That is the takeaway message from Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.
Like much of Ehrenreich’s writing, it is fueled by righteous anger.
First, as a breast cancer patient, she is disgusted by the happy-face positive thinking of what she calls “pink ribbon culture”:
The cheerfulness of breast cancer culture goes beyond mere absence of anger to what looks, all too often, like a positive embrace of the disease (27).
From there it’s often into the “motivational” business culture that routes laid-off employees into seminars where they learn to be “a brand called you.”
And there is “prosperity theology” in the churches, a/k/a “God wants you to be rich,” and “positive psychology” for the non-churchgoing.
Not to mention the “prices will always go up” thinking that contributed to the recent real-estate bubble!
And in Ehrenreich’s view, it’s 99 percent bullshit, a new synthetic Big Pharma opiate of the masses that prevents people from clearly seeing their economic and political quandaries.
Reading Bright-sided as an adherent of a magical religion, I obviously have some disagreements with Ehrenreich’s wholesale condemnation. These things work, sometimes with unexpected results–hence the old admonition to be careful what you ask for.
So where do we draw the line between possible and not possible? I do think that “visualize world peace” is a fruitless task, although one may act in a peaceful manner. And whatever you seek under the idea that “thoughts are things” has to be backed up and affirmed by tangible actions.