Tag Archives: ehrenreich

What do these things have in common? Hidden Reality and Nickel and Dimed

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The Hidden Reality

A book that a friend told me about today that’s now on my reading list:

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos
by Brian Greene

A book that I recommend:

Nickel and Dimed, On (Not) Getting By in America (10th Anniversary Edition)
By Barbara Ehrenreich

Here’s what Barbara has to say about the update. I talked about Barbara’s “Bright Sided” earlier this year.

What do these two books have in common? Absolutely nothing that I know of, but me.

Positive Thinking: Pseudoscience, metaphysics, anti-Calvinism, workplace coercion, and the death of critical thinking

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Bright Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich

Today I finally finished Barbara Ehrenreich’s, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America. It’s not that it’s a tough book to get through—I’ve just had too many books on my reading list over the last few months.

When I read Barbara Ehrenreich, I feel like I’m talking to an old friend. She’s logical, sensible, and funny, and is always challenging the status quo. If you’ve ever been criticized for not having a more positive outlook—by family, friends, or your workplace—then I highly recommend this book.

Barbara digs into the roots of the positive thinking movement and how it has affected America, including: breast cancer survivor culture, advice given to the unemployed or those who have lost their homes, and the motivational speaker circuit and its influence on both modern management practices and religion. She discusses the history of the anti-Calvinism “New Thought movement” as the basis of the modern positive thinking movement, and the pseudoscience of metaphysics. And she points out the effect it had on the recent mortgage and financial crisis.

Do yourself a favor and check out this book. And then read Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. By then, you might just be an Ehrenreich fan.

On the pink ribbon culture of Breast Cancer

On the pseudoscience of metaphysics—

The metaphysics found in the coaching industry and books like The Secret bears an unmistakable resemblance to traditional folk forms of magic, in particular “sympathetic magic,” which operates on the principle that like attracts like. A fetish or talisman—or in the case of “black magic,” something like a pinpricked voodoo doll—is thought to bring about some desired outcome. In the case of positive thinking, the positive thought, or mental image of the desired outcome, serves as a kind of internal fetish to hold in your mind.

On The anti-Calvinism “New Thought movement”—

Why spend so much time working on oneself when there is so much real work to be done? From the mid-twentieth century on, there was an all too practical answer. More and more people were employed in occupations that seemed to require positive thinking and all the work of self-improvement and maintenance that went into it.  Norman Vincent Peale grasped this as well as anyone: the work of Americans, and especially of its ever-growing white-collar proletariat, is in no small part work that is performed on the self in order to make that self more acceptable and even likeable to employers, clients, coworkers, and potential customers. Positive thinking had ceased to be just a balm for the anxious or a cure for the psychosomatically distressed. It was beginning to be an obligation imposed on all American adults.

On Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness versus pop positive thinking. Barbara points out that studies from the new field of positive psychology are often misinterpreted or deliberately skewed in favor of pop positive thinking when reported to the media.

On how positive thinking destroyed the economy: She offers many examples of dissenters during the mortgage crisis that were penalized or fired for speaking up about the imminent collapse of the housing bubble.

On critical thinking, realism, and skepticism:

When our children are old enough, and if we can afford to, we send them to college, where despite the recent proliferation of courses on “happiness” and “positive psychology,” the point is to acquire the skills not of positive thinking but of critical thinking, and critical thinking is inherently skeptical. The best students—and in good colleges, also the most successful—are the ones who raise sharp questions, even at the risk of making a professor momentarily uncomfortable. Whether the subject is literature or engineering, graduates should be capable of challenging authority figures, going against the views of their classmates, and defending novel points of view. This is not because academics value contrarianism for its own sake but because they recognize that a society needs people who will do exactly what the gurus of positive thinking warn us to avoid—”overintellectualize” and ask hard questions. Physicians are among the highly educated professionals who dare not risk the comforts of positive thinking in their daily work, and as one of them, author and surgeon Atul Gawande, has written: “Whether one is fighting a cancer, an insurgency or just an unyielding problem at work, the prevailing wisdom is that thinking positive is the key—The Secret, even—to success. But the key, it seems to me, is actually negative thinking: looking for, and sometimes expecting, failure.”

Realism—to the point of defensive pessimism—is a prerequisite not only for human survival but for all animal species.

Related posts:

A god-awful lonely place

How do you put on a “show” of sincerity?

Missionaries for the cult of cheerfulness

A god-awful lonely place

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Bright Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich

From Barbara Ehrenreich’s, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America:

It’s a glorious universe the positive thinkers have come up with, a vast, shimmering aurora borealis in which desires mingle freely with their realizations. Everything is perfect here, or as perfect as you want to make it. Dreams go out and fulfill themselves; wished need only to be articulated. It’s just a god-awful lonely place.

Of course any mention of aurora borealis always makes me think of The Simpsons:

Chalmers: Good Lord, what is happening in there?
Skinner: Aurora Borealis?
Chalmers: Aurora Borealis? At this time of year? A this time of day? In this part of the country? Localized entirely within your kitchen?
Skinner: Yes.
Chalmers: May I see it?
Skinner: Oh, erm… No.

Related posts:

Positive Thinking: Pseudoscience, metaphysics, anti-Calvinism, workplace coercion, and the death of critical thinking

How do you put on a “show” of sincerity?

Missionaries for the cult of cheerfulness

How do you put on a “show” of sincerity?

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From Barbara Ehrenreich’s, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America:

Bright Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich

The first great text on how to act in a positive way was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, originally published in 1936 and still in print. Carnegie—who was born Carnagey but changed his name apparently to match that of the industrialist Andrew Carnegie—did not assume that his readers felt happy, only that they could manipulate others by putting on a successful act: “You don’t feel like smiling? Then what? Two things. First, force yourself to smile. If you are alone, force yourself to whistle or hum a tune or sing.” You could “force” yourself to act in a positive manner, or you could be trained: “Many companies train their telephone operators to greet all callers in a tone of voice that radiates interest and enthusiasm. The operator doesn’t have to feel this enthusiasm; she only has to “radiate” it. The peak achievement, in How to Win Friends, is to learn how to fake sincerity: “A show of interest, as with every other principle of human relationships, must be sincere.” How do you put on a “show” of sincerity? This is not explained, but it is hard to imagine succeeding at it without developing some degree of skill as an actor. In a famous study in the 1980s, sociologist Arlie Hochschild found that flight attendants became stressed and emotionally depleted by the requirement that they be cheerful to passengers at all times. “They lost touch with their own emotions,” Hochschild told me in an interview.

[Read about my experience with Dale Carnegie.]

In the same chapter, Barbara tells this story:

Julie, a reader of my Web site who lives in Austin, Texas, wrote to tell me of her experience working at a call center for Home Depot:

I worked there for about a month when my boss pulled me into a small room and told me I “obviously wasn’t happy enough to be there.” Sure, I was sleep-deprived from working five other jobs to pay for private health insurance that topped $300 a month and student loans that kicked in at $410 a month, but I can’t recall saying anything to anyone outside the lines of “I’m happy to have a job.” Plus, I didn’t realize anyone had to be happy to work in a call center. My friend who works in one refers to it [having to simulate happiness] as the kind of feeling you might get from getting a hand job when your soul is dying.

Related posts:

Positive Thinking: Pseudoscience, metaphysics, anti-Calvinism, workplace coercion, and the death of critical thinking

A god-awful lonely place

Missionaries for the cult of cheerfulness