>Another Disappointment from Barbara Ehrenreich: A Review of "Bright-sided", Part II

>I also believe that all of my health problems (not anybody else’s, just mine) are psychosomatic in nature. I don’t impose my beliefs on anybody and don’t think anybody is stupid for taking care of their health in a different way. Ehrenreich’s argument that one’s state of mind doesn’t influence one’s health doesn’t convince me not because I have been brainwashed by anybody (as Ehrenreich suggests), but simply because that is what my entire life experience has taught me. When I was finishing my dissertation and looking for a job, for example, I was constantly sick. I kept falling from one disease into another all the time. I had the weirdest, completely unexplainable symptoms. And then I found a job and all those health problems went away as if by magic. I don’t really care whether there are enough studies proving the causation because nobody will be able to convince me that living in a state of constant terror of unemployment had nothing to do with my health issues.
Ehrenreich’s argument that the current economic crisis was caused by the “gullibility and optimism of ordinary individuals” is at best uninsightful and at worst represents a nasty instance of victim-blaming. We all know, however, that the real problem didn’t lie with the middle-class or aspiring middle-class Americans. The bunch of Bush’s cronies received a free pass on robbing us all blind and that’s exactly what they did. It is also kind of disturbing that Ehrenreich would talk about the people duped by the Wall Street crooks as “ordinary.” Evidently, you have to work for Goldman Sachs (and not as a janitor) for this author to consider you extraordinary.

The author’s hatred of motivational speakers is so profound that she is even willing to present the most notorious Wall Street criminals as poor unwitting victims of the “positive thinking” movement. According to Ehrenreich, Joe Gregory, the former president of Lehman’s Brothers, is not really guilty of his company’s collapse. It’s the bad, mean, positive-thinking ideology that makes people believe they can achieve anything they want that is to blame for his actions and the company’s demise. It is very surprising to see a hard-core liberal like Ehrenreich giving an absolution to a bunch of greedy individuals like Gregory, but there it is.

It seems that Ehrenreich read too many self-help books in the process of doing research for Bright-sided and couldn’t help but borrow some of their tricks. She decides to end her book with a piece of advice on how we should conduct our lives: “The alternative to both [positive thinking and depression] is to try to get outside of ourselves and see things ‘as they are,’ or as uncolored as possible by our own feelings and fantasies.” At least, Ehrenreich has the good sense of putting “as they are” in quotation marks. This demonstrates that the author herself is a little ashamed of her childishly naive way of offering advice to people whose worldview might be a little bit more complicated than her reductive materialism.

To summarize: the book is boring, uninsightful, poorly constructed, unconvincing, and intellectually barren.

>Another Disappointment from Barbara Ehrenreich: A Review of "Bright-sided", Part I

>For some unfathomable reason, I keep hoping that Barbara Ehrenreich will finally produce an insightful analysis of something. This never happens, however, and the only thing I take away from her books is a sense of disappointment. Ehrenreich’s latest subject seemed so promising that I bought her book http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=clasblo-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=0805087494. She takes on the perennial cheerfulness, perkiness, and optimism that characterizes (to use Terry Eagleton’s beautiful phrase) “the genetically upbeat Americans.”

Positive thinking, says Ehrenreich, is “beginning to be an obligation imposed on all American adults.” Ehrenreich describes the constant efforts to promote positive thinking within companies that, according to her, are now seeping into the academic world. I don’t know much about the corporate world and whether the cheery mood is obligatory there. I do know, however, that Ehrenreich is completely wrong when she says that cheerfulness and positive thinking are becoming popular in academia. Academics are the whiniest bunch of people you will ever meet. We love bitching, complaining, moaning, and sighing. Recently, I have been feeling simply ecstatic about my new job, but I can see that even the people who gave me the job in question are being repelled by my enthusiasm. Everybody expects me to complain and when I don’t my fellow academics seem a little disoriented.

Ehrenreich believes that human beings are nothing more than tiny little objects at the mercy of blind forces beyond our comprehension. She is a fierce materialist who believes that our circumstances are the only thing that defines our lives. She is consequently very annoyed by any worldview that believes in the possible victory of spirit over matter. In her opinion, thinking that you can achieve anything you want if you work really hard at it and want it really badly is wrong because it obscures reality. Apparently, she cannot accept that everybody’s version of reality is very different and that some people might be justified in shaping their own reality.

Ehrenreich’s one-dimensional materialism seems boring and overly aggressive. She insists that your happiness depends on your income, an idea that is profoundly alien to me. I accept her right to be an atheist and a materialist. I don’t think that any one deserves scorn and ridicule for possessing this worldview. It would be nice to see Ehrenreich respond in kind to people who are religious and/or seek other explanations than the purely materialistic type that she promotes. I, for one, do believe that human beings have a lot more agency in the world that Ehrenreich allows for (I mean, I have a lot more agency. If Ehrenreich doesn’t want this agency, then she definitely shouldn’t try to exercise it.) I believe that my financial problems (mine only, I am not extrapolating this on anybody else) are caused exclusively by my profound need for them.