Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bringing positive thinking down to earth

The "power of positive thinking" is a hugely influential notion in our society, and Barbara Ehrenreich is concerned about this:

The problem with positive thinking is not so much that it’s positive as that it is merely thinking. As The Secret explains: “Everything that’s coming into your life you are attracting into your life… It’s what you are thinking.” The “secret” is the law of attraction, supposedly a cosmic, sempiternal law. It promulgates a view of a universe in which you can have whatever you want as long as you want it badly enough. Even God can be pressed into service in order for you to achieve your desires. As televangelist Joyce Meyer put it: “I believe God wants to give us nice things” (3). For positive thinkers, the universe resembles a big mail-order department. Submit your order clearly, and it’ll be fulfilled.

All this may seem like no more than harmless self-deluded nonsense, but implicit political assumptions underlie the positive thinking creed. If your thoughts determine your fortunes, then it follows that those who find themselves in poverty are simply not trying hard enough. Positive people get jobs. Negative people get fired. In the words of one motivational speaker, “Negative People SUCK!” Positive thinking is an expression of the most strident individualism and wants no truck with the common good or collective endeavour. If bad things happen to you, too bad – it’s your own fault.

Perhaps the most eye-opening chapter in Ehrenreich’s book is the one in which she reveals how positive thinking gained a foothold in the corporate world. She charts the shift from management as a dull, quasi-scientific discipline to the new messianic, anti-rational brand of leadership, in which business leaders are pumped up with confidence in their own ability to take the right decision based on hunches and intuitions. She quotes business guru Tom Peters in the 1990s: “Things are moving too fast for us to sort out logically what’s going on.” And in that atmosphere of ebullient self-confidence, Ehrenreich argues, were sown the seeds of the financial meltdown. Anyone who was critical or unable to “get with the plan”, was got rid of, until there were no canaries left in the mine.

From Le Monde Diplomatique (h/t Badger in this iTulip thread).


perfumfreddie said...

greed is a clear sign that someone hasn't understood how it works.

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