Tag: optimism

Who Could Have Guessed?

There are few advantages to being Gen X.

We’re a much smaller generation and therefore less culturally powerful than the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. We’re too old to be hip and cool, but too young to collect Social Security (which will be long gone by the time we’re senior citizens). Also, we were born too late to see Led Zeppelin in concert, but born too early to have our own cell phones as teenagers.

Also, our rock icons keep dying on us.

But there is one advantage we have, and it is this: We are cynical as fuck.

I’m not making this up. Studies have verified that Gen X is the most skeptical group of Americans in history.

Now, you might not think being cynical is an advantage. For the most part, it’s not. But when it comes to existing in the world in which we live, it is a damn lifesaver.

Take, for example, the recent poll numbers for our illustrious president.

In November, when Trump won — due to that archaic relic known as the Electoral College — about 60% of Americans “said they were mostly optimistic about his presidency.” But that number is down to 43% today, and furthermore, “core groups that carried Trump to victory are not immune to the deteriorating optimism around the president.”

I’m not a political scientist, but I’m pretty sure the phrase “deteriorating optimism” is not one that presidents like to hear.

Keep in mind that all these numbers came before the president threatened to start a nuclear war.

In any case, “optimism has slipped more than 20 points — from 74% in November to 51% now — among whites without a college degree.” Keep in mind that this demographic is the most hardcore of Trump’s hardcore support.

Apparently, for some inexplicable reason, back in November, many Americans somehow thought that electing a narcissist with no governmental or military experience, who had a history of racist statements, misogynistic behavior, and unethical actions, and who had the temperament of a spoiled toddler was somehow cause for optimism.

Why any rational adult would think this is completely beyond me.

Even people who knew firsthand about Trump’s insanity seemed to think a 70-year-old bully would somehow become more humble by winning the election. Witness the New York Times columnist who was personally insulted by Trump, but only recently addressed his boorish behavior by stating, “I have to admit that it did not occur to me he’d keep doing that kind of stuff as president of the United States.”

How did this not occur to you? How could this be a damn surprise?

Maybe it’s just not Gen X cynicism, however. Maybe it’s also because I’m Latino, and as my fellow Hispanics — and no doubt most African Americans and Muslims and gays as well — can attest, we never thought the guy would be anything other than a disaster. We never thought he would mellow out, or suddenly become presidential, or really be anything other than what he appeared to be, which is a corrupt, conniving liar who cares about nothing but himself.

It seems that many other Americans are now snapping out of their collective naivety to admit reality. Although I remain baffled why it’s taken people so long to acknowledge the perfectly obvious.

However, if you still think I’m being too harsh, just remember this fact: In spite of everything that has gone wrong with the Trump presidency, 84% of Republicans still support him.

So would you like to ask again why I’m cynical?

 


Doomed, Doomed, Doomed

So I was listening to a podcast on nihilism (no, it cannot get any geekier and more depressing, at least not simultaneously).

In any case, a number of scholars talked about the history of pessimism and the belief that life is meaningless and Nietzsche’s horse and all that fun stuff. The scholars agreed that periods of nihilism are cyclical, just like all components of history, and that the doom and gloom that pervade our culture is not unusual… however…

A few of them believed that our era is subtly different — a bit more intense than your typical Armageddon of the past. This is because our society’s constant barrage of horrific news, and the proliferation of social media, have combined to create a hyper-awareness of just how shitty the entire planet is and the knowledge of every little thing that is going wrong anywhere at any time.

The experts are correct. Fifty years ago, you might have felt despair over the Vietnam War, but there wasn’t a constant stream of Facebook videos explaining just how hopeless it was, and maybe you still had faith that things were ok in Paris or Helsinki or Rio de Janiero or wherever. Today, we hear constantly that everyplace is fucked up, and you’re a bad person if you ignore it.

Isis wants to chop off all our heads, and undocumented immigrants are raping at will, and gay men are stalking kids in bathrooms — hey, irrational fear multiples and feeds upon itself.

However, I think there is even more to it.

You might expect me to mention that the recent election of the worst-qualified president in history, who is also an egotistical sociopathic, might have increased the perception that the end is nigh, or at least nigh-er. You would be correct.

However, there is yet more to it than that.

You see, a hundred years ago, you may have been overwhelmed at the carnage of World War I, but you didn’t seriously think all of civilization would be destroyed.

And then the nuclear era changed all that, and you had to accept that everyone and everything could go up in flames one day just because the Russians got all pushy. But even then, total annihilation required action (i.e., the launching of thermonuclear warheads). Therefore, as long as everybody kept his cool, it was going to be fine.

Well, we have now morphed into a new era — a period of intense, unique nihilism — where all the old fears about the end of the world persist. However, now it is inaction — in the form of denying climate change — that is dooming us.

In other words, for the first time in our history, we actually have to work to prevent our extinction. In the past, we just had to keep our collective heads down and avoid doing anything too spectacularly stupid. But now, we have to come up with answers.

And it is this knowledge — that we have to fight for our survival — that has caused so many people to embrace nihilism. If we can’t even keep our leaders from tweeting idiotic, made-up bullshit about climate change, what hope does the Earth have?

 

Of course, we Latinos are especially prone to Catholic fatalism, which has the whiplash effect of making us weirdly optimistic about the future. But that is a whole other story.

In any case, all this is rather bleak, so I’m going to end this article with an uplifting story.

Recently, a “Christian computer programmer” (emphasis on the “Christian”) crunched the biblical numbers and come to the conclusion that the apocalypse will occur on New Year’s Eve.

 

So humanity will be wiped out, and none of us will live to see 2017.

You may ask, “What’s so cheery about that?”

Well, duh, it means that Trump will never be inaugurated.

Happy days are here again.

 


Dude, Chill

Like most Americans, I’ve watched this election season with a combination of amazement, amusement, befuddlement, and stark terror.

After all, we are perilously close to electing a president who is openly racist and misogynistic, ignorant of the Constitution, fond of fascism, and quite possibly demented.

But you know who is not afraid of this development?

That’s right — my fellow Latinos.

relaxed-woman

You see, a recent poll found that despite Trump’s “harsh anti-immigration rhetoric throughout this year’s presidential campaign, Hispanics are less likely than either whites or blacks to strongly agree that they are afraid of what will happen if their candidate loses.”

Just 38% of Hispanics say they are worried about the outcome of the presidential election. In contrast, 53% of whites fear the outcome, while 64% of blacks are nervous that their choice won’t become president.

Breaking down the numbers further, 45% of native-born Hispanics are afraid of what will happen if their candidate loses, compared with 30% of Hispanic immigrants.

Now, this may seem odd, in that Hispanics are second only to Muslims as objects of loathing in this election. And Latino immigrants, in particular, should be jittery as hell about the possibility of a Trump presidency. And yet, Hispanic immigrants are among the least worried about what happens in November.

But it actually makes sense.

Think about it — when was the last time you heard a Latino say, “If my candidate loses, I’m moving to Canada”? We don’t make empty threats like that, possibly because so many of us have already endured tremendous hardships to get here to America, so we’re not going to pack up and flee just because some jerk becomes the chief executive.

Also, there’s that whole thing about Hispanics being more optimistic about the future, more confident about the American Dream (however one defines it), and in general, just happier about life.

So yes, despite my fascination (bordering on obsession) with this year’s election, I’m not really worried about the outcome. Oh, don’t get me wrong. A Trump presidency would be a disaster. However, despite what you’ve heard from commentators both respected and fringe-dwelling, electing that narcissist would not mean the end of civilization.

Throughout our history, we Americans have overcome war, civil unrest, and economic calamity. Just add “terrorism” to that list, and you’re talking about the last decade alone. And yet we’re still here.

Certainly, four years of a delusional, mean-spirited little man at the helm would be extremely harmful, but it’s not going to destroy us.

And if that isn’t an all-American, patriotic, can-do viewpoint, then I don’t know what is.

 


Look Back in Horror

I am the child of an immigrant. My mom is from El Salvador, so I grew up with the tastes and influences of a typical American teenager, all mixed with a strong awareness of Latino culture and history. I’m pretty grateful for the combo.

You know who else is the child of an immigrant? Omar Mateen, the psychopath who murdered 49 people in Orlando a few nights ago.

orlando-shooting-0612-large-169

Mateen and I clearly had different interpretations of the dichotomies that come with being members of the first generation to be born in America. For example, I blended a love of hamburgers with an appreciation for pupusas, and I gave the music of my mother’s homeland a fair listen before popping in a Soundgarden album. It was a bit of a mezcla.

But Omar Mateen wasn’t interested in mixing cultures. He found it easier to just embrace the problems, prejudices, and anger of his parents’ country. Mateen latched onto his father’s homophobia and the religious mania that is widespread in his family’s homeland. And in so doing, he set out to be more culturally authentic than his parents ever were.

This is not an issue of assimilation or integration, as so many people believe it to be. No, it is more of a cultural mindset.

It is a mindset that provokes young men, born and raised in America, to adopt the radical politics of their parents’ homelands. It is a mindset of fear and fury.

The massacre in Orlando — and the fact that so many of the victims were Latino — got me thinking about how this cultural perception forms one of the many roots of bigotry and violence.

Let’s ask, why are there no Latino terrorists, going on shooting sprees or strapping on bombs to avenge the pain and misery that the United States government has inflicted upon El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and other Latin American countries?

Indeed, there is ample reason for Hispanics to be more than a little pissed about our treatment and standing in the United States.

And yet, survey after survey shows that Latinos are more optimistic about the future and more positive about life in general than just about any other American demographic. We are pretty much the last people to use the injustices of the past to justify abhorrent behavior.

One reason for this is so obvious that it borders on the simplistic. But here it is: Latinos tend to look forward.

We pack up and move to new countries in search of better lives. We assume our kids will do better than us. We have faith that circumstances will improve.

And this forward-thinking mindset, this cultural tendency to dismiss the woes of the past, helps us to maintain optimism in the face of economic and political tribulations. It helps us to set aside our pain and disappointment, rather than hoist them upon our backs for all to see.

In contrast, angry and hate-filled people tend to look backward, toward some vague past, and then they threaten to make America, you know, “great again.”

And other people, like Omar Mateen, not only look backward — they glare at it with a white-hot obsession and rage. They believe that their culture’s best days are long behind them, that the present holds nothing more than humiliation and despair, and that someone — maybe American society or gays or left-handed dentists or whoever — is to blame.

Omar Mateen, in addition to being a pathetic and homicidal loser, was an unimaginative, scared person who had no faith in the future. And someone taught him that mindset, inculcating him with the belief that it was reality.

As for his victims — people with names like Almodovar and Guerrero and Rios and Flores — they most likely had great hopes for tomorrow and next year and the next decade. But that optimism and those dreams were cruelly taken from them by a furious man who could do nothing better with his life than stare backward into the distant past.

 


A Permanent Upside-Down Frown

Most of the people in my family are fairly cheerful people. My mom, in particular, is the most upbeat and optimistic person I’ve ever met.

It’s a little odd, in that nobody in my family is a millionaire, and we’ve all had our fair share of traumas. And yet, here we are, apparently happier than your average stressed-out American.

stresed worker

And a recent study found that Latin America is arguably the happiest place on Earth. Yes, even with all the region’s socioeconomic problems, residents of Latin America don’t sweat the small stuff.

Why is this?

Well, I’ve written before about the Latino tendency to be positive, even in the face of grim news and dreary statistics. But I recently came across a scientific theory for this relentless smiling.

Now, it’s old news that research “suggests an association between mental wellbeing and a mutation of the gene that influences the reuptake of serotonin, which is believed to be linked to human mood.”

Basically, much of our happiness, or lack thereof, may be traced to our genetic makeup.

Scientists have found that the Scandinavian population is most likely to have this gene. This may be one reason why Denmark, Finland, and other counties in that region perennially rank as the happiest nations on Earth.

Of course, a progressive government that ensures a high standard of living for their citizens may have something to do with that perpetual singsong attitude. But let’s not dwell on that because it’s, you know, socialism.

In any case, additional research has found that like the Scandinavians, Latin Americans are “more likely to contain a specific allele involved in sensory pleasure and pain reduction.”

As such, Latin Americas and Scandinavians are more likely to be chipper than, say, the Chinese or the Iraqis (of course, there are very real non-genetic reasons for their respective unhappiness too).

Is it possible, then, that as more Hispanics intermarry and intermingle and inter-you-know-what, they will spread their happiness genes among more and more Americans?

Hey, there’s only one way to find out.

 


And the Bucks Will Just Start Rolling In

I’ve written before about the intense, powerful, even bizarre sense of optimism prevalent among Hispanics.

Yes, even when fleeing for our lives from oppressive third-world governments and/or bloodthirsty drug gangs, we think, “Better days are ahead.”

And even when acres of statistics show how Latinos are struggling, compared to the general population, we say, “Keep the faith.”

And even when we become scapegoats for the nation’s ills, open targets for right-wing nutjobs, and the object of scorn in the eyes of millions of Americans, we smile and say, “Happiness is right around the corner.”

Well, if you thought that this pugnacious positivism had faded recently, a new survey shows that it has only gotten stronger, especially regarding financial matters.

For example, a solid majority of Hispanics “feel there is equal opportunity for everyone to achieve their dream of financial success.” But less than half of the general population feels the same way.

And 60 percent of Latinos believe “that those who work hard will be the most financially successful, a significantly higher percentage than the general population.”

Finally, there is the statistic that Latinos are more likely to believe that they are on their way “in their race to financial success” than the general population.

But is all this faith in the future based in reality?

Well, consider that the same survey found that “by their own admission, Hispanics struggle with managing their money and lack self-confidence when doing so.”money

OK, that seems a little contradictory — as does the fact that “a majority of Hispanics give themselves a grade of C or lower when evaluating how well they manage their money.”

And let’s consider that a full 70 percent of Hispanics “have not created a long-term financial plan.”

So once again, we are forced to ask, is all this optimism priming the pump for a self-fulfilling prophecy where Latinos are financially successful?

Or have we Hispanics turned into collective Navin Johnsons, insisting that “Things are going to start happening to me now”?

navin_r_johnson_xlarge

 

Well, maybe the most telling — and most hopeful — data point in the survey is this: Millennial Hispanics (age 18-39) are more likely “to see an undergraduate degree as one of the top influences for financial success.”

Now that makes sense. Getting a degree is a solid, realistic option for achieving financial success. Young people know this.

And what do older Latinos think is key to financial independence? It is, of course, “the advice of elders.”

Yes, better stay in school, kids.

 


Put It on My Tab

A friend of mine once cut up her credit cards and closed her accounts because, she said, “those pieces of plastic are evil.”

creditcards

I thought this was a bit overly dramatic (she was that type of person). I also thought it was convenient to blame her chronic debt on inanimate objects rather than, say, her nonexistent self-control and materialistic tendencies.

In any case, we all know people who live beyond their means, and it’s true that many individuals teeter on the edge of bankruptcy because of their shopping addictions or love of new shoes or willingness to fly first-class to Italy for the hell of it.

But a recent study has found that when it comes to Hispanics, living large is often not the reason for going into the red. The study found that almost half (43%) of Latinos who have credit card debt depend on the plastic to pay for basic living expenses. And a significant chunk of the rest are using credit cards for tiny splurges at best.

So if Latinos are not slapping down credit cards on impulse buys and charging luxury items, why are they in so much debt?

Well, Hispanics report that the main reason for their debt is the loss of a job, and they’re more likely than other groups to say that medical costs also contributed to their financial issues.

The researchers theorize that because Latinos lost so much of their wealth in the Great Recession, they’re having trouble restocking checking or savings accounts. So putting basic items or medical expenses on credit cards often seems to be the only option.

This, of course, sucks. But as is often the case, the survey also found that Latinos are more optimistic than the overall population. So they’re more confident about paying down their credit card debt quickly.

This optimism, which borders on delusion, leads to some interesting contradictions.

For example, another poll found that almost half of Latinos (49%) said they were worried that someone in their household might become unemployed soon. Yet the same survey found that almost three-quarters of Latinos (73%) are optimistic about their finances and future opportunities.

Frankly, that’s a bizarre balancing act of fear and hope.

But maybe these results just show that Latinos are still jumpy about their financial status, years after the economic meltdown. The Great Recession so ravaged Hispanic households that many Latinos are leery about declaring that the worst is over.

At the same time, Latinos tend to be more optimistic than other groups about their future. The main reason for this positivism seems to be the immigrant mindset. Many Hispanics remember struggling in their home countries, or they hear the harrowing tales of their parents. As such, these Latinos usually have more faith in the American system and a stronger belief that their financial situation will improve.

We should all really, really hope they’re right.

 


Keep Talking

For a culture steeped in Catholic fatalism — and with a history that includes everything from racial discrimination to economic injustice to death squads — Hispanics sure are an optimistic bunch. I’ve written before about this weird tendency to be positive in the face of disaster. But now I have scientific proof for it.

A recent study says that people who speak Spanish tend to express themselves in a more positive way than speakers of other languages do. The researchers found that “the selection of positive words was greatest among Spanish-speakers” and that those words tend to be “learned more easily, used more frequently and are considered more meaningful.” In addition, overall communication among Spanish-speakers tended to be more positive, and the emotional content of the Spanish language was the highest among the languages studied.

talking

Basically, a conversation in Spanish is more optimistic and heartfelt than it would be in English, even if the content is exactly the same. And you don’t even want to know how much more upbeat Spanish is in comparison to German or Arabic (the alpha and omega of harsh languages).

But it’s not all good news for Hispanics. And here I am part of the problem. I’ve been honest about my struggles with Spanish, and I consider myself passable at the language, at best.

Well, another study has shown that, sure enough, each successive generation of Latinos is less proficient in Spanish. While 92% of the second generation (children of immigrants, like me) speak English very well, only 82% are even conversational in Spanish. By the third generation, nearly 100% of Latinos speak English very well, but only 17% speak Spanish fluently.

So all that optimism will fade away if we don’t teach kids Spanish. Now that’s a pessimistic thought.

 


Faith or Delusion?

I’ve written before that Latinos tend to be more optimistic about life and have more confidence in their economic futures.

thumbsup

Well, a new survey confirms that Hispanics’ “faith in the American Dream exceeds that of whites and African Americans,” adding that this optimism “contrasts sharply with the current economic status of Hispanics.”

Basically, even though the Great Recession hit Latinos harder than most groups, it is those same Hispanics who have the strongest belief that everything will work out fine. According to the survey’s authors, “the upbeat attitude … is due in part to the fact that Hispanic immigrants often start with little and expect to sacrifice much to move up, while native-born adults may have already seen their expectations lose ground in an ailing economy.”

So whites and blacks, whose roots in America are more likely to go back generations, tend to say, “This sucks worse than ever.” But Latinos often shrug off the same bad news with “I’ve seen worse.”

Still, as great as it is that Latinos are remaining optimistic and staying strong, “the reality for most Hispanics is less rosy” than their faith implies.

So the question becomes, is this determined mindset a self-fulfilling prophecy, where hard work and a never-say-die spirit is rewarded? Or are Latinos just saps for still believing “they are more likely to move up than down in social class over the next few years”?

In any case, the survey points out that “the hopes and struggles of Hispanics are of particular interest now as they are exercising unprecedented political clout.”

Yes, it’s good to have faith. But it’s better to have power.

 


What? Me, Worry?

A year ago, I wrote about how the Great Recession hit Latinos hard. At the time, I was hopeful that the worst was behind us. Perhaps that was my natural Hispanic tendency to be optimistic.

After all, Latinos “are worse off, but they are still more positive about where the country is going” compared to most Americans. In particular, “Latino small-business owners are among the fastest growing and most upbeat [groups] in the nation,” and they “worry less about job security and are more positive and humble.”

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