Sunday, March 05, 2006

Remember when the right-wing talking point du jour was that lefties were all wrong about Iraq because Iraqis are really optimistic about the future? Well, now we have this in today's New York Times -- an article by Lydia Polgreen that rebuts that argument, even though it never once mentions Iraq:

Misery Loves Optimism in Africa

... One glance at the statistical profile of the continent's 900 million people will tell you that Africans can expect to live the shortest lives, earn the lowest incomes and suffer some of the worst misrule on the planet. They are more likely than anyone on earth to bury their children before the age of 5, to become infected with H.I.V., to die from malaria and tuberculosis, to require food aid.

Yet a recent survey by Gallup International Association of 50,000 people across the world found that Africans are the most optimistic people. Asked whether 2006 would be better than 2005, 57 percent said yes. Asked if they would be more prosperous this year than last, 55 percent said yes.

These data bear out what I see all the time as I travel across sub-Saharan Africa as a correspondent: that every single day lived here, each birth, wedding, graduation, sunrise and sunset is, in ways large and small, a daily triumph of hope over experience.

Hope, it seems, is Africa's most abundant harvest....

In other words, ordinary people's optimism about the future is absolutely no predictor of whether there's a good reason to be optimistic.

The Gallup people seem to grasp why this is so:

...Experts at Gallup International have grappled with the meaning of the data, which seem counterintuitive, but turn out to be consistent over time and in many places that have suffered through catastrophe. Places like Kosovo and Bosnia, for example, which have emerged from bloody wars to face an uncertain future, score high on the optimism scale....

Meril James, secretary general of Gallup International, said that Africa's optimism might reflect a reality so grim that nothing could really be worse.

"There is a sense that when things can't get worse you've reached rock bottom, so things must improve," Ms. James said....

Obviously, how could you keep going in the midst of disaster unless you could imagine the disaster coming to an end?

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