Monday, February 26, 2018

Deep Monday Optimism.

If you ask most people, especially most Republicans, they'll tell you--without much hesitation that the world is in a pretty horrible state.

They'll tell you about a brutal murder they heard about just four blocks away, or about the Parkland massacre of 17 kids by a deranged gunman. If they have good memories, they'll mention the surge of terrorism in this country and in western Europe. They might cite the guy who drove a rented van on the west side of Manhattan into a crowd of people. Or a similar incident in Nice, France, or a nightclub massacre in Paris.

If they're really aware, they might bring up two impending wars of mass-destruction--ours and Israel's against a nuclear-tipped Iran, and ours against North Korea. Or they'll bring up the Syrian civil war, or Russian incursions in Crimea or our continuing battles in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or the Kurds fighting the Turks or the Armenians fighting the Azerbajians.  Or something.

However, if you read Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of our Nature," or his current "Enlightenment Now," or if you read Gregg Easterbrook's "It's Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fearyou'll get a dramatically different picture. (Listen to an NPR interview with Easterbrook here.)

You'll see that the world, for all its problems, is a better place for more people than ever before. As a species humans are richer, healthier, longer-lived, more educated and safer than at any other time in the history of humanity.

Reading the subtitle of another Easterbrook book, "How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse" I wonder if the Pessimismists have affected us in advertising as well.

I wonder if our OCD-like mania of bemoaning the state of our business is evidence not of reality, but of our current need for lugubrious gloom.

I wonder.

This is not to say the ad business is without its issues, its problems, its evils. But it is to question the easy answer that everything and everyone sucks every day.

I think many people look back--as the Trumpers do--to a purported golden age in the 1950s and 1960s and through their rosy-colored lenses imagine an industry that never was.

There never was a time when people believed advertising and obediently followed the orders of Josephine the Plumber or the little hammers slugging away at your animated sinuses.

Yet today, especially among many of those who work in the non-traditional industry you'll hear many statements like, "nobody believes in advertising anymore." As if there were a time when people did.

There's no evidence that advertising is less effective than it was during its so-called golden age. In fact, when you consider the steady increase in consumer spending through the years, someone more analytical than I could probably find data that suggests advertising--whatever its form--has never been more ubiquitous or more-effective.

Like I said, I don't have the numbers. Maybe the Ad Contrarian can help.

More to think about here. But I'll close with some seconds of Easterbrook's short interview on NPR this weekend.

SARAH MCCAMMON: So to start, can you tell us why you think people have such a dim view of the country in the first place? Where does that sense come from?
EASTERBROOK: I spent a lot of time in "It's Better Than It Looks" on why we feel so badly about ourselves, although objective barometers are pretty good. And I think, right now, it's popular to pile on social media. That's fine with me. I do pile on social media. I think that's one factor because it relentlessly emphasizes the negative and overstates anger and discord. But I think more on a larger basis, these beliefs were developing long before anybody had Facebook in their pockets on a phone. Our perception of the world should be fact-based.
If you look at facts, the United States has never been in better condition. The European Union has never been in better condition. And a great deal - of course, not all - but much of the world has never been in better condition. But we've come to think that our emotions, not the facts, should dominate how we perceive events. And I think, in 2016, when Trump was elected and Brexit passed in the United Kingdom, we found out what goes wrong when you emphasize your emotions rather than looking at facts.


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