This is a long one. A very long one. It’s on a 10 minutes video that is just a string of lies, half truths and logical fallacies. In the word document I typed this up in this is 9 single spaced pages long. If you’re going to read this blog be sure to have a snack and a strongly caffeinated beverage at hand. I hate, I truly loathe and despise these liberal videos with cartoons, and they cram so much evil into so short a space there is no way to deal with all of it in a brief manner.
And this is the short version, there a hundreds of smaller issues I ignored.
Watch the video first.
The Royal Science Academy must have a mission statement of putting out bad videos with pretty pictures that include nothing but half-truths and logical fallacies that are supposed to come off as well thought out ideas. I blame that propaganda piece “The Story of Stuff”, it showed liberals how some people will not pay attention to the details if you speak fast enough and use shiny things to distract them (I once timed the Story of Stuff as having a logical fallacy or outright lie every 2.5 seconds. I don’t think even Obama can match that kind of record.) Today’s hack work comes from Barbara Ehrenreich and it is entitled “Smile or Die” and is a gross and misleading at best, slanderous worst, attack on the idea of Positive Thinking.
So Ehrenreich, who you may recall is the same hack who wrote Nickel and Dimed, which showed how you could succeed in America starting from the bottom…you know I’m no scientist, but I think in dealing with human behavior, if someone goes out to prove that they are incapable of doing something then 99.99999999% they will prove themselves right. Whereas amazingly enough several people have taken up the challenge and proved Ehrenreich wrong, that with willpower and character you can easily pick yourself out of the lower classes of socio-economics, it’s a matter of choice. But it might be helpful to keep in mind that Ehrenreich’s overarching theory is that you are incapable of doing anything on your own without help. Such a depressing outlook will help inform you about this little excuse for an argument.
The first problem is that I’m going to inform you up front she lumps a lot of disparate ideologies, practices and beliefs systems together (even when they don’t necessarily have any common base) and calls it all “Positive Thinking.” This little straw man allows her to attack the weakest forms of what she calls positive thinking and then make you think that all the other forms are just as inaccurate.
The first is the idea of support groups for employees who have been laid off. Apparently these groups are telling people “It’s not bad to be laid off” Ignoring the fact that the day I got fired was one of the best days of my life (looking a bully in the eyes and not backing down is fun…especially when they start getting more and more insane when you don’t cower as they expect you too) It’s getting people in the right mindset. She claims that skills and experience aren’t necessary, which she provides not even the hint of evidence for–I understand she is going quickly and has no time to include a bibliography, but I can also guarantee you 90% it’s not the people without skills or education who are getting fired, and it’s not the people without skills and education who aren’t getting hired; after all the unemployment for college graduates is around 4.6% and around 14.6 for those without a high school diploma; clearly education and skills count for something. However attitude is important. And you need to have a positive attitude because no one is going to hire a depressed employee…why, because if they’re still depressed when they go looking for a job it means they haven’t gotten over it, which means they’ll sulk, they’ll bitch, they’ll be unproductive, and they’ll bring everyone else around them down. To get a new job you need a glass is half full outlook because being the in doldrums won’t help you.
And I seriously doubt anyone thinks that the only thing these support groups do is talk about being happy. I would assume they rather help people get through those 4 stages of loss, so they can get as quickly as possible to acceptance…now let’s get out of grief and into accepting it happened—you can whine or you can use this as the start of something new.
Now granted it’s a little cynical for a business to put their fired employees through this, but especially when they’re downsizing (i.e. often it’s a choice of some get fired or we all lose our jobs) it’s an attempt to not be completely callous. Further, I wouldn’t expect any of these support groups to start five minutes after you get fired. Yes, get over denial and bargaining and anger. But once you’re in grief, which is an important step, it’s also the step that’s easiest to get stuck in thus a support group of some kind can help you move out of it and onto acceptance and moving forward with your life. But the one thing that a support group has to kill right away is self-pity, because that’s never psychologically healthy.
Now I could wax long on the New Age theory that everything happens for a reason and every challenge is a learning opportunity, but no need to bring the New Age into this just yet. I will however go with that beautifully inspirational line from a Christopher Nolan film, “Why do we fall down? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” You might think it’s trite because of its source, but it contains a very valuable piece of truth, life is about moving forward and staying in grief and depression is not about moving forward. Does this idiot Ehrenreich think it would be psychologically helpful to condone and encourage self-pity and depression? I thank god this woman isn’t a psychologist, all of her patients would end up committing suicide (the only exceptions would be those who decided to go on a killing spree before suicide-by-cop).
“Don’t complain.” I think it’s more of don’t dwell on the past. Complaints are fine…what are you going to do about them? Complaining for complaining sake is by nature looking at the problem and the past. It’s not psychologically healthy. Get it out of your system and move on. If you’re constantly complaining it is a sign you have a problem and at some point you need to break yourself of the habit (or at least sublimate it into something positive). I seriously doubt any support group says “don’t complain.” They may say don’t complain during your interview because we do want you to succeed and learn how to sublimate all of your negative emotions into positive actions, but I think support groups are designed for complaining and then moving on.
Then after finding a healthy psychological approach she “saw a pattern” and by pattern she apparently means “I found a way to prop up a straw man argument.” Because it is here that she strangely equates it with bad business and denial in business. I know of no company that has a policy of “mandatory optimism and cheerfulness”…now there may be companies that fire the most pessimistic and rude employees, but that’s because everyone, not just management wanted them gone. And no I think companies want tasks done. Management in corporate America may most of the time be stupid beyond the telling of it, but they want stuff done not just happy feelings.
She then pulls a neat trick here and actually goes to the New Age idea of Positive Thinking or as it is actually called “The Law of Attraction” she does this to make you think that whatever corporate America is doing it is inherently crazy and stupid and vice versa that the law of attraction is dumb without having to prove either. She’s hoping you will think her non-sequitor jump in organization is because the business world makes no sense itself, this is not the case. I am not going to make the same jump and I will deal with the rest of what she has to say about business first and then come back to the New Age idea.
So she comes back to the business angle after about two minutes of pathetically ignorant mocking of the New Age when she describes the financial meltdown of 2007. She identifies other factors being class inequality, this wasn’t actually a factor in any way, shape or form , an economy being based on finance instead of manufacturing, again not a factor (and economic thinking that is nearly 50 years out of date), greed, which actually drives an economy (I think she meant short term thinking or perhaps avarice, but she didn’t say either of those). So in addition to knowing nothing about human psychology she doesn’t know anything about economics either. (Here are the real causes of the meltdown which is also explained in “Republicans and Reincarnation” And the Royal Science Academy gave this woman a platform? Then she claims there was a grip of positive thinking in the financial sector, that they had no idea what was going on. And she points out that the mortgage companies didn’t like whistleblowers. Let me see why. Could it be because they initially tried to not give out all of these sub-prime loans and then were sued by the government, under Janet Reno, pressured from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and Congress (a charge led by Barney Frank) and sued by private firms like Miner, Barnhill & Galland for not issuing enough subprime mortgages (three guesses as to which lawyer at that law firm whose first name is Barrack that helped to sue banks for not making those terrible loans). Banks did try to not give those loans out, but when you got all three branches of government conspiring against you, what are you going to do? Banks were left with the choice of die now, broke, being sued by everyone or die later after making terrible loans that will never be paid back and make some money for ourselves. Is it any shock that people have short term thinking when that is all the government rewards? Is it any shock that in the choice of going down broke or going down after making my cut of the action people chose not to fall on their swords for an issue they knew the public wouldn’t back them on. It wasn’t the move of high character or personal nobility, but it was the purely logical move. So are you shocked they wanted the good times to roll a little longer before the house of cards came down? Of course not. That’s why they didn’t want the whistleblowers, not because they didn’t think it was going to come crashing down, they knew it would, they just wanted it to last a little longer. Again, not the most ethical move, but certainly not a delusional one. But I may be expecting too much of Ehrenreich to assume she would do even a modicum of research into what actually caused this behavior—she has prejudices and false faiths to defend godamnit and facts can’t be allowed to get in the way of that. It wasn’t willful ignorance; it was willfully trying to hide what everyone knew from the public. Unethical, but not delusional.
(Then we have another non-sequitor jump to bashing the New Age again)
Then there is the requisite Bush-bashing. Wouldn’t be liberal propaganda without Bush-bashing. Oh and let’s quote utterly useless back stabbing Condi Rice as saying she had doubts about Iraq but that Bush didn’t like pessimists. First, what I’ve read about Bush is that he didn’t like people who brought up problems but didn’t have a solution, granted there are better management styles, but it’s not deluded thinking (like, say, Obama’s who has nothing but yes-men who don’t even bring up problems with solutions because the divine One, Obama, can do no wrong). And which general was fired for saying we needed more troops (which I thought Bush sent in more troops) I don’t know who this General is and 10 minutes of Google search can’t find anyone who critized the war before they had already retired, so while there may have been someone fired at that point of time, I find it suspicious that she can’t give us a name. And let’s deal with Iraq as a whole. The problem with Iraq wasn’t positive thinking; it was not having a plan for what to do after we defeated the Iraqi army. We had no plan. That will get you in trouble whether you’re an optimist or pessimist…although pessimism is more often associated with a lack of planning.
Really none of this business or Iraq war stuff has to do with positive thinking. Nothing at all. But she thinks it offers a great straw man argument of “look, this positive thinking is bullshit, so that positive thinking is bullshit.” Problem is that she can’t even identify what the problems are.
Okay onto the New Age stuff. If you want to go back to 2 minutes and 18 seconds she begins dealing with the New Age idea of the law of attraction. (I love of all the people who they could draw for having control of the world through thoughts they pick Darth Vader…thanks I love that being an optimist puts me on par with a fictional genocidal psychopath, thank you Goebbels). Yes the idea is that if you concentrate and keep your mind focused you will have everything you want. She uses the trite example of a million dollars because she wants to make it seem that it’s ridiculous that we could all get a million (well, give Obamanomics enough time and a loaf of bread will cost a million). But really we don’t all want a million. We say we do, but that’s not really what we want. I think most of us would prefer a happy marriage, happy healthy children, and a job we enjoy to a million dollars. The problem is that our thoughts drift all over the place that we don’t often bring that to us. But she does grossly misrepresent the law of attraction, it isn’t that if we think hard enough we can go buy a lotto ticket today and win tonight. It’s that if we focus our ideas, it will affect the universe in a million different small ways that everything will match up. That the ideas that will make us a million dollars will come to us. That the opportunities to sell that idea and promote that idea and make money off that idea will all fall into place and be there for us to see and take advantage of. The psychologist Jung called it synchronicity, Taoist call it the flow of the universe, the Hindus call it sankalpa—the idea is that the universe changes to match your thoughts and provide the opportunities for your thoughts to manifest. You envision yourself as an actor. The universe shows you an ad for an acting course. You take it. You see yourself as an actor. The universe shows you an ad for an audition, you show up, and the universe helps put you with the director at the right time for them to want your take on the character. You see yourself as an actor, the universe directs the right critic to be at the show and you do your best one. You see yourself as an actor, that review, because of the universe’s gentle nudging, is seen by the right Hollywood producer…you get the idea. It’s not just a boatload of cash dropping from the sky, it is small things that give you the opportunity to act on your desires. But this is clearly an idea too advanced for Ehrenreich’s rather limited mind (her inability to craft an argument shows that).
So instead of trying to craft a logical argument against the law of attraction she makes fun of the word “magnetism” being used a lot of the time in the descriptions of the law of attraction. The idea of the law is that you pull the things you think about to you like a magnet. Notice the word “like”. It’s a simile. A simile is a kind of metaphor that uses the word “like” or “as”. Most of you know this because you took 8th grade English. Enrenreich apparently is completely ignorant of the concept of speaking metaphorically as she spends nearly a minute on this. Is she so stupid as to not know the difference between a literal statement and a metaphor to try and describe something so someone can understand it? Apparently she is.
And then of course she shows that she doesn’t understand Quantum Physics very well. Quantum Physics has a big problem, and that problem is that thought appears in every experiment to affect the outcome of all the experiments. Now if thought is the only thing that doesn’t change from the quantum to the atomic level it suggests thought is outside of the laws of physics, perhaps even outside grand unified theory. There are two camps of how to deal with this—pretty much it’s an atheist camp and a theist camp. The theist camp see no problem with this, it justifies the idea of the soul and free will, both of which are outside of the clockwork universe. The atheist camp has a bigger problem. You see one of the things about quantum particles is that they can randomly appear just about anywhere. There are likelihoods that they’ll appear in one place over another, but the only thing that seems to affect this, is again, thought. Now if you’re in the purely science and only science atheist camp you can’t have thought affecting where these particles show up when they collapse into a set state every fraction of a nano second. How has the atheist camp dealt with this problem? By going to science fiction. They now postulate that it isn’t that the quantum particle is collapsing into one state over another, it’s actually collapsing into both and with each collapse a new universe is created. So it’s only the appearance of the universe picking one possibility over another, actually all the possibilities occur, we just don’t experience them. Clearly no one thought this one out. One of the most basic rules of physics is the law of conservation: the sum total of matter and energy in the universe is constant, you can’t add or subtract it, it can change form, but the sum total is always the same. So if a new universe is created every time a quantum particle collapses, it must mean that the sum total of energy necessary for a completely new universe was just converted into a new universe. But it gets more fun if you think about it. That means every quantum particle in the universe (trillions to the trillionth power to the trillionth power would be a conservative estimate and let’s represent this number with the letter Q) each with let’s just say 2 possible states to collapse to (it’s more, but let’s make this number somewhat easier to deal with). That means that every nanosecond 2Q number of universes is created. And the next nanosecond there is 2Q created off of each of the 2Q new universes will be created. Ever seen a fractal pattern? If there were only 1 particle in the universe after one-one-millionth of a second you would have 10103 number of universes, and how many particles are there? How many nanoseconds since the big bang? So all of these universes must be drawing from some infinite reservoir of energy to be constantly created…infinite energy, as Thomas Aquinas would say, this we call God. But God would never be as stupid as to have a system this crazy, so actually, basic reason (even without Ockham’s razor) requires me to just admit that thought might have some effect on the universe outside my brain. But I’m just a dumb English teacher, I’m sure Ehrenreich and her understanding of Quantum Mechanics is so much better than mine.
Back to the argument against positive thinking. She states that one problem with this is it’s delusional. (Oh and why is a picture of America used with the word delusional?) Really? Part of her argument for it being delusional is saying the economy was based on positive thinking, but we already showed that wasn’t the case. She offers no other real evidence that it’s delusional, but I’ll substitute some of the more common arguments against the law of positive thinking. The most common argument is the almost common sense idea that your thoughts obviously can’t affect the world. For the sake of argument I will suspend my belief in the law of attraction and agree that thoughts can’t affect the world outside my mind. Guess what it’s still not delusional. Even if the law of attraction is bunk, it still works. If you say to yourself “I will do X” and act on that belief, you take the courses necessary to do that, you practice the skill required for X, you keep applying for the position of X. And low and behold the law of averages says that eventually between education, practice and determination, you will get what you want. If you want to be an actor, take all the courses, keep auditioning and guess what you’ll act. Now you may not ever become the number one paid actor in the world, but I can’t think of anyone who never got their shot. Now you may say what if a person is a terrible actor? It’s a skill anyone can do at a basic level if they actually try (hell I can think of a lot of people in Hollywood who can’t act well, but they got the job nonetheless) and will get in at some level. Now here’s the thing if they really aren’t good at it, they probably won’t enjoy it, and thus they’d have to be a masochist to not then desire something else…and if they’re still determined they’ll go after that other thing. In psychology it’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy. And it works almost all of the time. (You’ll also notice that the most self-destructive entertainers are the ones who say they never expected their fame or don’t deserve it, and low and behold they fulfill their own words). For instance anyone with even a bare bones knowledge of psychology, economics, sociology or education, or any social science for that matter would know that someone who went out saying “I’m going to prove this can’t be done” will create a self-fulfilling prophecy of their own because they will always look for the ways to screw up and make sure their thesis is proved, even if there was a way for it to be done. But then again you’d have to know something, anything, about how people act. Human psychology when coupled with determination tends to yield results. Even if the law of attraction is total BS, the attitude still drives you to learn, to practice, and to push yourself…in other words to succeed. Thus how is something that actually works delusional? It’s more delusional to say “I’m going to be a realist and look only at the practical odd.” Go find an oncologist. Ask them who will survive, the cancer patient who says “Well realistically I have a 20% chance of survival” or the cancer patient who says “I’m going to beat this.” I can tell you right now which group makes it into the 20% of survivors with more frequency, and you know that too. Thus looking at reality” by nature becomes pessimism. Thus it becomes the true delusion because it ignores the opportunities right in front of you.
Then she goes with the idea that the law of attraction is cruel because it says we bring all the negative things into our lives. She uses the idea that the tsunami victims were thinking those kinds of thought. She says she paraphrased from Byrne, I’m sure it was paraphrasing the letter and not the spirit of the statement. New Age belief says that sometimes we think negative thoughts into our lives and that brings negative things. It’s the laws of attraction. Sometimes however this is not immediate, sometimes this is a very delayed effect from karma and negative thoughts in our distant past. And sometimes, and this is especially true of large disasters, the people who suffer thought about these negative things, not as punishment or because they’re negative, but because they are often more enlightened souls who willingly choose to be put in a position where they will suffer, because at a more enlightened level it doesn’t matter as much to them, and they put themselves in this position to help spark the compassion in others. Massive suffering isn’t so much a punishment as it is a chance for you to help and be a better person and give up your own negative thoughts. What these all have in common is that negative situations are opportunities to learn and give up negative thoughts. How is that callous or amoral?
More importantly, again putting aside all my New Age beliefs, any psychologist will tell you that happiness is a choice. It has nothing to do with your surroundings; it has to do with your outlook. People who are dependent on the outside environment, as this idiot Ehrenreich is suggesting we be, are statistically always unhappy because if you’re looking for that promotion, that check, that car, that vacation, that person in your life, for your happiness, you will never find it. It is a choice totally and completely independent of your surrounding and situation. And before you try and give me some counterexample of someone in a miserable situation, I’ll raise the ante before you do. Do you remember Christopher Reeve in his last years? Few people on Earth are in a more miserable situation than sitting in a bed, being told you will never leave that bed and never be able to breathe on your own again, that you have at most a year to live. Oh wait, he breathed on his own, he got out of that bed, (because he believed he would…damn that sounds a bit like the law of attraction) and if you saw him in any film or interview he was a happy and hopeful man. Yeah he didn’t walk, but maybe that wasn’t his purpose in life, with what he from that chair alone he gave hope and showed the power of determination and the choice to be happy. Okay your turn, someone in a more miserable situation who really chose to be happy but still wasn’t. I can hear the wheels turning, (I’ve seen happy cancer patients, and hopeful people dying of degenerative diseases…I’ve seen poverty borne with honor and dignity…I’ve seen)…I’m waiting for a counter example….Maybe it’s more cruel to tell people to just be realistic about their situations.
She can say she’s not advocating gloom or pessimism, but by saying we should be “realistic” about our situations, that’s exactly what’s she’s saying.
What the hell is this shit about vigilant? Reasonable fear is not negative. But you know the way she is using vigilant, as in looking for problems and running away from them seems to be from the fight or flight response we all have. And it is also that fight response to fight even when things are hopeless and miraculously turns the tide in our favor that also got us where we are. Her flight vigilance is the attitude of thinking, ‘well, can’t do that, why bother trying.’ Yeah that got us far. So vigilance and looking for danger and running away from them helped our ancestors. Can I then thank the ancestor of ours who wasn’t vigilant and not only went toward the fire but learned how to control it despite the fact that it could have killed him? The people who survived may have said ‘move it’s a leopard’—the people who thrived and advanced civilization said ‘Oh, I wonder where this leads?”
Inclinations towards camaraderie? Solidarity? Outside of Pravda who uses those words as a basis for human behavior. What about our inclinations to curiosity? Imagination? Determination? Compassion?
Positive thought is the only way I can think of that is scientifically proven by scientists to actually make people happy and psychologically healthy is actually social control—that’s right, if you’re happy then it’s only because the evil corporations are controlling you. Am I the only one who thinks that this dimwit had the hardest time not constantly using the words ‘proletariat’ and ‘bourgeoisie’ in this section, as it just drips with a purely Marxist view of war of the classes (a view that has been beyond proven to be limited and false). That’s why she tries to bring up the Soviet Union, to deny her own Marxist leanings. Did the Soviets preach optimism, possibly, in their case it was denial of reality and say 2+2=5. Positive thinking says 2+2=4 right now, but if I work at it the universe will provide me with another one (1) and 2+2+1=5. Positive thinking does not deny the past or even the present, but it says the future still is not written and it can be what I want to write not what will be written for me. What the Soviets called optimism was a denial of reality. (Ehrenreich seems to have a problem making this distinction and it’s probably her inability to form any semblance of deep thought.)
Oh we have class inequality again. Again she misrepresents the law of attraction. The law of attraction requires you act and work. It just says that if you believe that your work will be easy then the universe will line up the opportunities in such a way, that if you look for them, your path to your goal will be easy. For instance, passing high school is actually quite easy. Community college is rather cheap in the grand scheme of things. Two years at a state college not that much. Oh gee you now have a B.A. for a minimum amount of effort. You’re now pretty much guaranteed a job for the rest of your life. How hard was that? Anyone can do it if they choose to make the necessary sacrifices along the way and choose that they will do it.
But then it gets really fun when she attacks capitalism. She suggests Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand is a magical idea that corrects everything in the market without reason. Now anyone with a brain who looks at the invisible hand would notice that it destroys ideas that do not work, that every individual is striving to do what is in their best interest, that ideas that work multiply more, that larger and more diverse companies have a better chance of surviving economic shocks and a lot of other things. You know where we also see the exact same processes: the modern theory of evolution. Genes like people work in their own best interest and try to multiply. The ideas/genes that offer the best advantage live and multiply. The ideas/genes that are weak die off. The more complex creatures/companies can adapt better. So, as she claims to be a person of science, she wants me to believe that one system based on competition and survival of the fittest (biology) operates on a basic set of principles called evolution, but that in another system of competition and survival of the fittest (economics) it would just be beyond stupid to believe in the exact same principles only called the Invisible Hand and not evolution. I am going to choose to not be an idiot and believe in both evolution and the Invisible Hand. She can continue to the economic version of a creationist (we call them Keynesians) and be justly ridiculed.
It’s also kind of funny she’s making fun of people who believe in the ‘market’ and it will fix everything, when she clearly believes in ‘the government’ and it’s ability (with no track record of such) to fix everything. Oh, so if I’ve got a shrine I worship to and have to pay taxes or make sacrifices to it, then the miraculous deity that can save us isn’t ridiculous (even though, again, the market is based on a scientific principle). Does she worship Zeus? You can see him, or at least a statue of him, and you have to pay sacrifice. It would seem to be the corresponding religious belief to her Keynesian economics.
Actually the power of positive thinking doesn’t say you can “change the world” it says you can change your life. You’re not a lone individual against the world, you’re an individual being happy…and strangely enough those of us with a good understanding of the law of attraction do seem to have a George Bailey kind of effect on the world around us. But again she seems overly concerned with looking at the outside environment and not with actually living her life. Then she goes onto “collective power”…that’s right screw the idea of being the change you want to see in the world you can only do good by being a cog in a larger system and only then do we have power that “we could use to end a great deal of unnecessary suffering.” What worthless liberal drivel.