Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World by Barbara Ehrenreich

I dare say I’m too late to the party on this one to say anything that hasn’t already been said. However….

Of course I  knew all about the delusion of ‘positive thinking’, radiating from independent hucksters and Christian conmen, making a fortune from the scam. But I didn’t realise that the scam reached deep into academia, shysters claiming to be teaching science, aka positive psychology.  And I hadn’t cottoned onto the point that it is a manipulative tool to keep people down in the US, in exactly the same way it has been used in, for example, Soviet society. Optimism is denial of reality. As people lost their jobs en masse, middle-class workers, sacked by CEOs who were themselves entirely removed from the morality of the situation, these ordinary folk were expected to be optimistic about everything.

The level of deception goes so far that it explains breast cancer as an opportunity which some women are lucky to get. Equally, each person thrown into the cold trauma of joblessness in the US, is expected to be positively grateful for the blessing thrown their way. Not only that, but part of the scam is that there is to be no complaining, no regrets, no objective analysis implying others might be at fault for one’s predicament. Everything is one’s own fault. What a horrifying judgment to put on people, and to think that they lapped it up, these moronic sheep constituting the middle part of the US’s economy.  Everything, they were prepared to believe – and still are, as far as I know – is in their heads. It is there that the good and the bad, the winners and losers, the success and failure is engendered. Question nothing except your own thoughts.

It’s just got to make your blood boil, reading a book like this and to think it’s only getting worse. And the worse things get, the further people fall, the more people fall, the more ‘positivity’ is drummed into a servile population’s heads.

Odd  moments of humour, but it’s only ever bitter: how could it be otherwise. Such as, ruminating as to the fact that breast cancer is pretty much tied into with ideas of positivity and pinkness and teddy bears, she asks why it is that men with prostate cancer aren’t given Matchbox Cars as their reward. Good question. I suppose in the servility stakes, women are an even worse case then men.

But mainly just the pain of it all comes through on every page. I’ve been meaning to read Nomadland, which is a case study of how that goes, being positive about whatever happens to you, following ex-executives living in caravans and working in appalling conditions at Amazon warehouses and beet picking. Are they all positive about their experiences? You can bet your last dollar on that. Though if you are down to your last dollar you can’t have been thinking the right way. The positive way. But if you are down to your last dollar, you can bet that it’s an opportunity. Nothin’ like bein’ down to your last dollar. Yes sirree. Once you let it in, there’s no escaping positivity. Things even worse than they were? Then you have to be even more positive. It’s the only escape in a country where escape is part of the carrot put in from of you, somewhere you can’t reach.

I find it all very hard to understand, being a games player. There is no room in that world for delusion. Reality – a dirty word in the US of A – is the only basis for success in games. It isn’t rocket science to extrapolate from that to real life and indeed, that’s Ehrenreich’s plea in this book. She’s begging for the bleeding obvious, that life got to be about reality. But I wonder if she got any converts? At the very least, if she’d been trying, there’d be products for sale. Reality t-shirts and stuff. You’d almost think she doesn’t really care.

 

 

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