In her new book Smile or Die Barbara Ehrenreich explores the tyranny of positive thinking, and offers a history of how it came to be the dominant mode in the USA. Ehrenreich conceived of the book when she became ill with breast cancer, and found herself surrounded by pink ribbons and bunny rabbits and platitudes. In the following video from FORA Barbara presents a sharp-witted knockdown of America’s love affair with positive thinking and an urgent call for a new commitment to realism.
In today’s Guardian Ehrenreich writes an excellent account about her experience with Breast Cancer.
The first thing I discovered as I waded out into the relevant sites is that not everyone views the disease with horror and dread. Instead, the appropriate attitude is upbeat and even eagerly acquisitive.
But, despite all the helpful information, the more fellow victims I discovered and read, the greater my sense of isolation grew. No one among the bloggers and book writers seemed to share my sense of outrage over the disease and the available treatments. What causes it and why is it so common, especially in industrialised societies? Why don’t we have treatments that distinguish between different forms of breast cancer or between cancer cells and normal dividing cells? In the mainstream of breast cancer culture, there is very little anger, no mention of possible environmental causes, and few comments about the fact that, in all but the more advanced, metastasised cases, it is the “treatments”, not the disease, that cause the immediate illness and pain.
She goes on to discuss the concept of Positive thinking. Ehrenreich found when she was diagnosed with breast cancer that “a cult of optimism that pervaded articles and books about the disease made her feel isolated instead of supported”.
Like a perpetually flashing neon sign in the background, like an inescapable jingle, the injunction to be positive is so ubiquitous that it’s impossible to identify a single source. Oprah routinely trumpets the triumph of attitude over circumstance. A Google search for “positive thinking” turns up 1.92m entries. A whole coaching industry has grown up since the mid-90s, heavily marketed on the internet, to help people improve their attitudes and hence, supposedly, their lives.
Smile or Die: Ehrenreich’s soon to be released new book ( Jan 7, 2010)