You’ve seen the trend, even if you haven’t recognized that it’s a trend. Conspiracy theories that Finding Nemo was actually about Marlin getting over the death of his son, or that Harry hallucinated his entire adventure from his first year at Hogwarts to Voldemort’s final defeat.
I recently had a peculiar experience in the comments of a Smithsonian post about the corpses of Everest. One man painted a lovely image of camaraderie in the face of potentially fatal cold and exhaustion, explaining that the majority of climbers would never “use the dead as landmarks.” A woman then came out of nowhere to attack him as “obviously a privileged white male” for forming “condescending friendships.” Now, perhaps he was white, and perhaps he was privileged, but why are we so eager to throw these acid remarks on any hope or cheer we see?
There’s a lot of pressure these days to be negative. I don’t mean pressure to be realist, I mean pressure to be negative. One of the few things I truly disliked about college is that we’re actively taught to assume other people aren’t aware of the bad in the world, and that we should slap them in the face with it until they start paying attention. For some reason, we end up with a lot of depressed people who don’t want to do anything after we’ve finished with this.
What’s the evidence they’re not aware? In general it seems to be that they’re saying something positive. Let me be blunt(er): there is no point in calling attention to the ill in the world if you do it by eviscerating any joy or hope you see offered. The people your wrathful shutdowns are meant for are not listening. The rich and privileged assholes not paying any attention to all that’s wrong around them are not listening to your cries.
The people who already agree with you are listening, and they’re looking for alternatives. Without you ever saying it, the message they’ll inevitably get when all you offer is “Shit’s bad!” is that “Shit’s bad!” is the ambient and inevitable state of existence. That leads to nihilism, which I can’t emphasize strongly enough is something Nietzsche himself only wanted us to use so we could tear down our old, flawed ways and replace them with perfected ones. Nihilism was just supposed to be a reset. Instead, due in no small part to the fact that we’re taught it’s childish and pathetic to have hope, nihilism’s becoming our stopping point. Nietzsche predicted this, actually, and said it would be our test.
Right now we’re failing. We are failing pitiably. Let me put some scenarios in front of you: you buy a cheeseburger (a nice crisp salad if you’re Vegan or otherwise not in a cheeseburger mood). You drop your tasty meal on the floor and lose most of it. Response One: “Aagh, I dropped it! My food’s ruined and on the floor! My food is on the floor and ruined! Misery and woe, all is lost! God is dead and life is meaningless, oh the humanity, oh my kale, lost to oblivion forever!” Response Two: “Well, I guess I can buy another one or go home and scrounge or something. Heck, maybe if I ask nicely they’ll replace it!” Another: “My house is dirty. Flame-broiled kittens rotting in Christ’s headless torso, why is my house dirty?! Why, oh, why?!” or else: “Guess I better throw these old pizza boxes in the recycling and mop up the floor, put these clothes in the washer…” Lastly: “I spent $500 on this sword and I can’t even swing it, why I am I so pathetic? Why am I such a disgrace? What kind of swordsman can’t swing his own sword?!” or “I’ll get some heavier training swords and start lifting weights. I’ll get stronger and I’ll make this steel sing.”
Noting a common theme? In every scenario, the first response is to just keep ranting about the problem and wondering why just pointing out the problem isn’t fixing it. The second response is simply to acknowledge the issue and get to work fixing it.
As a writer, reader or random person a-blog-skimming you do not have the power to put on your work hat, slip into some overalls and just elbow-grease every problem away. You do, however, have the ability to do four things
1. Work on a reasonable portion of the problem. Doesn’t even have to be everything you possibly could, just some of it.
2. Encourage others to join you.
3. Stop discouraging yourself or others from having a reaction besides depression. Makes sure people are aware of problems, and then start moving to address them ASAP. Don’t just keep harping on the trouble once you’ve got their attention. Tell them actions they can take.
4. Do not go out of your way to make things depressing. Marlin loses his wife and 99% of their children. Taking away the shred of hope he has through Nemo is just fucked up. It’s bad enough Harry’s parents died before he could walk, you don’t have to make him the victim of a delusional coma.
If writing and art in general are supposed to reflect on the real world, there has to be bad in them. Not only do I accept that, I endorse it. But your goal as an artist and/or as a human being should never be to dwell on the bad. Acknowledge it, and work to overcome it. Even if (as I’m doing for one of my novels-in-progress) the subject is evil’s conclusive victory, your message should not be, “We’re all fucked so let Dark Lord Spineripper the Joyless kill you and don’t fight back.”
“All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.” Right now we have a lot of good people who’ve gone past doing nothing to doing evil’s work for it. Stop. We are better than this, and the world will begin to reflect that if we fight for it.
We’re here anyway, at least until we’re not. As long as we, what say we make something of it?