October 20, 2009


Ehrenreich, Barbara, Right-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009) (“Even the academy, which one might think would be a safe haven for cranky misanthropes, is seeking the inroads of positive thinking. In early 2007, the administration of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, alarmed by a marketing study finding the faculty ‘prideless,’ brought in a motivational speaker to convince the glum professors that ‘ q positive attitude is vital for improving customer satisfaction,’ the ‘customers’ being the students. It should be noted that only 10 percent of the faculty bothered to attend the session.” Id. at 48. However, on a serious note: “Breast cancer, I can now report, did not make me prettier or stronger, more feminine or spiritual. What it gave me, if you want to call this a ‘gift,’ was a very personal, agonizing encounter with an ideological force in American culture that I had not been aware of before—one that encourages us to deny reality, submit cheerfully to misfortune, and blame only ourselves for our fate.” Id. at 43-44. “Human intellectual progress, such as it has been, results from our long struggle to see things ‘as they are,’ or in the most universally comprehensible way, and not as projections of our own emotions. Thunder in not a tantrum in the sky, disease is not a divine punishment, and not every death or accident results from witchcraft. What we call the Enlightenment and hold on to only tenuously, by our fingernails, is the slow-dawning understanding that the world is unfolding according to its own inner algorithms of cause and effect, probability and chance, without any regard for human feelings.” Id. at 197-198.).