Monday, June 06, 2011

The Heresy of Positive Thinking

An excellent critique of the cult of positive thinking. It gets into politics and economics but get past that stuff: this is very much also about family, relationships, religion, "faith" and the dynamics of how we get sucked into denying reality.

10 comments:

nothinghypothetical.com said...

I don't like some of the RSA animates, but this one has been a favorite since I ran across it a while back. Simply stunning indictment of current heterodoxy, aka conventional wisdom (which is neither according to convention nor wisdom).

Kirk said...

Just watched it. Not sure when the speaker made the speech, but I found it highly ironic that she has critical things to say about President Bush (his role as the national cheerleader), when Obama's entire campaign was Hope and Change. There was an irrational aura of optimism surrounding the Obama campaign, and he was endorsed by Oprah, who is one of the main pushers of the optimist pablum. Now, I'm not trying to defend Bush or attack Obama, but the speech would have been more credible to me if she had pointed out the "Peale-isms" of the other party.

Dana said...

Thanks for posting this Steve. My family tells me all the time that I'm a pessimist--I prefer to call it being pragmatic and realistic (that's my story and I'm sticking to it). It's frightening how insidious this cult of positive thinking is. While going through cancer treatment a couple of years ago, I felt compelled to write about it on my blog. I hoped that certain friends, family members and co-workers would re-think their paradigm. I was also frustrated with the number of well-meaning people who told me that I just needed to have a positive attitude in order to beat the cancer.
http://www.runningtheraceblog.com/journal/2010/10/25/the-tyranny-of-positive-thinking.html

Anonymous said...

I also find the equivalence drawn between the "invisible hand" and individualistic positive thinking to be a misinterpretation of the concept of the 'invisible hand.'

The cumulative effect of the variety of activities of free people, is beyond human prediction and planning. It creates the cultural analog of a rain forest, or coral reef - all kinds of niches for human creativity within unexpected combinations of ability, location and materials. With reasonable regulation (ie - concerns for public safety and environmental
responsibility) this also paradoxically, is far more efficient than any planned economic environment.

In a fallen world, Orthodoxy has much to offer those people solely motivated by personal acquisition of wealth and power in a materialist existential bubble.

Forgive me.

Benedict Seraphim said...

I agree with the speaker. It's amazing how pervasive this is, and how otherwise hard-nosed "empiricists" in business resort to such magical thinking.

That said, I'm wondering how one would square the apparent (and only apparent) agreement that someone like Elder Thaddeus (Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives) has with at least the tenor of such thinking?

Joseph Barabbas Theophorus said...

This video is tough to comment on in part because of the use of the word "positive." Of course, language is a social construct and words mean different things to everyone. Still, it seems that the word "positive" is especially ambiguous here. In fact, the entire video seemed very strange to me. I couldn't discern exactly where it was going, what it was saying, or how it was getting from one point to the next. Not that it should make sense or that truth is somehow subservient to logic, but the video certainly was not what I was expecting.

One of the things that really confused me (if I must choose just one) is the speaker's statement that she is a realist, around the 6:20 mark. Not 20 seconds later, she explains that "there is not one fixed truth," and that after reassuring us by saying her background is in science. So is she objectively a relativist, or am I the only one who believes she's a realist?

Seriously, though, short of overanalyzing "positive thinking," and noting that it can be both a projection of one's own delusions onto another person (which the video did seem to mention) and the shifting of blame for failures in the said delusion to another person (and not the delusion itself), I wonder if you could say a little more about your intentions of posting this video, s-p. I don't question them, I just can't seem to understand what they are. This one has me fairly well stumped.

But to Benedict Seraphim, I can say a little about Elder Thaddeus and the Fathers. We are indeed beings composed of both body and soul, both physical and mental aspects, to use the more fashionable terms. They are not incorrect in pointing out that the same heart that makes the mind accept bad logismoi, harbor bad attitudes, and create delusion will also destroy the body. An evil heart affects both the mind and body. For instance, a heart that has accepted gluttony will not only make the mind take in thought after thought about food, but make the body eat more and more and more. The reverse is also true: purify your heart and both your mind and body will be full of light. A heart that is willing to give itself up for the pure, unselfish love of another will make the mind accept godly thoughts and cause the body to perform heroic deeds. So, our thoughts really do determine our lives, though it is hardly in a direct way; they are more of a gauge of sorts, in the same way that we say that a thermometer "determines" the temperature. Because we are not so apt spiritually as the Fathers, they simplify things and tell us to "work on" our thoughts, which is much more comprehensible to us than "working on" our heart, if we even understand what the heart is (most people nowadays think it's "emotions" or something along those lines). But the result is still the same: by doing the thing that raises the reading on the thermometer, we also raise the temperature. By working on our thoughts, we also work on our hearts unknowingly. (This is similar to the way in which many Fathers speak about the heart and the nous interchangeably, when they are quite distinct.) There are a number of other meanings to this as well, but the other ones would take up far more room to adequately address, and are probably not what you have in mind. In any case, you don't have to worry about Elder Thaddeus falling into "magical thinking!"

s-p said...

Joseph, It seems to me that the "cult of magical/positive thinking" is much more pervasive than we believe. I've encountered it in so many contexts from Amway to corporate culture to squishy New Age spirituality to Christian doctrine to pop psychology to church culture. I could probably go minute by minute and pick apart the philosophical self contradictions of the speaker (you pointed out a major one: realist/relativist), but I think the message stands as a pretty decent critique of the issue. I haven't seen anything "Orthodox" that addresses this head on like this. Like I said in the header, the issue is bigger than "politics" and if we generalize it I think we will recognize we encounter it daily in everything from what we are fed in the media, in conversation and even in our "faith".

Adam S said...

S-P,

I am unable access to able to access the clip from where I sit here at work, but I do have one comment...

It has been said that the religion of the United States of America has been (and still is) extreme positive thinking coupled with extreme denial...and I tend to agree with that.

Anam Cara said...

I see the glass neither as half full nor half empty. I am a realist. I realize that sooner or later, someone will have to wash that glass and it will probably be me.

Grace said...

Wanted to like this -- *certainly* liked the drawing part. I do think that people need to hear more that forcing yourself to act happy can have terrible consequences.

But I felt like she departed from her scientific model at strategic points in her presentation. If you're going to try to prove you're an objective, original thinker, why not be even-handed in your criticism?

For instance: If you're going to go on and on about the evils of the "think yourself happy" mentality, how could you possibly refrain from mentioning the enormous influence of things like transcendental meditation, scientology, New Age thinking and pop psychology?