Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Debbie Downer: the Power of 'Negative' Thought

I recently read a brand new book called EMPIRE of ILLUSIONS by Pulitzer-Prize-Winner Chris Hedges and it was basically about all of America's problems right now, like economical, health, environmental and yada yada yada, but one thing he focused on (which I found particularly interesting) was the new wave of "positive psychology" that has been pervading our culture lately. This is the power-of-positive-thought-type of philosophy that best-selling books like THE SECRET talk about. This type of psychology has become particularly popular during the current economic crisis when all is going to hell and people find themselves faced with nothing but negativity in all aspects of their life. People turn to the positive psychologists who convince them that they must implement the "power of attraction", think happy thoughts - like Peter Pan would say - and all the negativity will eventually disappear. Life will get much better.

Of course, all this 'power of attraction' rhetoric is all hogwash for the most part (THE SECRET, after all, was written by the same weirdo who invented the now-notorious "sweat lodge"); and such a psychology has several detrimental effects on people as well. Primarily, Hedges argues in his book that the "positivity" these psychologists preach about paradoxically has the negative consequence of deluding people from reality and, yes - despite what our 'Disneyfied' culture would have you believe - retreating into fantasy when the going gets rough is a bad thing. If we blind ourselves from life's problems, the problems only grow worse in the long run.

Hedges also argues that positive psychology has the negative result of making people passively complacent, where they end up becoming (what he calls) a "corporate collective" - that is, a mass of like-minded people who agree with everything and lose the individual capacity to question the mainstream. In other words, positive psychologists label 'dissatisfaction' with the status quo as being 'negativity', the ramifications of which are dire. After all, dissatisfaction is the emotion that influences a person to promote change, either in their personal life or in society. If people are constantly forcing themselves to be satisfied, then they no longer possess the capacity to change, which, in a sense, leads to their (spiritual) deaths.

In his book, Hedges points out that the corporate elite - in particular - are huge advocates of "positive psychology" (several major companies pay good money to have these psychologists come and speak at company conventions). The elite use the "power of positivity" to essentially trick the working class into thinking they are happier with their place within the capitalist system than they really are. Employers like a psychology that labels 'dissatisfaction' as 'negativity', because it fools exploited workers into thinking their disgruntlement with things like low wages and long hours and monotonous work and lack of good benefits and poor retirement pensions is a result of them being pessimistic malcontents. In other words, positive psychology spins employee exploitation in a manner so that it looks like it's the worker's own fault that they are unhappy. They are forced to look at the bright side of their exploitation, even when no bright side exists.

As many of you know, "Saturday Night Live" had a recurring sketch a few years back that featured a nerdy, unattractive-looking woman who turns every conversation with her friends into something negative. She always saw the glass as half empty, so to speak. She was called "Debbie Downer". Although it was rather humorous, the sketch was a reflection of a society already conditioned by positive psychology. As the Debbie Downer caricature insinuates, a person who points out the flaws in society is perceived as nerdy and unattractive - a foolish malcontent...and this is the problem. If everybody is afraid of being a "Debbie Downer" then nobody will ever admit to both themselves and to others that they are dissatisfied in life, which means that everybody will lose the capacity to become proactive, change their life, and make a positive difference.

Yes, as strange an idea as it seems, the world depends on the "Debbie Downer" in order to be saved from its downfall. People must realize that feeling depressed or dissatisfied is - in a lot of cases - actually a good thing. It's a healthy thing. Contrary to popular belief, dissatisfaction doesn't necessarily mean we should go to the doctor and be prescribed Prozac or some other anti-depressant (which is another thing the corporate elite would prefer to see you do). And it certainly doesn't mean we should read THE SECRET and learn how to attract wealth and prosperity with our happy thoughts. No...it simply means CHANGE is needed. And you need to do something in order to trigger that change.

To put it simply, positive psychology is a quack psychology. Without "negativity", there would be no positive change in the world. Without the Debbie Downer, nobody would make a difference.

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