The Power of Negative Thinking

Commenter meepmeep09 points me to this link of an excerpt from a Barbara Ehrenreich speech (video courtesy of the fine folks at RSA) in which she describes how “the ideology of Positive Thinking” was “being applied to people who were downsized.”

This past week I went to a few workshops and meetings sponsored by the California EDD that were geared towards getting white-collar unemployed bums like myself to learn new job-hunting skills.  The one theme that ran through all the discussions and presentations was:  “Stay positive.  Let go of any anger or hatred you have towards your last boss or bosses.  Lean on the support of friends and family members, and if all else fails, there’s always Jesus.”

That company that you worked for for 14 years, that has a decent bottom line and excellent stock ratings, and which you did your best for?  They outsourced your department to India so they could lower their overhead, but you can’t feel any resentment towards them: that would be counterproductive.  That retail chain that you made $12 million for last year by making sure their landlords were properly following the company’s leases?  Hey, nice job, but we’re letting you go so Wall Street will see that we’re serious about cutting expenses.  Can’t get pissed at them, though; it’s nothing personal, after all, and any negative energy expended being pissed at the bastards will just set you back in your job search.  All you have to do is feel good enough about yourself, and you’ll be able to convince some HR person somewhere to give you a job, which will hopefully last through the next inevitable economic downturn (or the worsening of the current one).

Don’t get me wrong:  clearly, being upbeat and enthusiastic is a much better job hunting strategy than being depressed because you’re constantly worrying about the impending foreclosure of your house, or your inability to pay for your child’s college education, or how hard it is to find a really good, cheap Vodka to drown your sorrows in.*  Wallowing in self-pity doesn’t advance your cause, and at some point you do have to move on.

But disassociating yourself from the reality of why and how you lost your job, and why millions of other Americans are losing theirs, is to basically put the onus back on you:  not just for finding another job, but to explain why you lost your job in the first place.  It must have been your attitude; you must not have been positive enough; like those poor folks who drowned in the tsunami in Indonesia, you must have been have sending out negative vibrations into the universe.  Why couldn’t you, just once, have laughed at one of your boss’ lames jokes?

Nowhere in all the happy talk is any awareness of how a bunch of greedy motherfuckers gamed the system in an attempt to make themselves even richer, and fucked over millions of people in the process.  Not one iota of thought is devoted to understanding how all of this happened, and how it could possibly have been prevented from happening, if not for the delusionary thinking of the banksters and their enablers in Washington.  No room is made for any collective action that might be undertaken by the people most affected – us – by the giant ponzi schemes that huge financial institutions were playng with other people’s money.

As Ehrenreich puts it:  “What could be cleverer, as a way of quelling dissent, than to tell people who are in some kind of trouble…that it’s all (because of ) their attitude.  That’s all that has to change, is that they should just get with the program, smile…and no complaining.”

But the fact is, you were fucked out of a job because the soulless corporation you worked for valued profits more than your abilities and accomplishments, and anger is an appropriate response.  You have a right to feel bitter about being let go, in spite of all your hard work and loyalty to a company that treated you like just another disposable part, used up and then discarded.

Getting angry, offended, downright pissed off at injustice is not only healthy, it’s often the only way to bring about change:  get enough angry people together, and you’ll see the powers that be start to take notice.  Of course, the anger can always be explained away or interpreted based on the controlling narrative.  Nixon hated the hippies protesting the war in Vietnam, but didn’t think they were representative of the “silent majority” that actually wanted us to stay the course.  The dirty fucking hippies that protested the invasion of Iraq, or the WTO, have always been dismissed in the corporate media as ignoramouses who didn’t understand the delicate interplay of geoglobal politics and international finance the way our overlords did.

The narrative changed somewhat when the Tea Party came along, with their semi-coherent rage against Big Government, deficits, and our Socialist/Muslim/Fascist/Negro president, who was forcing his liberal agenda down everyone’s throats.  Suddenly, this ragegasm was seen by the media as a genuine expression of Real Americans who had Simply.  Had.  Enough.  of all the wasteful spending and handouts to undeserving minorities and deadbeats.  The fact that the Tea Party movement was actually a loose coalition of hardcore white supremacists and middle-class racists, aging Fox News viewers who didn’t know shit from shinola, Ron Paultards and other libertarian fuckwads, birthers, Republican asswipes trying to get elected or re-elected, and Sarah Palin worshippers, all organized and packaged by astroturf, Republican-led organizations like Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks, pretty much went unnoticed by that same media.

So is the narrative changing?  Is negativity (as long as it’s directed at half-black Presidents and socialist harpies like Nancy Pelosi) and anger the new normal?  Are we going to see a mass movement of the unemployed marching on Washington, demanding an end to the game-playing over benefits, and forcing Congress to actually pass a real stimulus bill, one that gets people working and spending again and greases the skids towards an actual fucking recovery?  I doubt it.

At the core of the American Dream is the idea that, no matter who you are, or who your parents were, you can be successful, as long as you work hard, keep your nose clean…and have the right attitude.  It doesn’t matter what kind of historical or political or social factors are aligned against you; your inability to succeed must be due to some defect, some flaw in your character, some inability to project your needs into the vast, welcoming maw of the universe.  The individualist ethos of America demands that you do it all by yourself, on your own terms, and if you don’t make it – well, that’s your problem, buddy.  Don’t expect the rest of us to lend you a hand – we’re too busy trying to reach that brass ring ourselves.  Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back in there, pardner.

And for God’s sake, whatever you do, stop complaining.

*My own personal preference is Tito’s, mode by the fine folks of Austin, TX, which runs for about $15 a bottle at Trader Joe’s.  Skipping a few meals here and there is well worth the sacrifice.

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3 Responses to The Power of Negative Thinking

  1. StringonaStick says:

    In the mid 1990’s through 2002 I spent a bit of time around people who’d quit/lost their jobs to become at-home stock traders; hell, I did it myself but I wasn’t an idiot about it and got out in January of 2000 (I’ve never seen any reason to go back in either, working at that day after day made me realize what a house of cards it is). The one common attitude to all these stock-trader, bigshot wannabees was that same old stupid Murikan myth that if they worked hard enough they’d “make it”. “Making it” was just a thinly veiled desire to get to be up there with the real power in the US, and these grasping idiots were too fucking stupid to see that (1) this myth is what keeps the powerful in power and therefore everyone else outside the gates, and (2) no matter how much money they might make, the powerful that they so desperately wanted to suck up to would never think of them as anything more than a potential gardener or other type of house-serf. Pathetic, but that part that really got to me was how these idiots were/are so ready to go to bat politically for a class they are deluded into thinking they might someday work/buy their way into, but the reality is that there is absolutely zero chance of that ever happening. Delusional thinking, and it is so popular these days…

    • Yup. That’s the basic appeal of the Republican Party – “Vote for us, and someday you, too, will be able to sit at the swells’ table!” Sarah Palin has ridden this strategy all the way from being a failed half-term governor and losing vice-Presidential candidate to million-dollar book deals and having her tweets and Facebook posts being condsidered worthy of attention by the media.

      • StringonaStick says:

        I think this is part of her appeal to the low information voter (hell, let’s just say it: low IQ voter). They see someone as chowder-headed as she is and they think “lookie here, she’s just like me and she’s rich now! That’s gonna happen to me too!”

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