Saturday, October 31, 2009

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 heard political conservatives of every stripe that the inhabitants of Main Street behaved irresponsibly (how dare those losers want to have their own homes?) and caused the meltdown. 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.


Anonymous said...

You had me at the opening:

"For some unfathomable reason, I keep hoping that Barbara Ehrenreich will finally produce an insightful analysis of something."

As a leftist, I constantly wonder why I don't love her writing, but her arguments are far too sloppy. It's good to know that other left-wingers can't stand her.

Clarissa said...

I know! I feel so hopeful with each new book but it's always a disaster.