Retorts: The negative power of negativity

INTERIOR of the “rusty skeleton” on Garden Grove Boulevard (Tribune photo).

“More people, on the whole, are humbugged by believing nothing, than by believing too much.”

– P.T. Barnum

If you want to know why our political world seems to be stuck in an acidic deadlock, you don’t have to look any further than that smartphone in your purse or pocket, or that iPad (or Surface) on your desk.

Seek you the beast? Go to your favorite social media – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter – and you will find it. More so than talk radio, 24-hour cable TV “news” or even diesel engines, social media has polluted our worlds.

People worry about climate change, and rightfully so, but it’s the sociopolitical climate change that has me the most worried. We might survive the melting of the polar ice caps for another 20 years, but the invective and division we throw out at each other may prove to be even more dangerous.

Yes, I use social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter. They offer wonderful opportunities to connect with family and friends and to – in theory – create and nurture communities.

What catches my eye these days, however, is the floodtide of pointless negativity that endangers any sort of progress or problem-solving. Whatever is done is subject to abuse and denigration.

Case in point. For a decade the “rusty skeleton” on Garden Grove Boulevard was an embarrassment to the city. It symbolized, to some people, the failure of the community to do what seemed a simple task: build it or tear it down.

Now that there’s a plan in place to resume the structure as an eight-story mixed use (retail on the ground floor, affordable housing on the upper decks) project, the voices of relief – at least on social media – seem to be drowned out by its critics.

Based on what I’ve read, the project is either too expensive for senior renters or too cheap and will become a flophouse for illegal aliens. It will either become too crowded or no one will want to live there.  Some of the same folks that decried the long years of inertia now seem to be opposed to anything at all.

This is not a new attitude, I realize. I can remember folks laughing at the idea of hotels on Harbor Boulevard in Garden Grove, or at new housing or even the busy Home Depots. Folks online complain that Walmart is too big or too small.

However, the sounds of negativity are amplified by social media posts which heap abuse on almost any new thing or idea, without offering a useful alternative.

Worried about crime or homelessness but don’t want to pay for extra police or shelter for the unhoused?  Clamor for more shops and eateries but declare how much you don’t like what’s offered?

I’m not a pie-in-the-sky guy. Pollyanna ain’t my middle name. I’ve seen plenty of things go south in our cities and have been disappointed with the outcome of some highly-touted projects.

But some folks seem unhappy with any new enterprise, and aren’t shy about pronouncing it dead on arrival even before it starts.

Why is that? Are so many of us living lives of disappointment and defeated dreams that we either a) project that onto everything else or b) hope that nobody is more successful than they are?

I don’t know. I know about as much about psychology as I do about playing cricket. But P.T. Barnum knew something about fooling people, and it seems to me that turning thumbs down on everything is the easiest and most popular way to deceive ourselves.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears on alternate Wednesdays.

2 replies »

  1. Jim, you grew up in GG long enough to know its taste is in its mouth as far as redevelopment projects go. Not having been satisfied with ripping the heart of its charming old downtown in the late sixties and early seventies, the City allowed the resulting vacant fields to languish for decades before rebuilding. The City then engaged in a tax give away scheme to attract hotels to Disneyland adjacent (i.e, the Great Wolf Lodge, about the ugliest building ever visited upon the Big Strawberry). Then the Rusty Skeleton. I sure hope that development ultimately succeeds, but given GG’s track record at redevelopment I’m not holding my breath. Looking to the future, the lack of traffic planning for the surging traffic dumping out onto city streets from ongoing construction of apartment complexes is making even a casual drive around town impossible, but that’s another story.

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