Pessimism Porn?

ABC’s Dan Harris is fixated on “a little something called pessimism porn.” According to Harris it’s “a term coined by the good folks over at New York Magazine and it refers to the fact that there are a lot of people who’ve become addicted to reading apocalyptic news about the economy online.”

On the other side of the equation, we’ve got folks like Enterra Solutions’ Thomas Barnett who isn’t buying into all the apocalyptic economic reports:

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.

Barnell maintains that “pessimism porn” dulls the “strategic brain” and that, like actual porn, it “narrows the intake capacity. After a while, you’re simply blind from all that self-pleasuring.” (I’m presuming he means “blind” in the figurative sense there…)

26 Replies to “Pessimism Porn?”

  1. “if you’re constantly having to screen out the good to spot the bad, your vision will be unduly narrow.”

    whereas his seems to be wandering about

  2. I guy I worked with predicted most of the financial mess about 4 years ago. But his prediction suggested ACTUAL tanks rolling onto the lawns of family homes – not a figure of speech. He was right, he just went too far and lost credibility with me. Though I wish I’d taken him more seriously, I’m not in a bad spot now.

    Where we really disagreed the most this: I thought it would be a temporary phenomenon whether recession or depression, and he thought it would be permanent and apocalyptic – the end of the U.S. (it would break up).

    I bet the 1930’s depression felt permanent and apocalyptic, but it wasn’t. Even thought it may take a while to get going again, my kids will be OK (not according to my co-worker).

    But I can’t think of anyone I know who is addicted to watching or reading bad economic news. Not even my co-worker.

  3. Krugman and Stiglitz were roundly denounced a few years back as purveyors of gloom. What distinguishes them from the purveyors of pessimism porn is that they have a baseline confidence in the ability of government, institutions and individuals to create a bulwark against total collapse.

  4. I tend to be more on the doomer side, but I agree that it can become a fixation. If you go to the Life After the Oil Crisis forum, you’ll find people who seem to revel in it, and get off on it. So there is some truth to it.

    But I can’t dismiss the reality that we have an economy that is based on ever increasing levels of consumption living on a planet with finite resources. By every message and measure growth = success.

    Perhaps I should put faith into the belief that technology, human ingenuity and the market somehow will successfully transition us into a future where we can somehow consume at ever increasing rates yet not run out of resources and destroy the planet, or a steady state economy which can live within the planet’s means.

    But I don’t have that kind of faith. I see absolutely NOTHING on the horizon that leads me to believe that we will change our behaviour until we are in real, serious pain as a species, and that this pain affects those who hold power, not just the poor.

  5. After over two decades of having to fake exuberance for a type of prosperity that any sentient person could see was illusory, I’m finding the pessimism a welcome change.

  6. Pessimism porn. Cute. Just another information counter offensive by the corporate media…to join TAH DA…doomer. Of course, neither of these forays is any where near to governmental efforts to actually demonize conspiracy theorists as psychologically deficient. That one is scary.

    The cat is out of the bag and it is clawing away at institutional foundations, belief structures inclusive. It is only a stone’s throw from the public perception that the state is financially bankrupt to the perception that it is also morally bankrupt. It will be a hot summer.

    As for Thomas Barnett’s bafflegab of head shit, I’m glad that he’s not on my payroll as a strategic consultant. His “history is progress” assertion nails him to the wall of intellectual finger painting.

  7. I chalk it up to the same phenomenon that allows Bill Clinton to leave office with over 60% approval rating, only to have him be the ultimate butt of jokes 2 years later (about the time Bush was polling at 80% + approval).

    Then to see Bush’s support collapse so that everyone – including hardcore Republicans crap all over him.

    Yet through it all a fair amount of folks somehow forget that both were re-elected for a second term, meaning someone obviously voted for them.

    I understand the concept of sticking with the devil you know, but this is more like sleeping with the devil incessantly then claiming a year later that you can’t – nor ever did – sit in the same room with them.

    Severe negativism is fashionable these days. Mark my words (this is not as drastic as it sounds), within 2 years we will be reading about the emerging new economy, the wave of prosperity sweeping the globe, and the resilient optimism of the US citizenry.

    Everyone will claim, “they knew it was just a temporary situation.”

    And the clincher is the actual state of the economy will mask similar issues as it faces now. It will just “feel” better ;).

    Final Thought: I hasten to add that I realize this will probably offend lots of people a bit (I’m even a bit offended) ;). I am not minimizing the very bad situation we’re in – it is bad. But I never maximized the wealth illusion of the past decade either. I’m a moderate that way, watching the pendulum swing wildly back and forth past me several times already in my still relatively young life ;).

  8. SR — I thought you’d be less than impressed by that. Did you wade through their website trying, as I did, in vain to figure out exactly what his company does? Quite amazingly obscure bafflegab, if you ask me. Developing “dynamically updatable rule sets”… and applications that “help leaders to achieve sustainable competitive advantage by better understanding and optimizing their critical assets to enable business processes and functions…”

    Paging Dilbert.

  9. Red, re consultants, here’s a little ditty that I’ve hauled around with me for well over 10 years:

    The Shepherd and The Consultant

    A shepherd was herding his flock of sheep in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand new Jeep Cherokee advanced out of a dust cloud towards him. The driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, Ray Ban sunglasses and a YSL tie leaned out of the window and asked our shepherd: “If I can tell you exactly how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one?”

    The shepherd looks at the yuppie, then at his peacefully grazing flock and calmly answers “Sure!” The yuppie parks the Cherokee, whips out his notebook, connects it to a cell-phone, surfs to a NASA page on the Internet where he calls up a GPS satellite navigation system, scans the area, opens up a database and some 60 Excel spreadsheets with complex formulae. Finally he prints out a 150 page report on his hi-tech miniaturized printer, turns round to our shepherd and says: “You have here exactly 1,586 sheep!”

    “This is correct,” says the shepherd. “As agreed, you can take one of the sheep.” He watches the young man make a selection and bundle it into his Cherokee.

    Then the shepherd asks: “If I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me my sheep back?”

    “Okay, why not” answers the young man.

    “You are a consultant,” says the shepherd.

    “This is correct,” says the consultant. “How did you guess that?”

    “Easy,” answers the shepherd. “You turn up here although nobody asked you to. You want to be paid for identifying a solution to a question I already knew the answer to. And you don’t know shit about my business because you took my fucking dog.”

  10. I wouldn’t say all consultants are completely useless twats, but more than a fair number of them certainly are.

    I fault management most of the time. Quite often, they hire consultants to deflect from the fact that they just aren’t doing their job very well. The really bad consultants are the ones who’ll avoid, at all costs, pointing that out.

  11. Never bite the hand that’s feeding you…

    But yes, that’s quite true.

    Bad things also happen when management is insincere (or simply confused) about the whole enterprise from the outset. Combine that with disingenuity (and/or cluelessness) on the part of the consultants, and the results can be a hopeless mess.

  12. Whatever these guys are selling, there’s a growing market. Check out Leslie Stahl’s item on gun sales in the US. It seems there is a strong market for guns and ammo among Americans who see the apocalypse coming soon to a neighbourhood near them. Despite the recession guns have increased massively in price over the last year and there’s a shortage of ammunition. Naturally a lot of these gun nuts see Obama’s evil hand behind it all.

  13. Agreed, not all consultants are poseurs. I’m just a basic Sun Tzu guy, so most strategy consultants are sucking wind as far as I’m concerned. BTW, have you ever dropped the typo slip “conslutants?” 😉

    Furthermore, re the real merchants of information porn, for what it’s worth here’s a leaked DHS document, “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment”

    http://www.infowars.com/secret-dhs-doc-predicts-violence-in-response-to-new-gun-restrictions/

    (FYI. I notice that you have Slate Magazine down as a fave journal. Josh Levin, senior editor, dropped by for a tel interview yesterday re birthing pangs of NAmerican secessionist movement. I’ll let you know when the piece comes out. He says Mayish.)

  14. I’m with Ti-guy. Life as an Amway-meeting gets to be wearing.
    A strong measure of pessimism on Wall street over the past years might have spared the world a lot of misery.

  15. I got the link from Scruffy Dan. You have relatively young kids. Do them a favour. Invest a couple of hours in their future to listen to these programmes:

    http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/features/climate-wars/index.html

    The thrust of this, which I and many others have written about for some time, is that global warming won’t be settled by some fanciful international epiphany and call to action. Long before we reach the point where there’s remotely enough impetus for that, especially in the West, we’ll be up to our alligators in wars.

    The Pentagon knows this, so does the Brit Min of Defence. If you have access to someone in the field of climate change, they’ll eventually reluctantly agree.

    Listen to these programmes. You’ll probably be hooked before you get through the first ten minutes of episode one. Then use what you learn from them to take the measure of our political leadership today.

    Dare ya.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s