happy faces: necessary delusions

Maybe it is better to go through life with an upside down smile. And maybe not always choose the sunny side of the street.  It is a critique of the multi-billion-dollar positive-thinking industry which runs the entire gamut of books,seminars, coaches and motivational speakers attracting all manner of hucksters, con artists, snake oil salesmen and potential Elmer Gantry’s. Mandatory optimism. Tossing caution to faith based emotionalism where physical reality is transformed through the power of thought. Its an alchemy of the mind. In essence, its a variant of what Harold Bloom calls The American Religion, a normative, faith based system of belief that marches to its own drummer and can improvise a ditty or two as the need arises. Think Joel Osteen. Or, Ronald Reagan’s campaign ad, “Its Morning in America Again” which parlayed positivism and Amercian exceptionalism into an ideology grafted onto American myth.  Is all this positive vibration beaming just a form of nihilism. positive nihilism with messianic overtones? Waiting for that one mighty, sweeping act that will usher in a “new” utopia…

It began with what was called the New Thought Movement. And with it a new type of God, a god shorned of Calvinist fear and terror, a god that was envisaged as no no longer hostile and indifferent,passive-aggressive and non-present, but an all-powerful spirit whom the individual had merely to access the power to take control of the physical world and their lives. We can thank Mary Baker Eddy for bringing this into the mainstream and Edgar Bernays for tying positivism to   freedom, liberty and the consumption of goods and services- such as cigarettes being torches of freedom.  As a media industry, we can look back to Norman Vincent Peale which arose at the same time as the dissent industry was also forming, the critiques of mass society like Betty Friedan and Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring. All of which means that the positive thinking industry served to reinforce negativism.

---"Mostly, though, I blame the top levels of corporate culture which, by the middle of this decade, were completely in a bubble of mandatory optimism and positive thinking." Ehrenreich referred to the "cult-like atmosphere of high-fives" at Countrywide, the mortgage lender which became one of the biggest casualties of the subprime crisis, and claimed that executives who sounded warnings of impending financial disaster at Lehman Brothers were dismissed as "negative" thinkers. "Corporate America had gone into this bubble of denial where bad things could never happen," she said. --- Read More:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/6952353/Positive-thinking-making-us-miserable-says-author.html

…Middle-class women found this new style of thinking, which came to be known as the “laws of attraction”, particularly beneficial.

After reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World, I feel as if I can wallow in grief, gloom, disappointment or whatever negative emotion comes naturally without worrying that I’ve become that frightful stereotype, the curmudgeonly, grumpy old woman. Instead, I can be merely human: someone who doesn’t have to convince herself that every rejection or disaster is a golden opportunity to “move on” in an upbeat manner….

---This is precisely the sort of outlook promoted by the mega-bestseller The Secret. It promises that you can get anything you want - especially material things - simply by visualising it. The author, Rhonda Byrne, has illustrated the power of visualisation with a personal example: 'For three years I'd worn reading glasses. I used The Secret to see myself as clearly as when I was 21. Within three days, my eyesight had returned to normal.' Who needs opticians when faith and positive affirmations can restore perfect vision? Byrne has also claimed that the genius of Albert Einstein, Beethoven, Da Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton and others was due, at least in part, to their knowledge of the message in her book. As a marketing tool, it's worked phenomenally well. That none of these geniuses are around to respond to such absurd assertions is irrelevant to The Secret's hordes of devotees. Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1206949/The-negative-positive-thinking-Could-looking-bright-bad-you.html#ixzz1hSdKyJko image:http://heckyeahlucilleballilovelucy.tumblr.com/post/1393342976/lucille-ball-harpo-marx-1938

…I had long suspected that improved survival rates for women who had breast cancer had absolutely nothing to do with the “power” of positive thinking. For women diagnosed between 2001 and 2006, 82% were expected to survive for five years, compared with only 52% diagnosed 30 years earlier. The figures can be directly related to improved detection, better surgical techniques, a greater understanding of the different types of breast cancer and the development of targeted treatments. Ehrenreich presents the evidence of numerous studies demonstrating that positive thinking has no effect on survival rates and she provides the sad testimonies of women who have been devastated by what one researcher has called “an additional burden to an already devastated patient”….

---Increasingly, as Ehrenreich notes, positive thinking comes in religious packaging, in the modern mega-churches where "prosperity pastors" push their brand of motivational Christianity. "Close your eyes and see green" was the message of a particularly flamboyant specimen of the breed, Frederick Joseph Eikerenkoetter (or "Reverend Ike" as he was better known), who died earlier this year. The vision he pushed, of "money up to your armpits", was not exactly biblical orthodoxy: "a roomful of money," he told his congregations and millions more who watched and listened on TV and radio, "and there you are, just tossing around in it like a swimming pool." He referred to his doctrine as "Thinkonomics" or "positive self-image psychology".--- Read More:http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/rupert-cornwell/rupert-cornwell-what-monty-python-taught-uncle-sam-1835055.html image:http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/rupert-cornwell/rupert-cornwell-what-monty-python-taught-uncle-sam-1835055.html

…Pity, for example, the woman who wrote to the mind/body medical guru Deepak Chopra: “Even though I follow the treatments, have come a long way in unburdening myself of toxic feelings, have forgiven everyone, changed my lifestyle to include meditation, prayer, proper diet, exercise and supplements, the cancer keeps coming back. Am I missing a lesson here that it keeps re-occurring? I am positive I am going to beat it, yet it does get harder with each diagnosis to keep a positive attitude.”… Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jan/10/smile-or-die-barbara-ehrenreich


Despite Erhenreich’s negative experience with the ‘mandatory cheerfulness and optimism’ during her cancer treatment, several well-respected studies show that positive thinking can lead to better coping skills, decrease the risk for he

disease, common cold and even increase people’s immune response to vaccines and antibiotics. Research also indicates that positive cancer patients actually have a better prognosis than patients who give up and become depressed. Dr Rubab Shah, who works as a general practitioner in Norway, explains that our mental attitude affects the level of signal substances as endorphins, adrenalin and serotonin, which play an essential part in the possibility for healing….

---According to motivator Zig Ziglar, who helps companies such as AT&T bounce all the blame back on to the worker, if something goes wrong, it's because you didn't work hard enough or pray effectively. Boo! Boo!...The censorship of negative opinion combines perfectly with the American policy of each man for himself in the best of all possible worlds. This is the philosophy that gave us the smart bomb, the space programme, sub-prime mortgages, plenty of psychopaths and Sarah Palin. Every dumb American idea we've all had to stomach and die for can be attributed to this devotion to fantasy and self-satisfaction. Ehrenreich writes that America is unsurpassed in one area: "the reflexive capacity for dismissing disturbing news". Current American euphemisms for getting fired include "releases of resources", "career-change opportunities" and "growth experience". Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jan/09/barbara-ehrenreich-smile-lucy-ellmann image:http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jan/09/barbara-ehrenreich-smile-lucy-ellmann

…“The Placebo effect is the best example to demonstrate that people’s mental attitude affects their physical health”, says Dr. Shah. “The effect makes patients believe that they get better by giving them a sugar pill and according to research the effect works up to 40 percent. Simply because the patientsthink they will get better, they get better.” Read More:http://christinaendresen.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/smile-or-die-the-industry-of-positive-thinking/
Such a vision admits no pessimism. At this week’s jobs summit, for example, Obama waxed lyrical about the unmatched inventiveness, hard work and efficiency of the American worker, notwithstanding the parlous state of the national economy. Boosterism in turn can spill over into that favourite conservative doctrine of American exceptionalism. Few US presidents fail to remind audiences that they belong to “the greatest nation on earth”.

But is it genuine optimism, or merely a way to avoid total despair? “Life’s a piece of shit/When you look at it,” runs another line from the Monty Python ditty. Unemployment may be at 10 per cent – but being laid off, according to positive thinking, is a terrific opportunity to rebuild your life. In another new movie here, Up in the Air, George Clooney plays a business traveller whose job is to sack people. He calls himself a “career transition counsellor”. Ehrenreich cites her own experience of coping with breast cancer, where “cuteness and sentimentality” were the order of the day during treatment, and the correct attitude for patients was “upbeat and even eagerly acquisitive”. Or take the cyclist Lance Armstrong, on record as saying that “cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me”.

In theory, the current economic slump, a massive wake up call to the country, should put positive thinking to its greatest test. But the mindset will surely survive. During the Great Depression, one of the bestsellers of the era was Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, who also served as an adviser to President Franklin D Roosevelt. More than 70 years on, the book is still very much in print. Read More:http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/rupert-cornwell/rupert-cornwell-what-monty-python-taught-uncle-sam-1835055.html


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