Apropos our discussions of The New York Times and its influence on society, Catherine Johnson called to my attention a six-month old essay by Martin Seligman, one of America’s most inluential psychologists, Misreporting Science in the New York Times: Against Happiness. Many of us see the negativism of the Times and similar media as a kind of political vendetta cum self-justification but Seligman, a lifelong liberal, sees something arguably more disturbing.
Yes, there are professional pessimists. Yes, there are nattering nabobs of negativism. There are media dedicated to the dividends of darkness that both reflect a cultural bias toward despair and simultaneously shape it. They are enormously influential, and if you wonder why our young people are in the midst of an epidemic of depression and meaninglessness in the presence of unprecedented wealth, education, and opportunity, you might start with what they read in the New York Times.
Of course, that might be reason for not reading, say, Anna Karenina. But Seligman is commenting on the Science section of the Times, not fiction from which we often expect darkness. Read it all.
UPDATE: More on this continuing discussion from Van Der Leun.