deluded optimists
August 22, 2010, 8:38 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , ,

We’re addicted to optimism and it’s causing crashes.  Name it and claim it and golden parachute out.  We haven’t always been this way:  early American culture was dour and strict.  The fantasy optimism evolved much later as a reaction to all the lack of fun.

Barbara Ehrenreich’s article How Positive Thinking Wrecked the Economy describes the endgame of the pursuit of happiness:  a fantasy of unbridled optimism that took over our banks and markets and led to delusion and failure.

Here is an excerpt from her article:

Americans did not start out as deluded optimists. The original ethos, at least of white Protestant settlers and their descendents, was a grim Calvinism that offered wealth only through hard work and savings, and even then made no promises at all. You might work hard and still fail; you certainly wouldn’t get anywhere by adjusting your attitude or dreamily “visualizing” success. Calvinists thought “negatively” as we would say today, carrying a weight of guilt and foreboding that sometimes broke their spirits. It was in response to this harsh ethos that positive thinking arose– among mystics, lay healers, and transcendentalists – in the 19th century, with its crowd-pleasing message that God, or the universe, is really on your side, that you can actually have whatever you want, if the wanting is focused enough.

When it comes to how we think, “negative” is not the only alternative to “positive.” As the case histories of depressives show, consistent pessimism can be just as baseless and deluded as its opposite. The alternative to both is realism – seeing the risks, having the courage to bear bad news, and being prepared for famine as well as plenty. Now, with our savings, our homes and our livelihoods on the line, we ought to give it a try.

— Barbara Ehrenreich, How Positive Thinking Wrecked the Economy, 2008

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