I have been busy enough lately that it has been a while since I picked up a newspaper and read it. Today, even though I remain busy, I made the time
to read today's issue of the Los Angeles Times. When I got to the OP - ED Page, the prominently featured opinion of the day was Armed and
by Barbara Eherenreich
Barbara Ehrenreich (born August 26, 1941, Butte, Montana; pronounced /ˈɛrɨnraɪk/) is an American feminist, democratic socialist,
sociologist and political activist, a prominent figure in the Democratic Socialists of America. She is a widely read columnist and essayist, and the
author of nearly 20 books.
I had never heard of Ehrenreich before, and only began reading the OP - ED piece because it was so prominently featured. Interestingly, the L.A.
Times link for their website has the opinion piece but has retitled it, (presumably because Armed and Angry
isn't SEO friendly enough), to:
A Call to Protest Ignites a Call to Arms:
Why are Americans such wusses? Threaten the Greeks with job losses and benefit cuts and they tie up Athens, but take away Americans' jobs,
401(k)s, even their homes, and they pretty much roll over. Tell British students that their tuition is about to go up and they take to the streets;
American students just amp up their doses of Prozac.
Being a member of ATS, reading the first paragraph gave me a sense I was reading an opinion piece by someone not at all tapped into the American
psyche. Wusses? Is she serious? American's aren't protesting enough? Frankly,, I find protest to be a limp wristed way of admitting
helplessness, and given so many of American protester's are inclined to apply for permits to do so, and then will often corral into a chain link
fenced in area called "free speech zones", I would suggest that today's brand of American protest ain't your grandfather's brand of American
protest, but okay, Ehrenreich wants an audience, and calling us all wusses is as provocative way as any to start an OP - ED piece. So, I continued
The question has been raised many times in the last few years, by a variety of scholars and commentators -- this one included -- but when the
eminent social scientist Frances Fox Piven brought it up at the end of December in an essay titled "Mobilizing the Jobless," all hell broke loose.
An editor of Glenn Beck's website, theblaze.com, posted a piece sporting the specious headline "Frances Fox Piven Rings in the New Year by Calling
for Violent Revolution," and, just two weeks before the Tucson shootings, the death threats started flying. Many of the most provocative
comments have been removed from the site's comment section, but at one time they included such charming posts as: "Bring it on biotch [sic]. we're
armed to the teeth." Or: "We're all for violence and change, Francis [sic]. Where do your loved ones live?"
Wondering, by this point, what her argument was, I decided to look and see who she was. So I skipped down to the blurb of a biography below the
Barbara Ehrenreich's most recent book is "Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America."
I figured she was a sociologist herself, given what I had all read, and of course, I read the rest of her argument, and it came as no surprise to me
that it was an academic's idea of attacking American "gun culture". Those who are inclined to read her argument in its entirety will take the time
to read the OP - ED piece I linked, but for those who don't care to, here is her two final paragraphs:
Never mind that there are only a few ways you can use a gun to improve your economic situation: You can hock it. You can deploy it in an armed
robbery. Or you can use it to shoot raccoons for dinner.
But there is one thing you can accomplish with guns and coarse threats about using them: You can make people think twice before disagreeing with you.
When a congresswoman can be shot in a parking lot and a professor who falls short of Glenn Beck's standards of political correctness can be, however
anonymously, targeted for execution, we have moved well beyond democracy -- to a tyranny of the heavily armed.
What is, you might ask at this point, my argument? Great question! I am taking the time out of my busy day to create this thread for a number of
reasons. Life has a serendipitous way about it, and the coincidences regarding Ehrenreich's opinion piece were many. Last week I was busy with
several gigs, but one of them was helping a client I tutor get through his final research paper in sociology. It was the third paper he had to write
in this sociology class. So, there was the coincidence of that, coupled with the new knowledge that I was reading an article by a sociologist who has
just recently written a book challenging the efficacy of positive thinking. Her book; How
Positive Thinking is Undermining America
is a book I have not read, and yet, that title seems to give clues as to what this book is about:
A sharp-witted knockdown of America’s love affair with positive thinking and an urgent call for a new commitment to realism
Americans are a “positive” people—cheerful, optimistic, and upbeat: this is our reputation as well as our self-image. But more than a
temperament, being positive, we are told, is the key to success and prosperity.
And, of course, her own website confirmed what I suspected, that positive thinking, in her "sharp witted" view was not "realism".
In this utterly original take on the American frame of mind, Barbara Ehrenreich traces the strange career of our sunny outlook from its origins as
a marginal nineteenth-century healing technique to its enshrinement as a dominant, almost mandatory, cultural attitude. Evangelical mega-churches
preach the good news that you only have to want something to get it, because God wants to “prosper” you. The medical profession prescribes
positive thinking for its presumed health benefits. Academia has made room for new departments of “positive psychology” and the “science of
happiness.” Nowhere, though, has bright-siding taken firmer root than within the business community, where, as Ehrenreich shows, the refusal even to
consider negative outcomes—like mortgage defaults—contributed directly to the current economic crisis.
It was interesting, while reading Ehrenrich's shameless self promotion from her own website, that she hoped to frame the mortgage default crisis as a
consequence of positive thinking rather than the consequence of highly cynical business practices, and how she seems to view positive thinkers as
naive, while it strikes me that ignoring the cynicism inherent in banking institutions is sort of naive. The coincidence in Ehrenreich's most recent
book, and since she has a website dedicated to shameless promotion of that book, I will take an opportunity to
shamelessly promote a thread I wrote
singing the praises of positive thinking...sort
Ehrenreich continues with her own self promotion with a final paragraph that states:
With the mythbusting powers for which she is acclaimed, Ehrenreich exposes the downside of America’s penchant for positive thinking: On a
personal level, it leads to self-blame and a morbid preoccupation with stamping out “negative” thoughts. On a national level, it’s brought us an
era of irrational optimism resulting in disaster. This is Ehrenreich at her provocative best—poking holes in conventional wisdom and faux science,
and ending with a call for existential clarity and courage.
The emphasis was added to accentuate yet another coincidence, and yet another opportunity for me to shamelessly promote another thread in this site
regarding critical thinking, and my contribution to that thread regarding the use of the word
, and how this word has gone from describing a particular type of story that has
been told since time immemorial to being equated with falsehoods.
It is also worth taking a critical look at the last paragraph of Eherenreich's shameless self promotion beyond the use of the word "mythbusting"
and taking a look at the assertions that stamping out "negative" thoughts is akin to "morbid preoccupation" and the amusing assertion that the
power of positive thinking is "faux science" -- amusing because the social sciences seem to be faux sciences as well - and her call to "existential
clarity" -- a philosophical doctrine that demands people embrace their limitations -- and courage, as if holding a positive thought in this day and
age doesn't require courage.
So much to address, and yet so little time to do that in. I am under deadlines for work where I am being paid to write, and yet, here I am writing
for no pay, first because I believe this topic is important, and secondly because part of positive thinking, or more specifically the Law of
Attraction, requires I give back to the universe and not just take and take and take. Of course, I am convinced that the gigs I take are predicated
on an even exchange and it is not as if I am taking, but only exchanging, but even so, part of mythology is the hero's journey, and part of being a
hero is the understanding that hero's accept not just responsibility for their own actions, but for the actions of as many people as they can
possibly bear. So, while I jump in between this threads creation, and working on my paid gigs, I somehow hope to accept the responsibility for what I
believe is the morbid preoccupation sociologists have with collectives - particularly sociologists such as Ehrenreich who is an admitted "democratic
socialist" - and if not bring some much needed sanity to the discourse, at least some sort of balance to this ever noisy "U.S. Political
In tutoring my clients, it never fails that why they come to me is because they are either bored with what they are being taught, or they "hate" the
subject. This was no different for my client in this sociology class. The trick is to find out why they are bored, or "hate" the class they chose
to take. It is most often times because of either misunderstood words, or because they instinctively know they are being indoctrinated and this
agitates them to the point that their grades suffer. For my client in the sociology class it turned out to be an instinctive understanding that he
was being indoctrinated. He wasn't consciously aware of this, but as I kept pushing him to communicate to me why he hated the class, he finally
pointed to a single sentence in a single paragraph of his text book that offered a definition of law, and said that definitions like that made him
The text book was Richard T. Schaefer's Sociology: A Brief Introduction, 7th edition
, (the text cannot be found online), and the sentence
that was agitating my student was on page 64 from Chapter 3 (Culture), and the sentence read:
Sociologist Donald Black (1995) has termed law "government social control", meaning that laws are formal norms enforced by the
This single sentence made my client feel stupid. Why? I asked, and he answered that he didn't know why. I pushed. Finally, in exasperation he
declared because the sentence was "BS". Then he asked me if I thought that was stupid. I asked him if he thought that was stupid, and he answered
no. I asked him why the sentence made him feel stupid then, and he finally came to the conclusion that it wasn't he that was stupid, but that it was
that sentence that was stupid. Of course, the reason he came to me is that he had failed his first two quizzes in the class, and had answered
"incorrectly" the question of law on a multiple choice question.
As a tutor, part of my job is to point out that when a student reads a sentence with a word bolded in it that chances are that this bolded word will
be a question on a quiz or test. He understood this, and this is why he felt stupid. He felt he should have known the answer to that question, but
when it came time to answer "correctly" he couldn't remember what Donald Black had defined law as. He couldn't remember because he thought the
definition was stupid, but didn't realize this was his thinking, so he just felt stupid. Further, he resented the notion that he was expected to
memorize a stupid definition just to get a good grade. In short, he resented the indoctrination that was being shoved down his throat.
Where my sessions are supposed to run an hour, we spent over two hours that day discussing what law is, and whether or not Donald Black was right or
not regarding law. While there are plenty of people who will agree with Black on his definition, my client, and certainly I, respectfully disagreed,
and had used our own critical thinking skills to make our own conclusions about what law is.
My client did not go to college because he is an idiot, and before taking this sociology class he had taken a few history classes, so we discussed
revolutions, we discussed the 18th Amendment and its subsequent repeal, and various other insurrections to support our own argument that governments
are fooling themselves if they truly believe they can "enforce social norms" or that law is "governmental social control". Of course, it is
interesting that the universe sent this student to me to help him get through a class he thought was full of crap, and that he would point to a
sentence declaring law as "governmental social control". I showed him an online copy of Frederic Bastiat's
, and we discussed natural law and the idea that law is not made but discovered.
We discussed the irony of a social "science" class asserting that the laws of justice are separate from the laws of science, and laughed at the
colloquialism of "soft science" of which sociology is often called. I told him that he had a right to challenge this indoctrination in class, and
demand discussion be allowed regarding what was being taught. The next day he went to class and did precisely that, so the next time I saw him he
could barely contain his excitement. Suddenly, this student who hated his sociology class was thrilled to be in it, and to use his own intelligence
and critical thinking skills to challenge what was being taught. To his professor's credit, this discourse was allowed, and what had been a quiet
Catholic mass in church of a class soon become a lively Southern Baptist evangelical class where students began to engage and "testify" to their own
ideas and understandings. What my client once hated, he soon began to love.
He wound up leaving that class with an A- making strong A's on all his papers, all of which challenged what was taught to him, and in fact, one paper
he was assigned the subject of cultural imperialism and to find a corporation guilty of imposing cultural imperialism. He chose to hold up academia
as that corporation, and took to task the arbitrary and rigid rules of academia as an imposition on students at the expense of critical thought. His
professor wrote a note that said; "While I do not agree with all your points, those points were so well argued, so well organized, I am happy to give
you an A". He then wrote; "Just between you and I, the I didn't make up the rules, and am just a cog in the machine". Ha! He claimed not to
agree with my client, but then admitted to some degree that he did agree.
My client left that class feeling as if he learned something, but even more importantly that his professor learned something too! I cannot help but
wonder if Barbara Ehrenreich ever taught her professor's anything, or if she just memorized the data being thrown at her, and now regurgitates that
data. Of course, being a "democratic socialist", it is fairly presumed she has to accept Black's definition of law being "governmental social
control", because even if she is qualifying her socialist idealism with the term democratic, she means democratic in the form of a majority who
embrace socialism, regardless of what this majority will do to the unalienable rights of the minority who reject socialism. It makes sense, then,
that Ehrenreich fears the "tyranny of the heavily armed", and without a hint of irony means by "heavily armed" the populace instead of the single
most powerful military in the history of the world with the largest nuclear arsenal ever to be assembled. She apparently doesn't fear that heavily
armed portion of America, just the populace who own guns.
As a writer, I have always been of the mind that the pen is far mightier than the sword, and I have never owned a gun in my entire life. Truth be
told, I don't like guns. I don't like what they represent. I don't like the cold impersonal steel that makes up this tool. I hope I never, ever
have to own a gun. This, however, doesn't mean that I favor gun control, and I certainly do not favor banning gun ownership. I fully understand why
guns exist, and I begrudgingly acknowledge their necessity. If we, as a people who have come together to form a more perfect union, that perfect
union being the collective right to self defense, then we must have the freedom to arm ourselves if we so choose, and we must understand that each
individual has the right to self defense - which is what justifies forming a government to achieve that end collectively - and a part of that self
defense is often times being armed.
Ehrenreich clearly disagrees, and will in her "witty" way make claims that guns will not improve economic situations, while ignoring the fact that
in America, increasingly if one wants a job the best shot they have at getting a job is with some government agency where being armed is a
requirement, and also ignoring the fact that our war in Iraq seems to be one being fought for economic reasons and that guns are a big part of how
America hopes to improve our future in oil.
Ehrenreich, being a collectivist, and as a sociologist dedicated to studying collectives, has not regard for the individual and does not care that the
vast majority of gun owners in America aren't shooting politicians nor are they threatening other sociologists with guns. Indeed, she will gladly
take what is a very small fraction of the populace and endeavor to inflate that fraction into a big scary monster who is "heavily armed", and she
does so because the particular "governmental social control" she advocates is a leviathan state imposing its legal plunder on a disarmed populace.
Somehow, all those gun owners out there are far less scary than she is.