Belfast Telegraph

I find the West's charm offensive exactly that: offensive

By Christina Patterson

At last, some good news. New research confirms what some of us have always known: namely that optimists are completely and utterly deranged.

The research, it's true, doesn't put it quite like that. The research, published in a journal called Nature Neuroscience, said that optimists "retain a positive outlook even in the face of evidence to the contrary".

For those of us who haven't been able to hear the words "I'm an optimist" without a strong desire to wipe a smirk off a shiny, pink face, it's a bit of a relief.

Yes, we know about the studies that show optimists are more likely to live longer, have good relationships and achieve their goals than the people they call pessimists and we call realists.

Eighty per cent of people, according to this study, are optimists, so no wonder a high proportion of prospective partners and employers are attracted by the shining eyes and crazed grins that make them feel so at home.

There's strong evidence, too, that immune systems are also part of this cosy cult, scaring off infections with their happy, clappy charm.

But a country is not a boyfriend, an immune system or an employer, and the successful running of a country, or of an economy, or of a foreign policy, or of an employment strategy, involves a little bit more than positive thinking, and charm.

We have just celebrated - though that isn't quite the word - 10 years of a war that was launched on an abstract concept and conducted in a country - Afghanistan - where that abstract concept seemed to thrive.

Wars on abstract concepts don't always go too well and this one could clearly go on gobbling up our young men and our taxes for many years to come.

Now even the former commander of the forces fighting it has admitted that they had a "frighteningly simplistic" understanding of the country and that they didn't know the country's history, or culture, or languages, and didn't bother to learn. Things can get better, of course.

But I don't think you could really switch on the news and hear about the men who are dying every day in a war that only a few demented generals think we can win and hear about the latest Chamber of Commerce figures, which show that the economy is doing much worse than everyone expected, and hear about the new study from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, which predicts that nearly a quarter of children will be living in poverty by the end of the decade, and still think that things can only get better.

Only a psychopath wouldn't hope they will, but the evidence, whether or not it registers on the frontal lobes, is that they can nearly always get an awful lot worse.

It's the country built on a dream of prosperity for all, that now has levels of inequality on a par with Rwanda; levels of inequality that are bigger than they were in 1928.

The wealthiest 1% of Americans now own more than a third of the country's wealth. The poorest 50% own less than 3% of it.

More than 45 million Americans are now on food stamps. There are more than 24 million people in America who can't find a full-time job. No wonder there are protests on Wall Street.

And it's the southern European countries, which put off worries about manana until a manana which never comes, which are in the biggest mess of all.

It's the northern Europeans, the sunshine-starved, cautious northern Europeans, who have kept their house in order and their economies strong and who have ensured that a reasonable standard of living for most of their citizens isn't just a dream.

Everything ain't gonna be all right, or at least not without some radical change. Bring me sunshine, by all means. Bring me a 'can-do optimist' prime minister like David Cameron if you must. But please also bring me a man (or a woman) with a proper plan.

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