Thursday, September 25, 2008

Negative Thinking

The New York Times has a nice op-ed article by Barbara Ehrenreich about the value of negative thinking:

"Americans did not start out as deluded optimists. The original ethos, at least of white Protestant settlers and their descendants, 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 attitude 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."

If you haven't read her essay on the idiotic motivational self-help books, you must do so before anything else.


Cheshire Cat said...

"Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better"

-- Emile Coue

Alok said...

Oh I thought you were quoting Emil Cioran. He is more up my alley.

Cheshire Cat said...


Kubla Khan said...

Weber, in his brilliant work on Protestant ethics, identifies protestantism as the vehicle for capitalism.

calvinism has for long identified in hiding its admission for the quest for wealth. it seems it is far from negative thinking. both these ideologies have openly negated the sufferings of others and supported empire building. Far from negation, calvinism is an ideology of strength.

now, if nations opted for collective migrations away from ideologies towards pure ahimsa......that would be interesting.

Alok said...

I will be the last person to defend calvinism (or any such extreme religious orthodoxy) but I think the article is merely talking about "work ethic" and the dangers of irrational exuberance, and also advocating a realization of risks inherent in the scheme of life. that religious impulse is relevant only in so far as it makes us aware that there are larger forces at work which may not work at all times in our favour.