Positive Thinking is Negative Acting
Scoop first published this piece almost three years ago. Since people in the States are finally examining the roots of the meltdown in (and of) America, we felt it would be timely to run the column again.
Thursday, 10 November 2005 12:29 pm
Positive Thinking is Negative Acting
A local reader wrote to say that she felt my last column, and my writing generally, was quite “dark.” She stated that “our minds will be dark when we think darkly,” and went on to echo one of the most pernicious philosophies America has ever dished out to the world—“the power of positive thinking.”
The main progenitor of the theory of positive thinking, which has become an almost unassailable prescription for the ills of society, family, and the individual in America, was a preacher named Norman Vincent Peale. Born near the end of the 19th century and dying near the end of the 20th, Peale was a cleric for over 50 years in New York. He wrote the puddle-deep tract, famously (or infamously) entitled, “The Power of Positive Thinking.”
Peale is mentioned as a “deep philosopher” in Tom Lehrer’s 1959 song, “It makes a fellow proud to be a soldier.” Lehrer was mining a rich vein of satire, which, in present-day America’s “support our soldiers” climate, even comedian Jon Stewart wouldn’t dig.
Positive thinking amounts to taking a ‘see no evil hear no evil’ attitude. It converts the proverb, “as one thinks in one’s heart, so one is,” cutting out the heart and turning it into the diktat, ‘as I think in my head, so…my biz.’
From a phenomenological point of view, it’s fascinating how positive thinking has provided the soil for the darkest impulses in American society to grow. The culmination and cheerleader in chief of this homegrown American philosophy is George W. Bush. Indeed, the Bush White House is conducting an unwitting experiment to see just how long obstinate optimism, coupled with expert marketing and media complicity, can hold sway over reality.
Take the “war of choice” in Iraq. Its very conception was a triumph of pigheaded belief over historical awareness. When the war predictably degenerated into a bedlam of body parts, the White House, pursuing the logical end of positive thinking, began repeating ad nauseam how progress was being made. And why not, since one of the tenets of positive thinking is that when you believe what you want to believe strongly enough, and reiterate it often enough, your fantasy will become reality.
Nonetheless, positive thinking does not diminish individual and collective darkness, but instead allows all manner of evils to increase. Indeed, positive thinking is how North American culture became saturated with darkness.
Even so, collective darkness can only act through a person as long as one acts out of hidden regions that one refuses to own. Therefore willfully staying on the sunny side of life in a culture drenched in collective darkness insures that one becomes a conduit for darkness.
Of course, this is no longer an American problem. The Internet has become a great cover and playground for countless weak and faceless conduits. Such people don’t realize, however, that they are exposing themselves, and weakening the source of their power, every time they act out of darkness.
To see human nature as essentially good, as New Agers do, is merely the flip side of seeing human nature as essentially evil, as conservative Christians do. The former mindset willfully ignores darkness, and thereby allows it to grow. The latter mind-set personifies darkness and projects evil outside, becoming self-fulfilling in its creation of enemies. Thus the “war on terror” is producing many more terrorists.
Just what does this rather abstract term ‘darkness’ refer to? Darkness, as I see it, is the toxic byproduct of innumerable generations of non-self-knowing people, generating a growing subconscious substratum of fear, hate, and greed in collective consciousness.
What then are ‘conduits?’ When people refuse to take total responsibility for the darkness within them, they become pipelines for collective darkness. That is especially true when a society becomes saturated with darkness. As the saying goes, the only thing evil requires to prevail is for decent men and women to look the other way.
A saying attributed to Jesus points the other way: "Bring forth what is within you, and what you bring forth will save you; do not bring forth what is within you, and what you do not bring forth will destroy you."
So what is positive and what is negative, denying and ignoring the darkness within and around one, or facing it and telling things as they are?
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.