Thomas Paine:

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Book Note of the Day

Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America,
by Barbara Ehrenreich

So far this one gets my attention more than the others in my reading queue—Nader's Only the Rich Can Save Us, Derrick Jensen's Walking on Water, Michael H. Stone's Anatomy of Evil. This may be because she speaks to a phenomenon I have noticed myself, and so in reading Bright-sided I experience a happy recognition, as when a stand-up comedian says what we've all noticed but haven't articulated yet—"Oh, that's so true!" I'm thinking.

I must beg to differ with her on one point, however. On page 25 she writes: "No one among the bloggers and book writers seemed to share my sense of outrage over the disease and the available treatments." Well, while I realize I am a mere whiff among the great winds of the blogosphere, I have been here, kvetching my head off, nevertheless: "Losing body parts to breast cancer was pretty much the opposite of fun."

UPDATE, November 5, 2009:

On one website I find this, in response to the book:

"I am truly happiest when I am thinking positive.
This book will be in the dollar bin by christmas.
Who would read such crud?
Is there an audience?"

The response:

"Being 'happy' is not necessarily the highest of high values. Being real, being truthful, being in touch with reality, is sometimes the healthiest place to be. Before you can effect change, you must face reality; otherwise, you may be nothing but a happy idiot, while the world falls apart around you.

Ehrenreich has truly faced an important reality with this book, and in doing so, she has offered us an insight which has the power to heal and bring a healthy new understanding to the culture. You should read it before you ignorantly dismiss it.

Don’t forget: As St. Augustine said, 'Hope has two beautiful daughters—Anger and Courage; anger over what’s wrong and the courage to change it.'"

I am particularly grateful to Ehrenreich her fascinating discussion of the "New Thought" movement, its Calvinist origins and its various cultish dogmas promoting self-alienation, ultimately—I would call it phoniness. "All is God, or Mind, or Goodness, or Whatever—except for that asshole who just slammed into my bumper—but oh well, after I've let him know what a loser he is, I'll choose to be happy for the experience." Lah-tee-dah.

I myself have been to enough sales meetings to have experienced first hand the anxiously aggressive, tyranny of positivity training; while you are being pummeled with the likes of, "EACH PERSON ON PLANET EARTH IS ABUNDANTLY AND INNATELY CAPABLE OF ATTAINING BREATH-TAKING HEIGHTS OF HAPPINESS AND FULFILLMENT," you are simultaneously subjected to negative supervisory habits and judgments. Your boss wanders about with a button that has a red slash across the word NEGATIVITY, while she simultaneously complains about "the numbers." Sheesh!

Also, it occurs to me that Obama's oft-repeated excuse for letting Bush, Cheney, et al, off the hook for torture and war crimes, that is, "We're looking forward, not backward," must have arisen out of the positivity movement. I'm thinking, he talked to Oprah! So now the Justice Department is making rule-of-law decisions based on Oprah-Think, but only where powerful elites are concerned. Everybody else gets prosecuted and held to account.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Health Care Letter to Mr. Obama

"If the corporation is a 'person,' what kind of person is it?" Sketch by Laurie Menard

Dear President Obama,

In your speech to Congress on September 9, you said, “Insurance executives don't do this because they are bad people. They do it because it’s profitable.”

Question: With respect, how did we come to this place, where those who injure others in a for-profit scheme, or system, remain in our good graces, to escape a designation as “bad people?” And when did making a profit become a justification for policies that injure American citizens?

Mr. President, what would America look like today had Lincoln said, “Well, the slave masters don’t do it because they are bad people. They do it because it’s profitable.”? What if he had said, “If you’re starting from scratch, then liberation from slavery would probably make sense. But managing the transition would be difficult. So we may need a system that’s not so disruptive.”? How would that work for you, Mr. President, had the federal government not recognized the essential immorality of slavery, that is, bad people doing bad things to innocent people? We’d be in pretty sad shape, it seems to me.

And we are in sad shape now, with regard to health care. While 44,000 Americans die each year for lack of access to health care, the CEO of United Healthcare hustles off with a compensation of $3,241,042 million, and he remains in our good graces. If 44,000 Americans died by terrorist attacks in one year, would we be so blind to the true character of the terrorists? No. But deaths for lack of access to health care hugely outnumber deaths by terrorist attacks. I ask you: who are the bad guys, Mr. President? Who are the worst of the worst terrorists?

It seems to me it is time to act on a vision for an ethical and moral America, and that means recognizing the character of an industry for what it is, before we decide how to deal with it.

Perhaps we have a very different hierarchy of values. In mine, profit, wealth and power are not above the moral, human values of care, respect, equality and justice. To my mind, any person, CEO, corporation, or politician that places private wealth above those more human values, and injures others in the process of conducting business, is a bad person. Sure, nobody’s perfect, but unless we are willing to shame the underlying mentality and character of people who do bad things on a grand scale, how can we ever eliminate their power to injure and control us?

Perhaps it is time for us to examine the notions that permit the suffering caused to others by the quest for profit: the notion of “greed is good,” for example; the notion of entitlement to wealth, undeterred by conscience, that is, “it’s not personal, it’s only business;” the notion that wealth connotes virtue, no matter the corrupt, inhumane practices that might have produced it.

I understand that you have met insurance executives and perhaps found them to be charming and intelligent. But please consider what the Canadian psychologist Robert Hare has brought to our understanding of human psychology, a check list of personality and behavior traits common to psychopaths. I do believe these traits are not only common to criminal psychopaths, but also to professional sociopaths in business and politics:

superficial charm
grandiose ego
conning or manipulativeness
pathological lying
lack of remorse or guilt
lack of empathy
failure to accept responsibility for one’s actions.

These are traits fostered and nurtured in the business world, on Wall Street, and even in politics, are they not? Isn’t it time we question “values” that promote sociopaths into successful careers, where they feel free to injure the rest of society for their own selfish ends?

Mr. President, you also said you want to be the last president to work for health care reform. You want to fix the system. I believe you, but it saddens me to see your being undermined by your own good, practical nature, your desire to work with the system we’ve got and the people who profit from it. I am sorry to say, this path will not make you the last to work for health care reform; that can only happen when we see a REAL alternative to the current system, in order to eliminate the corrupt power of insurance companies. Without an option that would provide health care for minimum wage workers, the homeless, and the jobless, that is, all human persons, America will remain a cruel place to live for millions of people. Only a national healthcare system, like that of Canada, or France, or even England, will do the job.

You say you don’t want to eliminate the insurance companies. But you must know that’s a spurious concern, one that ignores the fact that in countries with national health care systems, insurance companies still exist.

Please stop making nice with the bad guys, Mr. President.