Friday, September 16, 2022

Barbara Ehrenreich: A Life Lived Without The Crutch Of Positive Thinking - Atheists & Rational Skeptics Will Miss Her

                                            Author Barbara Ehrenreich two years ago.

Barbara Ehrenreich, the celebrated author of the breakout nonfiction book 'Nickel and Dimed' died September 1st, and is already being sorely missed by atheists and skeptics everywhere.  In 'Nickel and Dimed' she quashed the nonsense that minimum wage jobs enabled one to live on the wages. Ehrenreich observed that working at Walmart didn't even cover both food and rent at a dump motel, concluding that the basis for a living wage had to be an all or nothing proposition. 

Ehrenreich subsequently published Bright-Sided two years after that, in 2011, and blew the 'roof' off the positive thinking industry.  In one interview she gave she best summed it up thusly:

there is a whole industry in the United States that got an investment in this idea that if you just think positively, if you expect everything to turn out alright, if you’re optimistic and cheerful and upbeat, everything will be alright.

Which, of course, is bollocks. Ehrenreich herself survived cancer and  6 years before Bright Sided was published had begun her investigation into the ideology of positive thinking.  That's when she realized there existed a definite American tradition (probably since Norman Vincent Peale's 'The Power of Positive Thinking') to put a positive spin on everything, even cancer.

She expanded on this in her book, 'Natural Causes'  and especially the constant exhortations to be positive about the disease, to be cheerful and optimistic.”   Why? When the bloody disease is eating you away from the inside out, and the medical cognoscenti push you to endure ever more outrageous treatments and therapies that'd make a Navy Seal cry. (Google high dose brachytherapy if you doubt it, and the details given for the treatment!)

In 'Natural Causes' this former biochemist exposed the body's own complicity in rendering the disease almost undefeatable. She revealed the body's own macrophages as the ultimate 3rd column enemy.  In normal conditions they acted the body's 'blue collar workers' - disposing of dead and injured cells, acting as a vanguard of defense-  but they could also quickly deviate into a more sinister role.  

 This occurred when they aided and abet any cancerous growth. In that case,  "they served as cheerleaders of death accumulating at the site of cancerous tumors and encouraging their growth".  And no amount of positive self-jabber, babbling happy talk or using glow globes stopped the disease and made you live longer. This was also one big reason she confessed in the book that after age 75 she'd submit to more cancer screening: no more mammograms, no more colonoscopies, nothing.  She had come to the philosophical stance that 75 years was enough of this life and whatever happened, so be it.  

Beyond a certain age, in fact, the battle against mortality becomes essentially futile. In the case of prostate cancer it arrives with what's called "castration resistance".  That is, despite the fact testosterone levels have plummeted from hormone therapy, the PSA continues to rise. No further PSA testing will provide any useful info, say to save your life. (One of the reasons for this resistance is that prostate cancer cells are capable of making their own testosterone, hence driving prostate specific antigens higher. Macrophages in action!)

If one possesses such knowledge how can one pretend to be a Pollyanna?  When one reads the litany of complaints on assorted prostate cancer support forums it's totally disheartening.  Forum members on Team Inspire, for example,  have referred to treatment after treatment failing:   RP, EBRT, HIFU, HDR brachytherapy, focal cryotherapy, proton beam - but none  working with finality. Well, let's amend that a bit:  maybe there is a 0.5% success rate, i.e. 0.5 % of guys who come away from said treatment and find no recurrence afterward.  That includes no more rising PSA, no more low free % PSA, no more need for invasive biopsies.

In other words, in the "war on cancer' there are very few ultimate victors, at least with prostate cancer and I suspect with many others.  One Team Inspire member actually insisted that "with so many different treatments it's obvious the oncologists and urologists know little or nothing."  An extreme take but it illustrates the level of frustration after getting a professed "excellent treatment" then having it come back.  And it delves with Ehrenreich's attacks on the positive thinking industry and the general themes concerning the "war on cancer."

Indeed, perhaps the most profound expose of the whole game was by Devra Davis in her book,   where she noted the complicity of the entire 'Cancer Industrial complex', e.g.

The Cancer Industrial Complex: The Biggest Conflict of Interest in Medical History

Going back to Bright Sided, Ehrenreich didn't spare her fire when it came to the glitzy pushers connected to the cut of "positive thinking Christianity".  She also connected the rise of the American megachurch to the rising cult of the positive-thinkers.  Noting in another interview:  “The megachurches are not about Christianity. The megachurches are about how you can prosper because God wants you to be rich.

Exhibit A is Joel Osteen, the pastor of a Houston-based megachurch,  and foremost preacher of the so-called "prosperity" gospel. In one of his sermons—conveniently posted online as a slick YouTube video   he actually claims that according to the scriptures,” “the wealth of the ungodly is laid up for the righteous,” and that “it will be transferred into the hands of the righteous.”   

I noted the effects of such bunkum on atheists in my 2nd book, 'Atheism - A Beginner's Handbook' :

Noting (p. 109):  

"This hyper-positivity has negative impacts on those like atheists. Mainly that an endemic  culture of positivity will perceive the atheist as an agent of irreversible depression, pessimism and negativity!  After all, what could be more of a downer than the notion that all the fun ends once one’s physical being expires? When you’re dead, you’re dead, and there’ll be no reruns or afterlives. Factor into this the brain’s natural tendency and drive for optimism at any cost, and you have a ready-made cultural and biological axis to deny and thwart atheism! The most expedient way to achieve this is by casting atheism in the most disreputable and inhuman terms possible, and the atheist as little short of a Satanic entity, if not the ugly bearer of mass depression.

Thus, every mental deficiency, perversion and inadequacy in the cultural positivity clique is projected onto atheists. We are the “evil ones.” We’re the ones trying to “subvert” the grandiose scheme  “pursuit of happiness” of the country as propounded by the Founders in the Constitution. In fact, that document was intended to keep the state from establishing a religion and to protect the minority from the excesses of the majority."

 Where did the cult of positive thinking originate?  Ehrenreich traces it to American corporate culture which became saturated it during the downsizing rage, especially in the 1990s and 2000s.  So American businesses communicated to the downsized, 'Hey' we're eliminating you! But this is an opportunity to grow!'  Better such careful management of expectations than to have the downsized employee return with a Glock 9mm or AR. If you want to get an idea of how and why that came about check this clip from the movie 'Up in the Air':

Up in the Air (3/9) Movie CLIP - How Much Did They Pay You to Give Up on Your Dreams? (2009) HD - YouTube

Thereby, Americans internalized the nonsensical idea that losing one’s job has got to be a sign that something better is coming along and that “everything happens for a reason.” The alternative is to blame one’s employer, or even the design of the U.S. economy, which would be dangerous to Wall Street. 

Those denizens haven't  yet figured out that the bottoming out of the labor participation rate for workers in the 54- 65 age category is a direct reaction to the positivity work culture. So is the new phenomenon of "quiet quitting", only doing what's expected on the job and leaving at 5 on the dot. 

Ehrenreich may not have lived to see her ideas of economic justice fully realized, but she shone a harsh spotlight on the foibles of the positive thinking Pollyannas.  For that service alone, atheists, rational skeptics and victim of positivity piffle will sorely miss her:

See Also:

Barbara Ehrenreich, Explorer of Prosperity’s Dark Side, Dies at 81 - The New York Times (


by Ed Tant | September 15, 2022 - 6:16am | permalink

— from Flagpole


Journalist and activist Barbara Ehrenreich died on Sept. 1 at age 81. A writer of books and magazine articles during a long career that began more than 50 years ago, Ehrenreich is most remembered for her 2001 book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. In that book, she recounted experiences she had while working undercover in a series of low-paying blue collar jobs. Her story of working people struggling to make ends meet in precarious times was published two decades ago, but it is readable and relevant today.



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