The Causey Consulting Podcast

When Does Optimism Become . . . Cruel? 🤔

September 29, 2022
The Causey Consulting Podcast
When Does Optimism Become . . . Cruel? 🤔
Show Notes Transcript

Where is the threshold for when positive thinking and optimism become toxic? Or perhaps worse than toxic - downright cruel ?

Key topics:

✔️ Lauren Berlant's book Cruel Optimism.
✔️ What if a dream of "the good life" is actually holding you back from living a good life? Or what if the promise of that good life is totally bogus?
✔️ "An attachment to a significantly problematic object." That's how I felt about my real estate quest and why I decided to strategically quit.
✔️An interesting argument is made for méconnaissance  causing us to project certain traits onto other people or things only to discover they may or may not have those qualities after all. We can see this in relationship hopping, job hopping, love bombing, political hoopla and rah-rahing, etc.

There are a couple of places where I had cellular interference with the microphone. Sorry!

Links I mention in this episode:

Need more? Email me:

Welcome to the Causey Consulting Podcast. You can find us online anytime at And now, here's your host, Sara Causey. Hello, Hello, thanks for tuning in. In today's episode, I want to talk about cruel optimism. I've talked before about toxic positivity, toxic optimism, Hashtag blessed, good vibes only. And this idea that optimism and positive thinking might be just fine. But what if they go so far over to an extreme that they actually become toxic? What if you're giving in to hopium instead of facing reality? I think about Tony Robbins saying, Well, you don't go out to the garden seaweeds and say there are no weeds and then expect them to go away as if by magic. There are times in life where you still have to put the time and the effort in, in order to see an outcome that you want to achieve. It's not all about sunshine and roses. And I think sometimes, the pressure of trying to be grateful and happy and excited all day, every day is crippling, who could possibly keep up with that kind of pressure I couldn't. I like to think of myself as being generally speaking in a positive frame of mind, but not all day every day. Nor would I want to express gratitude for every single thing that happens to me in my life. Yet, there are plenty of gurus out there who will tell you that's exactly what you should be doing. Even if you stub your toe, even if you get a flat tire. Even if the roof develops a leak, you're supposed to somehow go, it's okay. Hashtag blessed, good vibes only. This is somehow great. And this is such a wonderful learning experience. And it sort of leaves in the dirt. The idea that sometimes in life poop happens. The bumper sticker is right. Sometimes in life, poop happens, and it happens to us all. So I checked out Lauren brillance book, cruel optimism, it is quite dense. It is filled with academic speak, sort of took me back to my days of graduate school, I was having to read these thick texts on things like pedagogy, which is just a fancy $10 word for teaching. And I was like, Man, this isn't going to really take some time to get through, but varied amongst the philosopher named dropping and the dense academic language, there are some really awesome and accessible pearls of wisdom. And they're not trying to be lie, the effort that was put into talking about different philosophical points of view, I really just expected this to be a more straightforward read than it was. I actually found out about this book when I read Elissa quartz book squeeze. And so I sort of expected it to have a little bit more of a down to earth journalistic tone. But this is indeed an academic book. And I think it was published by Duke University Press. So it's more so a book that you would probably read in graduate school. Nevertheless, here we go. In the introduction, thankfully, we get a pretty clear cut offering of what we're about to read. Now I'll read some of that for you now. A relation of cruel optimism exists when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing. It might involve food or a kind of love, it might be a fantasy of the good life or a political project, it might rest on something simpler to like a new habit that promises to induce in you an improved way of being. These kinds of optimistic relation are not inherently cruel. They only become cruel. When the object that draws your attachment actively impedes the aim that brought you to it initially. All attachment is optimistic if we describe optimism as the force that moves you out of yourself and into the world in order to bring closer the satisfying something that you cannot generate on your own. But since in the wake of a person a way of life and object, project, concept or scene, but optimism may not feel optimistic, because optimism is ambitious, at any moment, it might feel like anything, including nothing, Dread, anxiety, hunger, curiosity, the whole gamut from the sly neutrality of browsing the aisles, to excitement at the prospect of the change that's going to come or the change that is not going to come. One of optimism ordinary pleasures is to induce conventionality, that place where appetites find a shape in the predictable comforts of the good life genres, that a person or a world has seen fit to formulate. But optimism doesn't just manifest and aim to become stupid or Simple, often the risk of attachment taken in its throws manifests and intelligence beyond rational calculation and quote, I want to read a little bit more from the first chapter. In the introduction, I described cruel optimism as a relation of attachment to compromised conditions of possibility, whose realization is discovered either to be impossible sheer fantasy, or two possible and toxic. What's cool about these attachments, and not merely inconvenient or tragic is that the, the subjects who have X in their lives might not well endure the loss of their objects slash scene of desire, even though its presence threatens their well being. Because whatever the content of the attachment is, the continuity of its form provides something of the continuity of the subject sense of what it means to keep living on and to looking forward to being in the world. I'm gonna skip ahead just a little bit. This particular line had a lot of significance for me. Cruel optimism is the condition of maintaining an attachment to a significantly problematic object and quote, yeah, so when I reached that part, I actually laughed out loud, because I thought a lot about my decision to strategically quit my real estate quest, as I think a number of people who sort of came to their senses, and thought, you know, I don't think I want to get in the FOMO and the Yolo of this market. I think I'll just like Orlando miner said, go to the sidelines and wait for better economic conditions. I don't know what's happening in this housing market. But I just don't think I want to overpay and be left holding the bag. If this all goes pear shaped, which indeed, I think it will probably sooner rather than later. But I thought isn't that such an interesting way? To put it cruel optimism is the condition of maintaining an attachment to a significantly problematic object, indeed. So think about relationships, think about times, whether it was your own relationship, or maybe that of a close friend or family member, where you knew they were trying to keep that relationship going with krazy glue and Elmers paste and some duct tape and it's like, you gotta let it go. This is not going to work out, it's never going to get any better. The two of you clearly cannot even stand each other anymore. And so why are you trying to Krazy Glue the relationship together? Would you not be better apart, but yet, as brilliant says, you know, is significantly problematic thing. This also made me think of an article I saw recently titled, I feel like I was used the rise of friend bombing and why we need to talk about it, I'll drop a link to it, of course, you can check it out for yourself. But in this article, there are women that talk about how they were friend bombed, somebody just washed into their life and everything seemed to click a very tight, seemingly close friendship formed together quickly. But then almost as quickly as it came on, if not more, so it evaporated. I want to read from that for you. Now. There are friendships that are in many ways, an extension of those formed between women and nightclub bathrooms, intense, emotional, ephemeral. Take them out of the bathroom and into real life, though, and things become a little more complex. I call this friend bombing a specific type of friendship that forms unusually fast and then out of nowhere comes crashing to an end. It's normal for some friendships to flourish in the beginning, but become more distant through the course of our lives, says Josh Smith, a counselor at the charity relate. Often this is associated with life transitions, the friends we make at school, or as a young parent might be less relevant to us, for example, when we leave school or children grow up. The distinction between this typical process and a friend bombing relationship is that the patterns can mirror those in abusive romantic relationships. Like with intimate relationships, there's a scope for friendships to become abusive, explained Smith making the comparison to love bombing, a form of manipulative behavior where someone bombs their partner with extreme displays of affection and attention only to do a 180 becoming distant and possibly cruel, leaving the victim agonizing over how they can get back to the bombing stage and quote, yeah, you I hate to say it, but I had an experience that was kind of the opposite of that. Several years ago, I had been in a long term, close platonic friendship that quite frankly, went on about twice as long as it should have. looking back in hindsight, I think that the first half of the friendship was pretty good. But then over the course of the second half of the friendship, it started to be not good, frankly. It really became more like fun enemies and Schaden, Freud, uh, I didn't feel like this person was honest with me, I felt like they had an entire, almost like fake persona that they were putting on in front of me, they would lie by omission. It was the here's the best way I can think of in hindsight to describe it. It was like this person always had me at arm's length, I was never really allowed to know other people in their life. I'll only just ever saw glimpses of them. And I finally started to realize, like, I think I'm being held at arm's length, because this person is embarrassed of me. I think that this person thinks their other friends are like hoity toity, and upper echelon, top tier, and I'm not. So I think this person has just decided that I'm not worthy of really having a major place in their life. And after the friendship ended, I went through a grieving process. And I thought, you know, I really, I really want to find another person to fill that gap, instead of healing appropriately, and talking about it in a therapeutic setting, which is what I should have done again, in hindsight, I rushed into a relationship. Now I had a friend who had a friend who was single, and she fixed the two of us up. And, you know, isn't it crazy how we just keep getting the same lessons given to us over and over again, until we decide to actually buck up and deal with them. He turned out to be a similar personality type always kept me at arm's length, didn't really want me to ever meet family or friends. And then finally, when the relationship came to my say, finally, like we were together for a long time, we worked we only dated for a few months. But whenever the relationship ended, he admitted to me that he had been wearing a mask, it was like he was playing a role. He wanted to just try on another personality date me and be this particular person, but it was really all an act. And now he couldn't keep the charade up. So we didn't want to be in the relationship anymore. And it was like, what? And when that happened, I was just so confused and heartbroken and upset. And I finally realized you need to deal with this. Instead of hopping into another friendship or hopping into another romantic relationship, what you need to do is clean up your side of the street and figure out what is going on? How are these people getting into your life, what what's going on, that you are allowing this kind of treatment, so it it really was eye opening for me. And so I, I understand on an emotional level, why somebody would friend a bomb, or why somebody would love bomb, it's not the right thing to do. I'm just saying from a human compassionate perspective, I do understand that need for belonging, not need for friendship and connection with another person. I also understand what Braylon is talking about in this book, having some attachment that you're trying to maintain to a significantly problematic object, whether that's a diet you're trying to follow a real estate quest that you're on in the middle of a completely jacked up market money that you're trying to make a job that you're trying to keep a relationship that you want to hang on to, even though it's probably not in your best interest, I get it. And I feel like this is something in one form or fashion that we've all done at one point or another. In chapter four, she talks about this idea of Miss recognition, which she's actually referring to the French word Mykonos, ohms, which doesn't have a precise equivalent in English, but the closest, the closest I guess passable translation we could say would be misrecognition. Or to misconstrue, I'll read now. misrecognition or mechanisms describes the psychic process by which fantasy recalibrates what we encounter, so that we can imagine that something or someone can fulfill our desire, its operation is central to the state of cruel optimism. To miss recognize is not to air, but to project qualities onto something so that we can love hate and manipulate it for having those qualities which it might or might not have in quote. I think sometimes that's what happens when we do friend bombing or love bombing, or when we get into a new job, and it's like the honeymoon phase. Oh, it's gonna be great here. The new boss seems chill. My co workers seem really cool and the environment seems nice. I think I've really gotten a shot here. How long does that last? That trying to be cynical. I'm not trying to hate on every job. But I'm just saying like, Haven't we all been there to where like the honeymoon period or things great Everyone's treating you nice because they don't want you to immediately leave. But then after they feel like, it's pretty safe, that you're probably going to stay, they pull the rug out from underneath you and are like, Oh God, this place is like every other place I've ever worked. That was my experience in the third party contingency based staffing world. I cannot speak for everyone, you and this is kind of like on the infomercials for workouts, your results may vary. Indeed, they might, you may have a completely different experience. But for me, whenever I would either switch jobs or just interview just go have lunch with the owner or manager at another company or feel them out over the phone, they would call me and say, Hey, would you entertain this conversation? Anytime that I would get into the interview process or a preliminary conversation with someone it just always seemed to be the same set of problems. The same thing I didn't like about place a would be president place be the same problems I saw it plays b would be president place. See, it was just like, it really it really was like the old expression, same poop different day, like, okay, all of the same issues that you saw here, you're going to see over there, too. So what are you really going to gain by making a job change? Probably not much. I know that sounds cynical, I really do all and all I can do is speak to my experience. And that's what I saw. And it really concerned me that perhaps some of those issues are just endemic to that line of work, period. I don't know maybe in a different city or a different part of the country. It's not maybe just within the Enclave that I was in that particular geographic radius. Maybe it was just relegated to that. I don't know. I don't think so. But I don't know. So it's like what's, what's the point? What's really the point of doing all of that job hopping and shuffling just to get to another frying pan here, this frying pan is hot, why I think I'll jump over here to another frying pan, which is equally hot and uncomfortable. So I understand, I think in my own way, what she's talking about with this recognition or make on assaults where it's like, okay, I have the hope that if I go over there, things are going to be better, but then they're not. So there is this kind of miss recognition or misconstrue of I'm imbuing this object or this job change, or this person with all of these lovely, fluffy, wonderful qualities that I want them to have, when in reality, they may have some of or none of those things at all. Lauren, Vermont was interviewed as part of the University of Chicago's podcast called big brains, I will also of course, drop a link to that so you can check it out if you want to. The episode was titled Why chasing the good life is holding us back. And I'll read the little show notes blurb for you. Now, for most Americans, the driving force in their personal and public life is a desire to attain the good life. But what if our attachment to that desire is the very thing holding us back? Lauren Milan is a theorist and English professor at the University of Chicago and the author of cruel optimism, a book about when you're attached to forms of life, that fundamentally get in the way of the attachment you brought to them. And exactly, exactly that what happens when you don't thinking back to the expression, it's hard to tell the poison from a cure? What happens when the vehicle you're using to try to obtain said dream is not actually helping you get to it? Or what if you arrive at the destination only to find that it's nothing like what you imbued it with? A few minutes in, they get into this topic of the American Dream, the promises that we were given, and then have those promises actually been delivered to us. Maybe they were possible at some earlier point in time, but not so much. Now. I want to read from the transcript for you now. They play a tape of like, I guess an infomercial or something. And this infomercial says 10 years ago, I was a high school dropout, broke and deeply in debt. Today, I'm a millionaire. Get Rich with real estate, the program all America's talking about, it's pretty simple. You work hard, you create your own luck, and got to believe anything is possible. And then the host interjects that was the American dream, right? Which for a lot implies that was the American dream, but also just the concept of the good life itself, is the world set up for me to actually not only not drown in life, but also add up to something. So people are trained to think that what they're doing ought to matter that they ought to matter. And that if they show up to life at a certain way, there'll be appreciated for the ways they show up in life, that life will have loyalty to them, or their job will have loyalty to them or their intimates will have loyalty to them or their dog will. I know so many people who have just given up and are now completely obsessed by their pets because work and love and life are producing the kind of loyalty that dogs are bred for, for example, and now I'm just thinking about people and their dogs and no wonder we love animals so much. I mean to that point. Yes. That's one of the things that I love about animal rescue and rehabilitation. Is you do have a bill Milton friend for life when when you take an animal in, and you give them three hots and a cot, so to speak in a safe environment when perhaps they've never had that before in their entire lives, and then you watch them recover and do well, it is something very magical for you to behold. But then you also have so much love and loyalty in return, is that the kind of love and loyalty that you're going to get in corporate America, I don't freaking think so. Another point that she makes is that starting in the 1970s, based on her assessment, the image of the good life as an economic good life, started to lose its traction. That definitely made me think of the book squeezed. I also thought about a report that I read on Pew Research, titled How the American middle class has changed in the past five decades, of course, I will drop a link to it in the write up so that you can check it out for yourself. I'll read some of that for you. Now. The middle class once the economic stratum of a clear majority of American adults has steadily contracted in the past five decades, the share of adults who live in middle class households fell from 61% and 1971, to 50%. In 2021, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data and quote, I would be interested to see what the stats look like for 2022. When this year is at a close and the data is gathered up, I would be interested to see how far under 50% It falls, I understand you're gonna say, Well, you can really sound like an E or perhaps I do, I'm just being honest with you, because I don't believe it's still 50% based on what's going on in the economy. And with inflation, I just don't see how it could be. I'll read from this article again, household incomes have risen considerably since 1970. But those of middle class households have not climbed nearly as much as those upper income households, the median income of middle class households in 2020, was 50%, greater than in 1970. So we have like 90,000 versus 59,000, as measured in 20 $20. These gains were realized slowly, but for the most part steadily, with the exception of the period from 2000 to 2010, the so called last decade, when incomes fell across the board all button long enough to say yeah, what fun, what fun it was to be a young adult graduated from school out on the job market working for a living trying to buy a house and a car and adult stuff during the so called last decade when incomes fell across the board. And that was that was a great time. But the thing is, it doesn't surprise me to learn that okay, the the upper income has really made out very well while the middle class itself is shrinking. I again, go back to my thesis that we're in a K shaped economy, not occasionally recovery. I think that's a load of bull. I think we're just in a K shaped economy period, where it's getting, there's such a large disparity between the haves and the have nots. I mean, for some people, if you've in point out that disparity, it's like, well, you must be some kind of commie and it's like, no, you're allowed to say, Here, here's the data. People that are in the wealthy strata are getting wealthier, while middle class people seem to be getting squeezed. I mean, Jerome Powell said isms himself that the people that are gonna have to bear the brunt of inflation are the ones least capable of doing it. Twas ever Thus, I wish I could say otherwise. But you know, the rich people that are still shopping at Louis Vuitton and our mez and Gucci not worried about it, like they're not going to have to bear much Brunt if they're still out buying luxury goods and expensive cars and handbags, and whatever. They're clearly not sweating the economy. I'm going to skip down to the final moments in this big brains podcast because I think that brulotte brings up another really good point that I've brought up myself many times on this podcast, as well as as well as in my blog posts. I'll read now, because Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter kind of gave into the lib neoliberal model of well, maybe we should have corporate public partnerships, and in the end the logic of the corporate one. We know, of course, I mean, I don't necessarily know that there was ever a point in time where you can say there was one particular administration or two or three particular administrations that gave in to a particular model. I think that that collusion between the state and corporate America has been there for quite some time. I don't think that that's anything particularly new. But to her point, yes. The logic of the corporate one mean, as I've said many times before, if we had anything resembling a free society or a free market, then these corporate fat cats and Wall Street High Rollers couldn't Go to the government and say we need to be bailed out, we're too big to fail, we need you to put the squeeze on the populace and tell them that we deserve some of that sweet taxpayer money. Thank you kindly, that wouldn't be going on. So is the logic of the corporate winning? Of course it is. Of course, it is, how much of the FOMO and the Yolo and the insanity that we saw in the housing market? And I would argue also in the job market last year, how much of that was artificially manufactured? I don't know. I'm gonna get a little tinfoil hat here. But I mean, when we think about the article that was on LinkedIn recently about the white collar recession, and how perhaps, wink, there were certain companies that gave in to that FOMO, they gave in to the red hot market. And they over hired, they overpaid. And they over hired. Now said, Daisy looks like there's going to be a white collar recession. And some of those people who job hopped and increased their wages considerably every time they did well, you know what, unfortunately, the tall is way of grass is the surest way to cut, you have to let it go. I mean, could that have been orchestrated? Could there have been some kind of, of game playing all along that if people get too high and mighty, they're going to be let go? We did after all, see the leaked memo from Bank of America saying the average worker has too much power, it's time for us to take that power back. We need for the power to come back on our side of things. I don't know. You know, I don't I don't know. But it certainly makes me wonder when we think about the kinds of conversations that go on behind closed doors. I mean, that leaked email from the guy that no longer works at Applebee's is just one case in point, no, the gas prices are going to go up. And they're going to need to work here. And we want to make sure that they prioritize us know, they're going to have to work more than one job to make ends meet. paying them enough that you know, they can just work here and make their ends meet. That's not really what we care about. We just care about that they get their butts on in here. We don't have to play pay the inflated wage anymore. And we want them to make us their top priority. And it's like, well, that's vomitus. But that, that that gestures broadly to all of you that you know, someone who has, has been privy to those kinds of backroom conversations, the things that hiring managers really say and CEOs really say the way that they really view just the average working class person. I 100% believe there are plenty of those conversations that happen that are even worse that we never even hear about. If something doesn't get leaked to the public, we're not going to know that it ever took place. So what's some of this FOMO and Yolo artificially manufactured are some of the people who job hopped rather than job stayed about to get their legs cut out from underneath them. Maybe, I don't know, time will tell. In terms of racking up an extra point on the cruel optimism side of the chart, it definitely seems to be a form of cruel optimism, to try to, in my opinion, to try to better your situation, I will look for a better company, I will look for a better manager I will look for better pay better benefits. And then oh, oh, sorry, huh, we're in a white collar recession, maybe you should have just job stayed. Maybe you should have kept that tenure. Maybe you should have eaten that dirt sandwich a while longer. If that is what the pursuit of finding a better position is going to look like. As I believe we're getting ready to go into quite probably a great recession 2.0 and other global financial crisis. As I've said before, I think truth be told, we're probably already there. Whenever we're allowed to know whatever the true unemployment rate is, or at least a closer approximation to whatever the true unemployment rate is. I just don't see it getting any better. So if you're leaving people, with no real way to get there, whether it's to get into the middle class or the upper middle class, whether it's no real way to get into a better job, a job that at least doesn't suck. How is that not a form of cruel optimism? How does one not see the cruelty in that? Oh, I know. I know. I know. She probably be more like Larry Winget and just say, it's called work for a reason your success is your own damn fault. I should just get on here and yell at everybody and tell you that you too can become a millionaire like that infomercial. They play on the big brains podcast if you work hard, you can become an overnight millionaire in real estate. Sure, sure. Sure, of course. But for the rest of us who have a brain in our head. It's like, Well, where do we go from here? I think those are valid questions to ask and I think that they shouldn't be asked. I think that going into this toxic positivity toxic optimism bullcrap of, there's really no such thing as luck in life. Well, that's complete BS. There are there are times in life where you are literally standing at the right place at the right time, and it feels like Kismet. Likewise, there are times when it feels like you're on the opposite side of that spot. Drunk and you get all all of the Poopoo that hits the fan that day seems to land squarely on you, you are the one who walked in late when the boss was in a horrible mood. Meanwhile, even though you left the house on time, you were delayed by a train or a traffic pile up or something that you couldn't have predicted and didn't know. Of course, there's such a thing as luck and poopoo circumstances otherwise, the poop happens bumper sticker wouldn't be so popular. So sure, I could get on here and yell at you and tell you that everything that ever happens is your own fault. But I think I would rather really probe this question of cruel optimism. If we don't want to give into toxic positivity and toxic optimism, I think we have to look at when does that line of thinking become downright cruel? When are we doing ourselves such an utter disservice by hanging on to this thing, a relationship, a diet, a job, a house, a quest, whatever, when does this thing instead of bringing me happiness, and enriching my life, it actually poisons my life. As you know, I cannot give you advice, I cannot tell you what to do. I just think that these are good questions that we can ask ourselves. The amount of freedom and ability to sleep well at night for me increased a lot whenever I just gave up on the real estate quest. Yes, it's still important to me to expand. Yes. It is upsetting to me to know that there are animals out there suffering, there are animals I want to be able to take in and rehabilitate, but for the time being I'm maxed out. And I hate that. So I still have the same goals. I just can't go broke in the process. That's the thing. That's the thing. For me, it started to feel cruel. Looking for this place that felt like unobtainium, in the midst of ever climbing interest rates. You know, for every percentage, I think it knocks you down something like 100 grand in purchasing power. So as my purchasing power was going down, and the rates were going up, and these do poop houses here in the Midwest just seem to be so grossly overpriced. Hey, do you want to come out here and have a burned out myth trailer on 20 acres for you know, 750 K? No, no, I don't. That's absurd to me who would do that? Even if you won the Powerball. And money was apparently no object. You wouldn't have it for very long if you made irrational spending decisions like that. So it made sense for me to step back and wait for better conditions, not to allow my optimism to become cruel to me. Thanks for tuning in. If you enjoyed this episode, please take a quick second to subscribe to this podcast and share it with your friends. We'll see you next time.