A dear friend told me yesterday evening that my blog generally focuses more on the positive aspects of things than on the negative aspects of things, and I think her insight is mostly true. You see, I write mainly — not exclusively, but mainly — for a certain kind of reader.
That reader, as I think of him or her, is somewhat older, somewhat better educated, and somewhat more experienced than the average person alive on the planet today. More specifically, I think of them as having witnessed a great deal in their time.
Which to me means many of the things they’ve witnessed in life can be quite unfortunately described by hard, negative words along the lines of “ugly”, “callous”, “brutal”, “heinous”, “stupid”, and “tragic”. Because, so far as I’ve been able to find out, that’s what life all too often is.
It’s often composed of things ranging from casual day-to-day cruelties unnecessarily committed by the world’s supply of jerks all the way up the ladder to senseless female genital mutilations, rapes, maimings, and murders. Which doesn’t begin to get into the other bad stuff: The existential threats of such things as nuclear war, global climate change, overpopulation, and such, combined with the fact that nearly every society on earth can be legitimately seen as in some significant ways as a con game in which the elites trick the common people into embracing their own largely unnecessary oppression. That’s a significant part of the world — not as I saw it when I was a kid — but as I witness it today with adult eyes that have been open for awhile.
But that certainly isn’t the whole story. There’s much more to life than it’s negative aspects, no matter how egregious those are.
People can often be kind, loving, considerate, intelligent, creative, and a host of other positive things. There are even people, like some of my best friends, who are so true to themselves, so authentic, that they “walk in beauty”, as the people of one Native American nation describe them. But even the rest of us have our many moments of bravery, spontaneous generosity, refreshing kindness, creativity, insight, and so forth.
Add to those things the beauty of nature, the inspiration of the arts, the power of the sciences – all just a start on the positive aspects of life.
In my imagination, my typical reader is a comparatively rare sort of person. While most of us tend to lean either to optimism or pessimism, he or she values realism. They want the truth; in fact, they demand it. And they refuse to run from the truths of life down the rabbit hole of escapism — even despite escapism being the overwhelmingly most popular religion of our age.
But more than that, I imagine it’s not enough for him or her to merely know the truths of life. He or she affirms life, courageously says “yes” to it. Or at the very least wants to — perhaps even needs to — affirm life.
As I imagine my readers, affirming life is very different from merely focusing on the positives and ignoring the negatives. I think they would call that a form of escapism. Instead, affirming life for them involves acknowledging both the positives and the negatives. It involves accepting the truth of things as they are. And then going a step further. That step is to say “yes” to their lives despite the negative things they are aware of and might even have personally encountered.
To put things a bit differently, the person furthest from my typical reader as I imagine him or her is perhaps the person who travels life never once feeling grateful just to be alive.
So, that’s how I imagine my typical reader. Hence, I make a conscious effort when writing to stand planted in realism while yet affirming all that I can about this world.
Naturally, I screw up right and left at that, in large part because it’s practically impossible for a human to not screw up trying to be a affirmative realist. I’m not even so sure our noble species of poo-flinging super-apes fully evolved the intellectual and emotional capacity to meet the challenge of it. But screw up or not, presenting the reader an affirming, but fundamentally realistic, view of things is what I try to do.
Because I not only espouse affirmative realism, but also because I’m so inept at espousing it, I am sometimes baffled that I have any readers at all. Back before I put this blog into a years long hiatus, and consequently lost most regular readers, Cafe Philos averaged about 400 visitors a day. That’s not many people in the grand scheme of things, but it’s roughly 350 more folks in the world than I expected, when I first started out, might be interested in reading my views. I was grateful to have them back then, just as I am grateful to have the readers I have today.
I’m curious now — very curious — whether anyone who reads this blog would, like me, entertain the thought that they might be an “affirmative realist” in some way or another. Of course, I abhor labeling myself — just as I imagine most of my readers do. So allow me to change the question: Does the notion of affirmative realism resonate with anyone? Does it have any appeal at all? Please feel free to offer your thoughts on that question. I would love to hear them!
Last, although I mainly write for what I think of as a rather select, special group of people, I by no means write for them exclusively. I make a conscious and conscientious effort to make my prose and ideas accessible to anyone interested in any of the various topics I post on. And I am just as grateful to them as I am to those who I mainly write for. Anyone who is not hellbent on being a jerk to others is welcome here.
Thanks for reading this!
Please note: This post was first published on the 8th of this month, then edited for clarity and republished on the 10th.