blame yourself

We believe things deeply and refuse to question them even when they don’t seem to be working, or even turning against us, biting us in the collective ass.  Here’s an example.  We’re hooked on happiness, we seek it at all costs.  We refuse to compromise our extreme commitment to it.  And why not?  Who doesn’t want to be happy?

Consider though, that the pursuit of happiness trains us to adopt a cause and effect understanding of our lives:  my success and failures come from me, how hard I work, the choices I make.  And when you lose your job, you blame yourself.  In spite of the fact that it’s not your fault that you lost your job, that there are socio-economic factors outside yourself that can be fairly easily and accurately fingered.  I have a friend, neurotic to a fault, who won’t collect unemployment insurance for the sake of her pride.  Huh?  It makes perfect sense now: she lives in a culture that pushes people who work further and further down the road of self reliance:  first stop actualization, next delusion and intractability, and eventually isolation and ruin.

The social consequence is a class of people who are incapable of challenging a status quo that has stopped serving them several generations ago.  It’s the first cousin of the reverse French Revolution crowd:  where the poor rise up with pitch forks against the people who are trying to help them and in support of other powerful people who are smiling and screwing them over.

That’s the argument Barbara Ehrenreich makes in her book Brightsided and Origen and Golan in their Adventures of Unemployed Man:


As Barbara Ehrenreich points out in her book, Bright-sided, our obsession with positive thinking has undermined America. “On a personal level, it leads to self-blame and a morbid preoccupation with stamping out “negative” thoughts. On a national level, it’s brought us an era of irrational optimism resulting in disaster.” Stories of the unemployed often end in tragedy, in part because America’s culture of extreme positive thinking means we can only blame ourselves for our failure. By isolating ourselves, we dampen our power to change the economic system. (In this panel, motivational vigilante The Ultimatum reads his book “It’s Not the Economy Stupid, It’s You!” over a loudspeaker in the ghetto.)

The Adventures of Unemployed Man, Origen and Golan

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