A friend alerted me to this article by Tom Scocca on Gawker on smarm and negativity:
‘What defines smarm, as it functions in our culture? "Smarm" and "smarmy" go back to the older "smalm," meaning to smooth something down with grease—and by extension to be unctuous or flattering, or smug. Smarm aspires to smother opposition or criticism, to cover everything over with an artificial, oily gloss.
Falsity and hypocrisy are important to this, but they are pieces of something larger. Consider the phenomenon that the philosopher Harry Frankfurt identified, in his 1986 essay and 2005 book* On Bullshit, as bullshit.
Bullshit, Frankfurt wrote, was defined by the bullshitter's indifference to truth:
“The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides...is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it.
The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.’
Smarm should be understood as a type of bullshit, then—it expresses one agenda, while actually pursuing a different one. It is a kind of moral and ethical misdirection. Its genuine purposes lie beneath the greased-over surface.'
(Read the complete article here.)
Tom Scocca is a bit harsh on the movie “Where the wild things are” – which I liked, but indeed, the moral obligation to be positive is another way of trying to manufacture consent, an attempt to silence the opposition for political or commercial reasons.
Most of what Nietzsche wrote could nowadays be labeled as snark. The same could be said about many things Freud wrote, to name just two.
To be free from the moral obligation to be positive and optimistic would be a giant step forward. Of course this doesn’t mean that we should engage in boundless aggression; we can disagree politely, with a touch of irony.