Friday, April 17, 2020

The Final Solution: The Power of Positive Thinking

Everyone has a narrative. If it’s a negative one you may experience a self-fulfilling prophecy. The imagination of failure is so great and so real that you lose whatever it was that you wanted to have or win. Subliminally some people will actually go to great lengths to produce the very thing they have always been afraid of. Freud coined the term Febleistung, or “faulty achievement” to explain these kind of maladaptive behaviors. Conversely, there are those who adhere to the delusional optimism intoned by Voltaire’s Pangloss when he says, "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” Candide was in fact written in the wake of the devastating Lisbon earthquake of 1755 which was a major slap in the face to the kind unrealistic thinking that sees nature as perpetually benign force. On the other hand, positive thinking of a beneficial nature is a little like Epicureanism. At its best, it’s a form of constructive action (possibly leading to pleasure) and predicated on the Golden Mean.  Creating a new version of the WPA which would put unemployed people to work to combat the legacy of the pandemic would be a constructive form of optimism. Trump’s desire to reopen business by Easter was a little like someone camping out in Lisbon as the ground began to shake. In essence, the president's positive approach, which fires up his base, is simply a juggernaut of self-will. It like using gluttony to appease an appetite. "Don’t take no for an answer" is the kind of Babbitry Trump is preaching. Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking is one of the great iterations of this kind of primitive salesmanship (Peale was, incidentally, the pastor of the Trump family church). It might work when you’re knocking on doors to sell indigent homeowners sub-prime mortgages, but this kind of banging one’s head against a brick wall is unlikely to stanch the onslaught of a pandemic.

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