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.

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