Proponents of positive thinking have set up this false dichotomy wherein you are either a “positive person” or a “negative person.” “Negative people” are a disease, must be cut off from your life, and the thoughts they put into your head must be exterminated. This blackwhite thinking reinforces their proto-fascist mindset: you’re either for ME or against ME, and anyone who’s not positive with me is against me.
The opposite of “positive thinking” is not “negative thinking.” Both are the unhealthy signs of a person who’s collapsed into themselves. Neither of them are places you wanna be in. The opposite of “positive thinking” is “critical thinking.” Critical thinking is outer-directed, an active process, and it’s not based on repressing yourself. It’s the exact opposite of the positive thinking process, which is inner-directed, mostly passive (apart from censoring yourself), and based on repressing one’s thoughts and feelings.
Positive thinking is useless because it proposes working on oneself (which really means: repressing oneself) as a solution to problems like unhappiness, unemployment, poverty, loneliness, and so on. But these problems are, by and large, social. Thinking positive about them may change your outlook, but your outlook is not the source of your happiness or unhappiness (our happiness levels are actually pretty stable throughout life, regardless of what you think about it). Jobs, money and love will not appear out of nowhere because you’ve decided to “attract” them in your life. By and large these things are controlled by institutions in our society which are impervious to your thoughts, which are wholly contained within your cranium. All it does is make you more hopeful for changes in your life, which may or may not come, but neither outcome happens because of thought-magic.
I’m sure thought-magic believers would object that positive thinking is still useful, even if it’s not literally magic, because it makes the user more capable of seizing the opportunities they run across. After all, no one wants to hire or date a gloomy “negative” person (because “negative” people are icky). I don’t dispute that this sort of self-censorship may be beneficial to a few people out there who were perhaps too obsessed in a “negative” direction, but in general I can’t see how it would help people. I think a lot of people believe they’ve been helped by it, but as for any other quack treatment or superstition, they really cannot know if the help came from the treatment, or if it was simple happenstance, or something else they did.
I have nothing against bourgeois assholes, like Oprah Winfrey or Deepak Chopra, who believe that they’ve helped themselves with it. Again, I think they are deluded, but that’s their business. What I am opposed to is the fact that these assholes try to spread it to the rest of us as a panacea. It’s easy for some rich assholes to believe that their material success was entirely their doing; people routinely do this, and tell each other stories based on this fallacy, even though it’s rarely true.
But to then turn around and tell normal people who are struggling that they are struggling because of a personal defect is just disgusting. It’s preying on the public. People are taken in by the credibility of these charlatans, by their success, and assume that they must know something. So they buy into the program, self-censor themselves, collapse into themselves, and become incapable of examining the real reasons for their position in life or their unhappiness.
One of the marks of a positive thinking believer is that they are forbidden from asking questions about anything outside of themselves. Their doubts are directed wholly at themselves, not at the outside world. Critical thinkers, on the other hand, concentrate their attention and questions on the outside world. They also doubt themselves insofar as they never take the truth of their own reasoning for granted, but that’s only so they can then look at the outside world more accurately.
In critical thinking, you gotta ask questions, but you also have to try to find answers. Asking questions alone does not make you a critical thinker; using your rationality to analyze the evidence and possible answers, however, does. Here are some questions a critical thinker might think about and try to work out:
* Why is there a stigma on unemployment and poverty? Who tends to be more affected by it? Who benefits from it?
* Why is there a stigma on being single or alone? Why do people feel like they have to be paired off in order to be worthwhile people?
* Doesn’t positive thinking rely on acceptance of these stigmas to get people to try it?
* How can positive thinking make me a better person or a more worthwhile person? Are there better ways of doing this?
* Is it my fault if I get sick, get mugged or raped? If the answer is no, then where are the limits of personal responsibility? Is it my fault if I am poor, get laid off, don’t find someone I “click” with, or am not happy?
I will not give my own answers, as I think people should figure them out for themselves, but if you read my blog you should already have a good idea of what I think.