In most Spy novels, the leading character finds himself facing what is called a “Honey Trap”. This means that the protagonist is tempted and seduced by a beautiful woman and, as a consequence, the secrets of his mission are stolen, leading to the failure of the spy`s secret mission.
For the trap to work, it is necessary that the spy does not realise that the encounter with the woman has been meticulously planned by the enemy, the bad guy. Usually, novels tell us that the encounter happens in a random way: he picks up the mobile phone that she has carelessly dropped, or he offers a drink (shaken, not stirred) to the beautiful woman sitting alone at the bar of an exclusive hotel. In another sequence, that the cinema has made immortal, the spy and his lover spend a night of passion in which the spy, inadvertently, shares relevant information that leads to the failure of the mission. The honey trap is closed.
It is important to know how the honey trap works because today we are facing, in my opinion, a very good one.
In these times of pandemic many people have been forced to be alone, share their time with a family they do not love, or realise that their intimate relationships were not what they thought. These and other situations have led to talk of a certain “collapse” in the mental health of the population. This new and unexpected situation has created an attractive and fertile ground for gurus which are trying to sell all kinds of shortcuts and solutions for the malaise of the soul. I would like to mention the most common of them; its name? Toxic positivity, the honey trap.
Toxic positivity is a label that can be given to the messages calling for positive thinking that are usually shared in social media. These messages present positivity as a easy way out of the current situation of emotional collapse: “you are stronger than you think”, “there are people who are worse off than you”, “we are together”, “better days are coming”, “be happy”, “be grateful”, etc. Each of us has their favourite ones.
What is the illusion that toxic positivity offers us?
The deceptive effect is to prevent us from falling into true depression, true loneliness, true crisis. Falling and reaching the bottom of the crisis allows painful (philosophical) questions to be asked: What are my real feelings? What am I doing with my life? Where am I going? Who are these around me? How much time do I have left? Do I really need the things I have? What is accessory and what is necessary? Those questions seem to be the door that leads to a honest inner conversation about what is happening to us, our feelings, especially in these times of pandemic that have shown us, as the phrase goes, “money cannot buy everything”.
Toxic positivity is false hope, that’s the problem. It does not offer a transcendent horizon in which to place our expectations. In stoic terms, it deceives us because this form of thinking pretends that one has control over everything, when the truth is we don’t have control over those things that can cause pain and happiness, such as disease, the weather or the evolution of fortune, prestige, honour etc. Toxic positivity, in this sense, is just another market product that is offered as a substitute for true hope, and that is its problem. It is a substitute for discipline and knowing ourselves, or the well-loved substituine et abstine.
As in detective novels, toxic positivity wants to deceive us by offering relief in our desolation, to keep us anesthetized in a silly world of thoughtless decisions. It’s tempting, isn’t it? Who would refuse a glass of water when thirsty? Only someone who noticed that the water is poisoned. Go ahead and give it a spin before you get serious about the next positive message that tells you “everything is going to be okay.”