We don't question why the last couple of generations, brought up in the West with such plenty and ease, with advantages and privileges unimaginable 60 years ago, so often default to pessimism and irony.
Have you ever wondered why? You would think people in a small village in Africa living on the edge of starvation would be the pessimistic ones, but it is us, the affluent. Why? Porter gives an interesting clue:
In popular culture, it is largely a pose which has become a habit we can't shake off for fear of seeming hopelessly naive, of the derisive voice that says human behaviour is never virtuous or motivated by altruism. A gritty modern 'realism', forged in luxury, not by hardship or insight, is required at all times in the marketplace, even though it must be obvious this is a fairly limited tool with which to understand the world and human beings.
This knowing and fearful cool allows for the expression of very little else — hope, joy, unguarded sentiment, compassion, faith in others, sincerity or the love of simple things. In advertising and in comedy shows, it has become the standard patter and does much to exclude real wit and invention. Comedy routines have become exactly that, which is why I find myself sitting through Mock the Week or Have I Got News for You feeling that either I or these courageous troupers of the faux panel game have become, well, a bit jaded.
If you watch enough television, it would be easy to become jaded. There is a tremendous undercurrent of negativity even in the comedy shows. The point of view presupposed by most comedians is so cynical it is hard not to feel yourself infected by pessimism, even as you laugh at the jokes.
In the quote below, I think Porter points out something worth noticing. Namely, that people in real life are not that cruel or selfish or unsympathetic. If you know someone who seems overly pessimistic and jaded, it is worth reminding them of it too. As Porter put it:
Weltschmerz and Cynic Inc have infected so much of the public discourse that you forget people are not like this. They are in the main more trusting, more hopeful, more resourceful and a lot kinder than is ever acknowledged in the public arena.
And the most important point Porter makes in his article is that pervasive pessimism impairs our ability to solve problems. "We don't find solutions," wrote Porter, "because we have given up thinking that we can..."
Cure yourself of your own hidden pessimism, and you become more capable. Help other people cure their pessimism, and you make it more possible for us to solve the bigger problems. The best place to start is: Undemoralize Yourself. Then start helping others cure their pessimism.