t react the way you expect over the bad economic news, causing you to feel isolated and alone.  Of course, you could also feel superior and part of an insiders’ club of people in the know — who know that the worst is coming!”  We think that warning applies today, too.

And though written in 2009, we think Thomas P. M. Barnett, at Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog, gives sound advice on pessimism porn:

“I made a decision a long time ago not to make my career a bet on bad things happening. I think that approach simply corrodes your strategic thought capacity. Human history is progress, so if you’re constantly having to screen out the good to spot the bad, your vision will be unduly narrow. If you bet on progress, you can easily contextualize the bad, because progress is never linear. But if you bet on retreat, you must consistently discount advances as ‘illusions’ and ‘buying time’ and so on, and after a while, you’re just this broken clock who’s dead-on twice a day.”

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