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

the two in between
March 7, 2010, 12:48 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , ,

In a town in south Spain life remains good in spite of high unemployment.  How do they maintain their high standard of living?  With a blend of support from black market, family, and government.  Us capitalists have come to believe there is only one way of supporting yourself:  get a job or start a business.  It’s a good way and it works for a huge majority of people.  It’s an idea that allowed the middle class to flower.  But as an idea, it does tend away from plural thinking and toward orthodoxy.  Can’t the idea of working or owning coexist with other ways of living and supporting yourself and people?  Shouldn’t there at least be the willingness to listen to other ideas about how to live?

I feel like we are in the age of the Market, and that we aren’t doing so well, and that we need to blend our faith in this high religion with other ideas that are ecumenical, nimble, open, in order to make things better for more people.  People don’t like change; they go completely cold if change involves challenging orthodoxies like the market.  But change is good, and now may be the best chance we have to take a close look at what’s behind all the gold, and raiment, and smoke.

Joblessness has climbed to 19 percent in Spain, the highest in the euro zone, after the collapse of a housing bubble. But here in Cádiz, it is at a staggering 29 percent — and has been in double digits for decades.

Elsewhere in Europe, such high numbers would lead to deep social unrest. Not so in Cádiz. Here, as across the Mediterranean, life remains puzzlingly comfortable behind the dramatic figures, thanks to a complex safety net in which the underground economy, family support and government subsidies ensure a relatively high quality of life.

“This is a place where you can live well, even when unemployed,” said Pilar Castiñeira, 30, as she attended a performance of carnival skits in a downtown theater. “Life is four days long,” she added, recounting a Spanish saying. “On one you’re born, on another you die, and in the two in between, you have to have fun.”

Persistent Unemployment, Without Lingering Pain, by Rachel Donadio, The New York Times