A local reader wrote to say that she felt my last column was quite “dark.” To most Americans, telling the truth appears to be so. She praised the most pernicious philosophy America has ever promoted—“the power of positive thinking.”
The main progenitor of positive thinking, which had become, until its logical end with Donald J. Trump, an almost unassailable prescription for covering up the ills of the individual and society 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, “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, absent in present-day America’s “support our troops” climate. Whether literal soldiers fighting endless wars abroad, or metaphorical “front line troops” in an overwhelmed health care system battling Covid-19 at home, war is seen as synonymous with the human condition.
Positive thinking takes a ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ attitude. It thereby allows evil to grow until it rules, and not just in terms of its most visible manifestation in the malignant darling of conservative Christianity.
Positive thinking perverts the proverb, “As one thinks in one’s heart, so one is,” into “As I think in my head, it is.”
Thus positive thinking has provided the soil for the darkest tendencies in American society to grow. Before Trump, the chief exponent of this homegrown American philosophy was George W. Bush. The Trump White House is just carrying out the same unwitting experiment to see just how long pigheaded optimism, coupled with sophisticated marketing and media complicity (in overly focusing on the narcissist-in-chief), can hold sway over the truth.
The “war of choice” in Iraq was a triumph of mulish belief over historical awareness. When the war predictably degenerated into a bedlam of body parts and brain injuries, 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 repeat it often enough, fiction becomes reality. Why are people in the MSM shocked that wishful thinking is determining policy, rather than testing and data?
The culture and economy have collapsed, and we’re on our own. Willfully staying on the sunny side of life in a culture drenched in darkness insures that one becomes a conduit of collective darkness.
Character will out, and collective darkness can only act through us as long as we cut off from the darkness within us. Of course, this is no longer an American problem. The Internet has become a playground for countless weak and faceless conduits.
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 evil, and thereby allows it to grow. The latter mindset personifies darkness and projects evil outside oneself, becoming self-fulfilling in its creation of enemies. That’s how the “war on terror” produced many more terrorists, and has made the world much more insecure.
The wars that America has perpetrated abroad have come to “the homeland,” and Trump may well start a much bigger one before this reign of evil is over. How many more people need to needlessly die before people’s lives become more important than tattoo parlors and yoga studios, or for that matter, restaurants? Does the American economy need to completely collapse before sanity, much less caring prevail?
A saying attributed to Jesus goes: “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.”
Such an attitude and action is the antithesis of positive thinking, which, as it turns out, is actually negative as hell.