December 8, 2008

The positivity of kakness

Tim Richman is co-author of Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Kak? and its recently released sequel Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Still Kak? 2Kak 2Furious. See for more information.

I found this on one of my other fav`s this morning, the SA Good News. Check what Time has to say…


Is it just me or is everything kak?

Please excuse my apparent pessimism, but you might expect the co-author of the book Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Kak? to ask this question from time to time. You might also expect me to be a cynical, doom-mongering pessimist who gets his rocks off by knocking South Africa at every turn and who secretly hopes for the worst so he can shout “I told you so!” in glee when the country implodes and the walls come tumbling down. After all, there seem to be a lot of those types around these days.

But no, I’m not one of them.

Grumpy, angry, annoyed, aggravated, disappointed, dismayed, irritated, irate, incensed, infuriated, indignant, outraged, ticked off, hacked off, pissed off – guilty as charged. When I’m stuck in traffic, standing in queues, dealing with my bank, listening to hold music, listening to Julius Malema, then I’m all of these things and more. (Who isn’t? And what medication are they on?) But I’m also a generally positive guy who loves South Africa and celebrates the fact that he can call it home.

So how do I reconcile this attitude with putting my name on a book that catalogues the “kakness” of life in alphabetical order; subtitle: The Whinger’s Guide To South Africa from AA to JZ?

I have two stock responses. The first is that I’m not an SA basher; I’m a general world misanthrope. I just happen to live in South African so a lot of what I write about is country specific. But corporate greed and best-dressed lists and Paris Hilton and Twenty-20 cricket and a whole host of other subjects I write about are universal. I could write this book if I lived in Australia or Azerbaijan. And the ultimate point of it is to throw off some of the aggravation of daily living and have a laugh about it all.

And the second response is a take on the late George Carlin’s comment, “If you scratch a cynic you find a disappointed idealist.” Carlin didn’t consider himself a cynic; rather, he was “a skeptic and a realist”. Cynicism has its localised appeal, there’s no denying it. It can be humorous and even insightful, and when dealing with certain elements of life – advertising, estate agents, Telkom – a cynical approach is possibly the only way to stay sane. But people who live their lives as daily distrustful pessimists, always predicting the worst, are ultimately insufferable. Not to mention boring.

So you can call me a realistic skeptic. Or a skeptical realist. Take your pick. It boils down to this: while I hope for the best, I also plan for the worst – which means I genuinely believe that our country has every chance of a bright future ahead but I’m not overly disappointed when the rand drops through the floor or Malema says something particularly stupid or the Scorpions are finally disbanded.

This point of view is rarely seen when dealing with the South African emigration debate, which tends to be polarised (like so many modern issues) into two hard-nosed camps: the bitter and predictable SA-bashers, who jump on every negative news article about crime and corruption and incompetence as though the rest of the world is a veritable utopia with nary a worry to be had, and the blind defenders of the homeland, who try to dismiss our pressing social and economic problems with brainless platitudes and meaningless appeals to “just stop being so negative”.

The current global meltdown is of particular relevance to the debate. On the one hand, the absurd notion that the Western World has 100% got it right has been dispelled in one fell swoop. It is suddenly quite obvious, even to those rabid SA knockers out there, that life in the UK and US and wherever else they see as superior to little old South Africa isn’t quite as hunky dory as they thought. Anyone open to an outside thought will have been aware of this all along, but the crisis at hand is an in-your-face confirmation of the fact. “Utopia” does not exist. (The word, invented by Thomas More in 1516, comes from Greek and literally means “not a place”.)

Then again, the cheery optimism of one-eyed pro-South Africans isn’t particularly helpful either. The acceptance of disgraceful political mismanagement and its ensuing social mayhem in exchange for nice weather and pretty scenery – “Focus on the positives!” – is equally destructive, if not more so. Especially when it is a similar blinkered optimism from Wall Street financiers, who based their flawed economic models of the last few years on a never-ending property boom, that has sunk the world into what may well become the second Great Depression.

Housing bonds for dubious clients with 3% (or even zero) deposit, massive unsolicited credit to all and sundry, entry-level corporates driving around in brand-new Mercs and BMWs, the enormous US trade deficit: that’s all unbridled, unthinking optimism right there.

And the moral of the story? Well, here goes: whether we’re considering the general future of our country or the current global approach to finance, it’s time we altered our collective outlook. The time for extremes – whether positive or negative, optimist or pessimist, religious or otherwise – is past.

The middle road of positivity tempered with a healthy dose of realistic expectations or, if you prefer, negativity uplifted on the back of hope and personal effort, is surely the route we need. Obama’s rise in the US, and even what appears to be a revival of sorts of critical thinking within South African political circles, suggests that we may just be headed in that direction – so here’s holding thumbs.

One thing’s for sure: there isn’t much humour at those outer ends of the scale, and at times like these you’re going to struggle to survive if you can’t see the lighter side of things.


I choose to see the bright side of life, and last night I was surrounded by 16 of my closest friends at my house having a smashing time. At one point a bit of a split in the group happened and one group went inside to moan about injustices in the SA triathlon scene, and the other group sat outside and laughed at how cool life is. At that point, I chose outside.

I am not saying that they don’t have the right to moan, but as the day was dropping on a totally amazing weekend, I was happier where the smiles were…

2 Comments on “The positivity of kakness

Brett C
December 9, 2008 at 7:18 am

JA, as one of the be-moaners, I have to say its crazy how quickly the moaning can start. justified or unjustified looking back it was a silly way for a great weekend and wicked day to end. respect

Urban Ninja
December 9, 2008 at 9:48 am

No problem son. I only have mad love for you.


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