The politics of pessimism, Caveat scriplorl, Leisure time – Reading


IELTS Reading Practice Test 03


You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 1-14, which arc based on Reading Passage 1 below.

The politics of pessimism

Newspaper headlines and TV or radio news bulletins would have us believe erroneously that a new age has come upon us, the Age of Cassandra. People arc being assailed not just with contemporary doom, or past gloom, but with prophecies of disasters about to befall. The dawn of the new millennium has now passed; the earth is still intact, and the fin de siècle Jeremiahs have now gone off to configure a new date for the apocalypse.

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It can, I believe, be said with some certainty that the doom-inongers will never run out of business. Human nature has an inclination for pessimism and anxiety, with each age hav­ing its demagogues, foretelling doom or dragging it in their wake. But what makes the modern age so different is that the catastrophes are more “in your face”, Their assault on our senses is relentless. Whether it be sub-conscious or not, this is a situation not lost on politicians. They play upon people’s propensity for unease, turning it into a very effective political tool.

Deluding the general public

All too often, when politicians want to change the status quo, they take advantage of peo­ple’s fears of the unknown and their uncertainties about the future. For example, details about a new policy may be leaked to the press. Of course, tbe worst case scenario is pre­sented in all its depressing detail. When the general public reacts in horror, the government appears to cave in. And then accepting some of the suggestions from their critics, ministers water down their proposals. This allows the government to get what It wants, while at the same time fooling the public into believing that they have got one over on the government. Or even that they have some say in the making of policy.,

There are several principles at play here. And both are rather simple: unsettle people and then play on their fears; and second, people must be given an opportunity to make a con­tribution, howevser insignificant, in a given situation; otherwise, they become dissatisfied, not fearful or anxious.

A similar ruse, at a local level, will further illustrate how easily people’s base fears are ex­ploited. A common practice is to give people a number of options, say in a housing devel­opment, ranging from no change to radical transformation of an area. The aim is to per­suade people to agree significant modifications, which may involve disruption to their lives, and possibly extra expenditure. The individuals, fearful of the worst possible outcome, plump for the middle course. And this, incidentally, Is Invariably the option favoured by the authorities. Everything is achieved under the guise of market research, But It is obviously a blatant exercise in the manipulation of people’s fears.

Fear and survival

Fear and anxieties about the future affect us till. People are wracked with self-doubt and low self-esteem. In the struggle to exist and advance in life, a seemingly endless string, of obstacles is encountered, so ninny, in fact, that any accomplishment seems surprising. liven when people do sucojcdj they arc still nagged by uncertainty,

Not surprisingly, feelings like doubt, fear, anxiety and pessimism arc usually associated with failure. Yet, If properly harnessed, they arc the driving forcc behind success, the very engines of genius.

if things turn out well for a long time, there is a further anxiety: that of constantly watting for something to go wrong. People then find themselves propitiating the gods: not walking on lines on the pavements, performing l’luials before public performances, wearing particu­lar clothes and colours so that they can blame the ritual not themselves when things go wrong,

But surely the real terror cornea when success continues uninterrupted for such a long period of time that we forget what failure Is like I

We crave for and are fed a daity diet of anxiety, Horror films and disaster movies have an increasing appeal. Nostradamus pops his head up now and again, And other would-be prophets make a brief appearance, predicting the demise of human kind. Perhaps h this is all just a vestige of the hardships of early man – our attempt to recreate the struggles of a pEist age, as itfc bccomcs mure and more comfortable.

Mankind cannot live by con tent meni alone. And so, a wurld awash with anslctles and pes­simism has been created. Being optimistic is u struggle. Hut survival dictates that mankind remain ever sanguine.

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