The tyranny of positivity

Today’s frantic world of social media contrasts with the equally frenetic world of twenty-four hour news, which is seen as relentlessly negative. Social media is, by contrast, full of positivity, with everyone broadcasting how wonderful their life is. But what both share is a certain emptiness — what philosopher Hannah Arendt termed ‘banality’. Staying on the surface of current events and the affairs of life in general, today’s communicative media rarely dive into the depths of our subconscious. We demonise those attempts to do so as the ‘dark side’ of the internet, labelling all those who question the dual tyrannies of empty negativity and banal positivity as villains — like how Athenians accused Socrates of ‘corrupting the youth of Athens’ simply by asking questions that challenged convention. We live in a new tyranny, a kind of telenovela fantasy world of the comedic shallowness of our deep tragedy. The important questions facing humanity are given accordingly inept answers. Wanna fight climate change? Buy a solar panel! Wanna manage the rise of China? Post about human rights! Wanna fight capitalism! Earn some dollars — buy some ‘radical’ posters! Our governments, alas, have precious little more to propose about the pressing problems facing our ageing civilisation. With psychological emptiness comes political innocence, a naïvité that eats away at our collective conscience.

The oldest mask in the world, from around 7,000 BCE, the ‘pre-ceramic Neolithic’.

I myself have such fears. I fear fear itself, and have often shied away from artistic depictions of horror for horror’s sake. But this is irrational — just as the media’s critique of hip hop tropes is irrational. Hip hop depicts the forces that consume civilisations whole, forces like money and power and the lust thereof, in a way that both celebrates and critiques these tendencies. Frank Herbert’s Dune approaches fear in a similar way, insisting that we let fear pass over and through us. ‘I shall not fear’ translates as: I shall fear, and in experiencing fear fully I shall overcome it. By ignoring a problem, we let it fester and grow. By confronting and accepting it, we see the nothingness for what it is. Otherwise we let the nothing become something, and suddenly, we have made a positivity out of a negativity.

We should not pursue this naïve path. We should pursue the Hegelian path of ‘negating the negation’. Accept the nothingness as nothingness; do not let it become a tyrannical positivity over our lives. (Indeed, what is positivity but negativity on stilts?) Instead posit what is real over what is ideal. Do not live in a dreamworld. Let the dreams pass over and through you. Then, and only then, will the dreams be recognised for what they are, and pass into memory. At last, once all that is fictitious and fearful is gone, only the hope of the real will remain. Then, at long last, we will be free. Let it be.

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