Robert Fulford on the psychopathology of Canadian life: PESSIMISM


There’s no better deconstructor of liberal and Canadian pathologies than the great Robert Fulford. Today, he picks up on something it’s impossible not to notice, particularly in oh-so-urbane Toronto – that pessimism is the sad, bitter norm of the Canadian mindset. Worth a full read: “A cloud behind every silver lining” (National Post, October 6/2007). An excerpt:

To adapt a phrase of Freud’s, pessimism is essential to the psychopathology of Canadian life. We learn in childhood that when oil prices go down it’s a bad thing, but when they go up it’s also a bad thing. Some individuals will benefit either way but as a society we never rejoice; the downside is the side where we’re most comfortable.

For many years, we described the low dollar in doleful terms: feeble, frail, weak, anaemic, etc. But now that it’s slightly exceeded parity with the U.S. dollar, it’s regarded as a rampaging monster, creating terror among editorialists.

The Toronto Star leads the country in this field. It has a special cupboard for storing dour economic cliches. The editors never miss a chance to point out that, while things may look good, they are actually bad. In July, an editorial, “Ontario bracing for perfect storm,” told us not to be fooled by the recent rise in retail trade. “On the surface, the Canadian economy looks to be on a roll,” noted the Star. But apparently this is when we should worry most. The editors opened their cupboard and began spraying cliches at the problem.

Some economists are optimistic, the editors admitted, “But there are others who see dark clouds forming.” Some think the strong dollar reflects prosperity but the Star now calls it “the galloping dollar.” The editors also advised us that “Uncertainty over the economy is rampant,” though without mentioning any time in history when uncertainty was not rampant. Weakness in the U.S. economy will hurt us, so how should the federal and provincial governments respond? “Caution must be the watchword” for policy-makers, though governments won’t be able to “stand by idly.” What should the Bank of Canada do? “Take a wait-and-see position ? until a clearer picture emerges as to whether the economic forecast points to blue skies or a perfect storm.”

…In Victorian England, there was a belief among Christians that chronic pessimism was sinful, a refusal to accept one’s blessings joyfully. One day in 1889, the London Times referred to “the contagion of that moral evil ? visiting the end of the 19th century — namely pessimism.” When I came upon that quotation recently, I realized for the first time a horrible truth: Canadians are even gloomier than the gloomiest Victorians.

As the great Dennis Prager says so often: happiness is a moral obligation; unhappiness is as offensive as body odour or bad breath. Happiness is something that needs to be worked on day-after-day, and even faked if necessary. But it is very difficult to be a happy person if you indulge in the intellectual wasteland of constant negativity. (It’s also very difficult to be happy if you don’t fear God…but that related point will have to be left for another day.)


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