Daring to Be Unhappy

A century or so ago Mary Wollstonecraft, proto-feminist and mother of the author of Frankenstein, addressing the plight of the poor working girl of her time, said, “A young mind looks round for love and friendship, but love and friendship fly from poverty; expect them not if you are poor! The mind must then sink into meanness, and accommodate itself to its new state, or dare to be unhappy.”

Today in the U.S.A.:

Prosperity and wealth eluding you? Unable to make ends meet? Behind in the rent or on those mortgage payments? Car been repossessed? Can’t afford to pay those medical bills? You mean you’re still battling cancer? Still poor? Gee. You must have a bad attitude.

Just think positive, and the tumor will vanish, manna will fall from heaven and great heaping piles of cash will miraculously appear in your lap.

In her latest tome, perpetual defender of the justly disgruntled worker and the casually exploited consumer Barbara Ehrenreich traces the history of the “power of positive thinking,” and addresses one of the most pernicious memes we encounter as we go about our lives in America today–the dictum from Christian televangelists, a plethora of similar motivational gurus, and of course glad-handing, self-motivated Management that “you need to work on your smile” . . . .

Emily Wilson interviews Ehrenreich at AlterNet: “The Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.”


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