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The Delusion of Positive Thinking

December 8, 2011

I’m procrastinating from a pile of work so I decided to clean up my inbox and look what I found!

RSA does some really cool animations including my all time favorite video of Slavoj Zizek explaining whats wrong with buying more crap to save the world.

This piece by acclaimed journalist, author and political activist Barbara Ehrenreich explores the darker side of positive thinking.

In relating her arguments to what is going on with conversations about Aid to Africa I see ways in which ‘saving’ Africans is often driven by delusional positive thinking. And as non-profiteers we have feed into the delusion.  So often we raise money by telling donors that their $5 will save the world and bring an end to what are, in reality, very complex social problems.

In our race to raise funds we’ve made it ok for anyone to parachute in and begin whatever delusional idea about how to fix what ails Africans.

Ehrenreich has a wonderful critique about the powerlessness of positive thinking which, as she says, “always just envisions you as a lone individual redesigning the world to fit your ideas.”  This individualization and leads us to forget that “we do have power, collective power, which we could use to make changes and end unnecessary suffering in the world.”  Again the point is not to stop acting in the world but to act in solidarity and in collaboration.

To take it a step further, for me part of that collective power means involving the beneficiaries of our ‘help’ and not just the collaboration amongst the donors which is as far as many philanthropic collaborations get today.

Here is the full length video:


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