Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dream a Little Dream For Me

I love my family (though it is a complicated love.)

Some of them are a little...I'm not sure I have a good word for it.

They have this dianetics-esque concept of positive thinking as a spiritual/physical and mental health practice, which on the surface I have no real problem with. When it comes to faith, spirituality, religion, what-have-you, I have one simple rule: If it doesn't oppress anyone, and you don't push me (or anyone preferably) to convert, then its cool.

On first blush, this positive energy, rebirther thing has a lot going for it: it it means being conscious of your breathing, of your feelings, of your actions, your reactions and their source. Most people involved in this are all about taking personal responsibility for the things that happen to you and your reactions to it. It can be a great motivator for changing your own life. The snag comes in when the benefits of this perspective are discussed. Apparently, good health is all about having the right attitude and that any other factor is irrelevant. If you can "positive attitude" your way into good health, then any health problems you have are because you chose them.

For the sake of clarity, this concept is not usually stated so harshly, or so clearly. The basic idea is that our thoughts create our reality, right? So if we accept as inevitable a family history of heart disease, then we create the possibility of it existing for us. Conversely, if we were to not accept it, then it won't happen to us. Everything exists because we manifest it.

I'm sure the issue with this is obvious to a good many people who may be reading this, but just in case it isn't...

I'll start with the softer issues present here.

First, I want to be absolutely clear: I agree that if we assume that something is going to go wrong, then that will cloud our perception of events and the going wrong will be all that we notice, no matter what else is happening. I agree that perception, in one sense, creates reality insomuch as it dictates what we see in our reality. Two people watching a sunrise on a beach will, given exactly the same materials, will paint two completely different pictures of that sunrise. This does not change the sunrise itself.

I do not agree that we create reality out of whole cloth merely by imagining it or allowing the possibility to enter our minds. There is an egotistical hubris to the idea that I find distasteful and incongruous with the image of "one-ness" that the people espousing it would like to present.

The big problem, though, the huge mother-whammy of a problem with this idea is the implication that if you have problems, any problems in any form, its because you didn't think positively enough or because you allowed it to become real. The denial of the fact that sometimes shit just happens and the insistence on there being a "why." And of course the assumptive standard of "good" v "bad" in this framework posits ideas of health that are formulated by a larger oppressive culture that excludes certain types of bodies as not good enough, or real enough.

Besides watching my uncle ignore his health because breathing will make heart problems that run in the family just go away, I find the implied blame for "poor" health to be ablist and privileged in the extreme, and like a great deal of privileged crap, it comes with the best intentions.

What I don't understand about this is the incessant desire to ignore the oppressive structures of society and instead turn everything into a personal choice. Who would choose oppression? Why on the world would someone decide to be oppressed? If ending these things were as simple as making an active choice, then why hasn't the entire kyriarchy come apart at the seams? I mean, there are tons of people who would do anything to not have to wake up and keep struggling to survive and be counted. Why is your positive thinking enough to save you, and theirs isn't? Oh yeah, sunrises.

Your privileged ability to ignore oppression doesn't make it cease to exist, just like not painting the sunrise won't stop it from happening. Its just one more way to pretend like you created everything you have instead of benefiting from someone else's oppression. One more way to absolve yourself of responsibility for participating in an unjust system.

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