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Happiness Consultants Won’t Stop a Depression

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Posted on Jul 27, 2009
AP / Mark Lennihan

By Chris Hedges

Anthony Vasquez, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, worked at FedEx Kinkos for about two years. His store’s slogan was: “Yes we can.”

“It meant that if a customer asked us to do a job for them, no matter what it was, we were to say ‘Yes we can!’ ” he said.

Posters of the slogan were posted on telephones and in the backroom. Corporate auditors enforced the slogan by “Yes we can” call audits. Employees would be punished as a group for failures, and individuals could be fired. Other slogans at the Santa Cruz, Calif., FedEx Kinkos included “Winning by engaging the hearts and minds of every team member” and “I promise to make every FedEx experience outstanding.”

Vasquez worked with a trainee named Sam until Sam was fired. The store managers didn’t announce the dismissal. They kept Sam on the schedule to make it appear he was skipping work and then used this as grounds for removal. After two weeks and some conversations with Sam, Vasquez wrote “Fired” in pencil under Sam’s name on the schedule. It was at that point that Vasquez got a taste of the ideology of modern corporate management, which uses therapeutic forms of social control and calls for group harmony to impose rigid conformity.

Angela and Nancy, the store managers, reprimanded Vasquez with a “positive discipline documentation form.” They charged him with defacing company property.

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“The document explained how I had made ‘false or malicious statements’ against Sam,” said Vasquez. “Angela and Nancy looked at each other, breathed deeply, and asked if I had any comments. I told them they were being duplicitous and that nothing I wrote had been false or malicious. I told them that if they wanted to make our organization a success, they could start by paying me a fair wage. I went on and on until they both threw their hands in the air and told me to stop being difficult. I told them that I wasn’t the one being difficult. They stared hard at me and said, ‘We know.’ ”

Vasquez signed the document and left the office.

“It must have been in 2006, the company was holding another mandatory meeting for team members, which is what they call us,” he said. “I went with a couple of co-workers to Fresno, where we met a lot of other employees from various stores in Northern California. ... The meeting took place in this rented room, and the woman from corporate had all these toys, markers and candy in the middle of each table. The first thing she had us do was organize ourselves according to duration of employment at the company. While in this line, we had to introduce ourselves and say how long we had been working. The girl on the far end had been hired two months prior, the man on the other had been with the company for almost 20 years.”

Vasquez saw that some of his co-workers didn’t like having to speak about private, potentially embarrassing information. But the corporate manager tried to pump them up.

“She spun it so hard I felt dizzy,” said Vasquez. “ ‘Isn’t this wonderful? We have such a wide range of great team members. This really shows what a great place this is to work, and how you can make a career here!’ she said.”

“One man stared at the floor in anger and embarrassment,” Vasquez said. “If he had said anything, she would have e-mailed his center manager and he would have been written up and probably denied a raise. By the way, raises are 25 cents a year.”

“The purpose of the meeting was, her euphemisms aside, to push merchandise and services onto customers that they didn’t want. I believe it’s called upselling,” he said. “She wanted us to talk about our positive customer service experiences. Most of us struggled with this, as nearly all of our experiences with customers and the company had been extremely negative and stressful. But she was all smiles, no matter what we said, and I noticed she was able to make almost everyone there smile and laugh and have a good time. She used the toys, the candy, the markers, and activities like skits and competitions to get people active and involved with each other. She used the happiness and was able to switch its source from human interaction to the company. You aren’t happy because you are being social, you are happy because you work for the company.”

The driving ideology of corporate culture is a blind faith in the power and virtue of the corporate collective. All quotas can be met. All things are possible. Profits can always be raised. It is only a question of the right attitude. The highest form of personal happiness, we are told, is when the corporation thrives. Corporate retreats are built around this idea of merging the self with the corporate collective. They often have the feel of a religious revival. They are designed to whip up emotions. Office managers and sales staffs are given inspirational talks by sports stars, retired military commanders, billionaires and self-help specialists like Tony Robbins who tell them, in essence, the impossible is always possible. And when this proves not to be true, it is we who are the problem. We simply have to try harder.


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By no icon, January 8, 2011 at 9:00 am Link to this comment

So if it’s bad, it’s gotta be Maoist/Stalinist too.
This problem is capitalistic in nature.
No wonder why you guys aren’t going anywhere.

* Profoundly absurd how this piece is drenched in McCarthyite rhetoric. But this is
by-product of latent American programming, a programming that is, no doubt,
full of blissful happy smiles smile

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By Gordy, August 3, 2009 at 6:20 am Link to this comment

Shepharad, I am interested in the issue of ‘the means to the end’.  An environment where everyone can be ‘real’ is a condition of the ideal world we should presumably be working toward. 

It seems to me that in general the means promotes more of the same means, not the stated end.  Lies promote more lies, hostility promotes retaliatory hostility, oppression promotes rebellion, which promotes more oppression. 

Emotional honesty means, I cry out in horror when I see cruelty, and then it will be that much harder for anyone hearing this cry to justify cruelty. 

Of course, one must acknowledge that cruelty has its own power over people and is not easily dispersed by naked compassion in every situation.  But I think that loathing and torturing the torturer is an outright victory for torture. 

If everyone is acting to a script, whether that script is corporate, religious, ideological… we will collectively lose our sense of reality - I agree with your husband.  I don’t think that cunning silver-tongued politicians, priests and CEOs will ever by sinning create a world of purity.  By pursuing power they will not create a world of gentleness.  By forcing conformity they will not create a world of self-expression.  By forcing pleasant gestures and on-message empty talk they will not being about a world of honesty. 

The consolation is that this fundamentally skewed view will always be self-undermining, even though the advance of technology seems to threaten to bring about an eternal dominion…  I just think their own stupidity will always collapse it eventually. 

I have endured false corporate culture first-hand, so I have personal reasons to be interested in the topic, but I also relate it to this wider idea of the direction we are going in as a species; the need for grounding in reality in order to go in the right direction.  The human reality is found in an unaffected heart.

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By Sepharad, August 2, 2009 at 10:28 pm Link to this comment

Gordy, You’re right that my example of false loud laughing is different than sucking up whatever needs to be sucked up and putting on a pleasant expression while you’re doing it. The false loud laughter, according to the doc, fools the brain into creating seratonin and other pain-dulling chemicals.

I grew up in a house where expressing one’s emotions was the basic condition. Yelling, laughing, crying, arguing, hugging. Husband grew up in a coldly intellectual environment where lips were pursed and feelings controlled or else.

As an investigative journalist I had to learn to put my own feelings on the backburner and figure out how I had to behave to get information in a variety of circumstances and among different sorts of people. No longer a journalist, I’ve been much happier being openly myself and expressing whatever emotions happen to be present. 

As a young rebellious man, my husband quickly learned that expressing one’s emotions was healthier, better for the brain, and forged a bond with reality that is endlessly useful and imparts a basic sense of freedom.

So in our household the normal weather is yelling, laughing, arguing, overt affection, crying when needed. This has made it easier to get through some very rough patches—both economic and illnesses—probably because being real automatically brings a sense of proportion. I.e., yeah, this bitter really sucks and I hate it but it’s an aberration outweighed by the better.

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By bogi666, August 2, 2009 at 10:00 am Link to this comment

This is the Corporations group think mentality, based on yes men and the 3 month quarterly report cycle. Rummy, used it clumsily and was lauded my the MSM for his refreshing insight. Known known’s, unknown known’s,.... AND SO FORTH. Team player is a must at corporations and the education fraternity pushes it so that the professors can reap the benefits of talking at corporate retreats for pay. Vince Lombardi the football coach was the favorite in the 1960’s and 70’s. Molding a society in the image of a football coach, now that’s real class America. What a country, USA, forget philosophers like Christ, Buddha, Mohamed and go for the coach.

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By Tim Moon, August 2, 2009 at 4:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The critique of this “Law of Attraction” is important. I’ve heard too many people quote it as if it were settled science and entirely factual. It’s interesting to put it in the perspective of using the “Law of Attraction” to justify why people are poor or suffering.

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By Inherit The Wind, August 1, 2009 at 7:42 pm Link to this comment

When the roof is leaking, I’m going to put a bucket under the drip until the rain stops and I can go up and fix the roof. I’m not going to stand under the hole in the ceiling with a big grin on my face and embrace the rain. If I want rain, I can go outdoors. If I want to come in out of the rain, I’m going to fix the roof because changing my attitude towards it won’t accomplish anything.
***********************************************

ROFLMAO!  Well put, Mark!  IOW, you are getting screwed and all you are getting for it is a kiss.  No loyalty, no faithfulness, just screwed…and told it’s YOUR fault if you don’t like it.

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By Mark E. Smith, August 1, 2009 at 10:55 am Link to this comment

Gordy writes, “You can train like a yogi to become capable of altering your normal emotional and physiological reactions to situations, but if everyone did this just to be good corporate drones it would be kind of monstrous.”

Well said, Gordy, and I totally agree with everything in your comment.

Voting for a candidate you know is committed to wars of aggression, requires distancing yourself from the victims. That emotional distancing from reality is necessary in order to function in a fascist society. Even if it was healthy for the person doing it, which I do not believe that it is, it isn’t healthy for the victims or the planet. Reality sucks, but we’re not going to bring about change by denying it, ignoring it, or justifying it to ourselves.

When the roof is leaking, I’m going to put a bucket under the drip until the rain stops and I can go up and fix the roof. I’m not going to stand under the hole in the ceiling with a big grin on my face and embrace the rain. If I want rain, I can go outdoors. If I want to come in out of the rain, I’m going to fix the roof because changing my attitude towards it won’t accomplish anything.

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By john kurmann, August 1, 2009 at 7:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have a lot of respect for Hedges’ work, but he’s gotten things all mixed up this time around. He’s dead-on with his critique of corporate psychological manipulation using delusional positivism, but he’s conflated that with what I think is the genuinely-beneficial new field called positive psychology—and then he’s gone on to further conflate that with the “wishful thinking” folks who believe in “the Law of Attraction.” Though I wouldn’t be surprised if corporations are using some elements of positive psychology to “motivate” and produce conformity among their employees, and they may even occasionally hire academics associated with positive psychology as consultants and/or presenters, this doesn’t mean positive psychology is a servant to corporate greed. I highly recommend Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom to learn what positive psychology is really about. Positive psychology is most definitely not the same as Norman Vincent Peale’s “positive thinking,” either.

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By Gordy, August 1, 2009 at 6:25 am Link to this comment

Shepharad, I have heard that laughter therapy does indeed work, but I think that this is something slightly different from what Night-Gaunt is talking about, which is a pervasive chronic falsification of emotion. 

If you want to cry but repress it you will get a headache.  Suppressed rage is bad for the cardiovascular system.  You can train like a yogi to become capable of altering your normal emotional and physiological reactions to situations, but if everyone did this just to be good corporate drones it would be kind of monstrous. 

What is important is to prioritize the facts over rhetoric: there’s a rhetoric of ‘it’s good to be natural’ and there’s a rhetoric of ‘that is fucking hippy-talk, shut up and make that sales-call’.  But the facts are, it seems, that the body-mind is somewhat of a holistic system, but one with great in-built tolerances.  Humans already do a lot of stuff that you can label ‘unnatural’ without suffering apparent harm.  There is no perfect lifestyle - whatever lifestyle you can construct will have trade-offs, though some are better than others.  And as a general rule, it is healthier to be able to express oneself without reserve, among trusted friends, rather than lying and politicking among rials.

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By elisalouisa, July 31, 2009 at 10:43 pm Link to this comment

Night-Gaunt: I was for Obama way in the beginning when most Democrats were on the line waiting to see if he had a chance. Naive person that I was his rhetoric
convinced me that he was sincere about change.  Ousted Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich   promised change, no more corruption, during his campaign for governor. Of course, things got worse when he was elected. Blagojevich and Obama were friends and may still be friends. Change has not come to Illinois or the country.
It did seem for awhile that the middle class did stand a chance of being a permanent fixture in this country and perhaps in the world. That is a thing of the past.
I did read “The Handmaid’s Tale”. It struck home with me for more than one reason. Found it difficult to continue reading while at the same time turning page after page. It made me cherish the freedom that I have.

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By Sepharad, July 31, 2009 at 10:09 pm Link to this comment

Inherit and cyrena, the people who put you both throught hell were was worse than Moonies and Scientologists. They at least have the excuse of being loony. The people who screwed you both probably think they were being clever and Darwinian, when the true designation is closer to sociopath.

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By Inherit The Wind, July 31, 2009 at 8:36 pm Link to this comment

Cyrena:

I won’t ask how you bore it—you did it because you had to.  They hold the ultimate card: Feeding your family, keeping a roof over their heads and clothes on their backs.  So you endure.

I KNEW we were all in trouble when all the managers were asked, as an “exercise”, to describe their employees’ effectiveness and issues, and then to design an amelioration plan.  As the “Motivational Consultant” was constantly running to the CEO, we knew HE was using this to try to identify problem employees to axe. The dishonesty was blatant and even the dimmest of our group saw through it.  We KNEW were walking a fine line to comply with this game but to protect people we needed to get the job done, even if they weren’t perfect.

What pissed us all off was that the new owners not only thought they were SO clever, they thought we were too dumb to see through it.

I think the most aggravating thing is that people who are better off than you are, are trying to squeeze extra dollars off your back by these tricks so THEY can live higher on the hog.  Like the CEOs paid bonuses of millions without getting their companies even profitable.  A pattern of fear and conditioning.

Sheesh, it sounds just like the Moonies or Scientology!

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By Sepharad, July 31, 2009 at 1:45 pm Link to this comment

Night Gaunt, insincere expressions of happiness do work. My internist told me one way to cope with severe chronic pain (in addition to appropriate pills that don’t do much but take the edge off) was to laugh out loud hard and noisily several times as if you mean it, even though you don’t, and keep it up until the pain recedes somewhat. I was skeptical but tried it, and it works. Really. Trouble is it’s hard to do in public—people look at you as if you were about to start twirling knives in their direction. (It also unsettled to my horse, at first, but now she takes it as just another oddity insane humans are prone to do.)

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By cyrena, July 31, 2009 at 1:23 pm Link to this comment

ITW writes:

•  “I guess it’s a blessing I had to deal with this for less than 6 months.  Hedges’ story was about people who had to deal with it for YEARS—and about unprincipled cheating to fire somebody.  That is SO fuckin’ stupid.”

You’re right ITW, it IS a blessing that you didn’t have to deal with this for long. I’m among the crowd that Chris references who dealt with it for years, back in the heyday of this corporate formation, when I was still relatively young, and therefore naïve to much of this type of brainwashing and manipulation.
The problem for many people like me, (in similar corporate formats) is that it took a while to figure it out, (because the changes played out over time) and by the time we figured it out, (in the mid 80’s) we’d already invested a considerable amount of time, (because back in the day, most of the working/semi professional class stayed at the same company for their entire ‘careers’) and there weren’t many other options. In other words, by then, it meant starting over somewhere else at a time when the companies were offering fewer and fewer benefits and the starting (and ending) pay grades/salaries were going down, rather than keeping up with the cost of living.

Anyway, I saw my fair share of the unprincipled cheating to fire somebody, and eventually became a victim of the same myself, after over 25 years. And for me, it DID ‘become’ a blessing, but that took a while, not to mention some serious hardship before the silver lining of the thing became recognizable.

As for the unions…you couldn’t be more correct. When I first went to work for my former corporate master, the Teamsters were attempting to unionize my group of workers. We were the only group not represented by a union. When I left the company 26 years later, (and this remains true today) that group of workers (representing about 37% of the total non-management employee pool) had been prevented from unionizing as a result of the campaigns that management always employed anytime there was the potential of that occurring.

At ‘the end’ (post 9/11) the commercial airline industry as a whole, shed nearly a half million jobs. My former company shed more than all of the others combined, specifically those without the union protection, and most of low-level management. They also collected the majority of both the taxpayer bailouts that were used to bail out the airline industry after 9/11.

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By Night-Gaunt, July 31, 2009 at 11:48 am Link to this comment

It has also been found that forcing people to act happy when the environment says otherwise is also deleterious for good health. Emotional pressure puts a strain on your body and it wears it out and damages its rhythm creating a suppression of the immune system and interruption of sleep further damaging the system and bringing about even more chance of debilitation through accident and disease.

But then as Paul Volker said they want the rest of us not of the upper classes to be the poor class. Short lifespan and early death and make way for the young and strong to play out their vitality of youth in the military/police or in the general labor force like their Good Old Days. Then die old before their time while the rich live long happy lives enjoying the fruits of our labor. Remember the middle class only came into existence here in 1945 and reached its greatest heights in 1980. After that a slow but deliberately induced decline. Just as the PTB want it go. They are still succeeding even now under Obama one of their more recent converts to the cause. Since he is one of them now.

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By cyrena, July 31, 2009 at 11:46 am Link to this comment

OK..So, Chris truly annoys me from time to time, but this is one of his best pieces in a very long time; at least in my own opinion. (and I’ve always appreciated the bulk of Mr. Hedges work anyway, even if he does seem to suffer from bipolar disorder and/ or OCD).

And yes, this really does say it all. It’s the same thing Oprah Winfrey was pushing for a while there in some book or viedo called “The Secret”. They even go into this Law of Attraction thing. Now I realize that it is primarily my former co-workers who are most inclined to be taken in by this ‘applied psychology’, and the UNreality that one can ‘think oneself happy’ no matter what the reality of their situation is. This is EXACTLY what most employees of The Corporation have been hearing for decades. It’s corporate brainwashing of the masses. And if for any reason a ‘team member’ (aka employee) is deemed to be uncooperative (won’t do something illegal or unethical) then they are eventually ‘weeded out’.

Yep, we had the mandatory meetings with the Motivational Speakers, and I remember thinking each and every time, that the experience (being a corporate lackey) was just an updated version of the plantation.

This is also the same mentality exhibited by the Bible Thumpers, brainwashed by tales from the netherworld and other fantasies.

Good work Chris.

I’m going to share this with my brainwashed former colleagues, to see if maybe they might be starting to figure this out now. (It’s been at least 30 years) I doubt it though.

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By Bill, July 30, 2009 at 9:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Chris! Thank you for this highly accessible and informative piece. When I left the US nearly a quarter century ago, this oppressively, deceptively “happy” corporate culture had already taken hold, using the jingoist language of the self-help and new age spiritual movements, and cynically twisting it for the self-serving aims of ownership/management, very often to the great detriment of employees and consumers. I saw it in board meetings, training seminars, and in management relations with employees in the office. Although I have not been directly involved in the corporate world for many years, your description of the current extreme state of affairs appears consistent with a progressive path of evolution.

I now hold English language seminars and discussion groups in Asia, attended mostly by retired professionals who want to deepen their understanding of world events, cultures and societies, and maintain English language fluency. My groups are highly motivated; most participants arrive with their own research in hand, ready to rumble. Your article provides an easily recognizable example of predatory corporate/elitist culture, and sharp insights into very closely related, all-pervasive problems of global imperialism/corporatism, propaganda and subliminal messaging, torture and other extreme forms of mental conditioning, and more—what I’ve called in my seminars, “modern social engineering.” It furthers my efforts to bring together a number of books, articles, and documentaries I’ve collected, and many of my own past experiences into a cohesive whole, allowing me to provide a much fuller, more visceral experience for my groups.

You have a large following abroad, from outside the US media thought bubble. Keep up the great work.

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By Night-Gaunt, July 30, 2009 at 12:52 pm Link to this comment

Seigleman‘s experiments weren’t useless or senseless? They actually found out something that is important and we should all know. Certainly more useful than squirting makeup into the eyes of restrained animals by far. Would rather animals be used than people. Himmler wanted to protect the animals too so he used humans as did those who agreed with him.

Have you read “Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein? It starts out with the experiments that were tried to show that with enough torture the mind could be made pliable for new ways of doing things. It failed and ruined many lives. MK Ultra was one of its names. Canadian doctor named Cameron was the director.

Don’t forget there was a large contingent of people in the USA that supported eugenics and some probably still do. Only they call it genetics now.

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By Mark E. Smith, July 30, 2009 at 12:39 pm Link to this comment

Gordy writes: “Once again, again, again, Mark, I am not justifying the experiments.”

To say that there is some good in them, IS to justify the experiments.

Gordy asks, “Are you a Primitivist?  I read about them recently - they are sort of neo-Luddites?”

Ideologically, Gordy, I’m an anti-civilizationist. I think a living tree is more valuable than anything that can be made from it, and anything we wish to make should use only dead wood and then not too much so that there is enough left for mulch. But I do think the Luddites got a bad rap. Sort of like folks who oppose globalization because it cost them their jobs. As always, I stick with the old, “first do no harm.”

Gordy writes, “I feel that the Whole contains the relative; science is the study of the relativistic interrelationships and blameless when not used for eeevil.”

If it can be accomplished without doing any harm, I’d agree that it isn’t evil. But I disagree with the relativistic position that harm is permissible if it is for the greater good, unless there is UNANIMOUS CONSENSUS on what the greater good is. 

Gordy writes, “You ‘separate’ yourself as an individual in order to act and have a place in the world, do you not?”

No. I belong to no clan, tribe, cult, or ‘ism, I existed for much of my life as a homeless person, and I’ve traveled extensively and lived very simply (you might even call it primitively) for long periods of time in fourth world countries. What place I may have in the world is purely accidental.

Gordy asks, “Do you not have a mental picture of ‘Gordy’?  Is this any different from scientific observation?”

Yes, I do have a mental picture of Gordy. I imagine somebody who considers themself to be highly ethical and moral but who, if told by a doctor in a lab coat that it was in the service of science, would administer painful electric shocks to a stranger.

I’m maladjusted. In the experiment where everyone else in the room agrees to something that obviously isn’t true (that a long line is shorter than a short line, for example), I’d stick to my guns and go by what I see. If asked to administer shocks to a stranger in the service of science, I’d tell the doctor in charge of the experiment where to shove it and walk out. I believe that I have as much right to my own authentic emotions, whatever they may be, as I have to breathe.

In a fascist society, a person who opposes torture unequivocally, no matter what justifications may be given, is maladjusted, anti-social, a nonconformist, mentally ill, even a traitor.

I think that opposing something means not supporting it. I am opposed to wars of aggression, genocide, torture, and crimes against humanity. So I won’t vote for anyone who has ever voted for or voted to fund wars of aggression, genocide, torture, or crimes against humanity. Voting for something, or even voting in an election where that something is the only possible outcome no matter who is elected, is NOT opposing it, it is supporting it.

You may call it juvenile, black-and-white thinking, but I call it common sense. You may call compromising one’s integrity pragmatism, I call it selling out.

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By Gordy, July 30, 2009 at 10:47 am Link to this comment

Once again, again, again, Mark, I am not justifying the experiments. 

Are you a Primitivist?  I read about them recently - they are sort of neo-Luddites? 

I feel that the Whole contains the relative; science is the study of the relativistic interrelationships and blameless when not used for eeevil. 

You ‘separate’ yourself as an individual in order to act and have a place in the world, do you not?  Do you not have a mental picture of ‘Gordy’?  Is this any different from scientific observation?

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By Gordy, July 30, 2009 at 9:18 am Link to this comment

Yeah Rgyle, argument can sure bring out my violent side sometimes, I gotta admit.  You can be totally right but still totally wrong in that sense.

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By Mark E. Smith, July 30, 2009 at 9:13 am Link to this comment

Gordy writes, “The experiments prove scientifically what many of us could already tell from observation, but science is like that.”

Yes, much of science is exactly like that: unnecessary, pointless, meaningless, and accomplishing a lot of harm and little or no good.

Calling torture “science” does not justify it.

Calling torture “medical experiments” does not justify it.

There is no benefit to humanity in torture; it lessens the humanity of everyone who exists in a world where it can not only happen, but be called “science.”

I’m sure you consider yourself a good person, Gordy, and I believe that you wouldn’t countenance torture if it didn’t call itself “science.”

As I said, science is the business of taking things out of context so as to misunderstand them better.

The dictionary defines “science” as knowledge gained through observation and experiment. If we already know that extended torture can break the spirit of animals and people, no new knowledge is gained from experiments to prove how quickly and efficiently it can be done—that is mere technology, not science.

Having credentials and titles like the Nazi, Japanese, and U.S. doctors who practice torture, doesn’t make them scientists and doctors—they are still torturers and they are not adding to our knowledge base or benefitting humanity or the world. An experiment to show how slowly you can be bled to death might benefit military science, the “science” of killing, but destroying life for academic prestige and credit is evil.

I’m sure that you want to be a good person, Gordy, and it is a pity that they blinded you with science, so that you can justify unmitigated evil, dignify unwarranted sadism, and continue to defend Seligman’s learned helplessness and his positive psychology as being worthwhile or containing some good. Torturing animals and people is not good, and turning a blind eye to it by imagining that there is some good in evil, only helps perpetuate evil.

It was scientifically proven long ago that if you have authority figures in white lab coats ordering it, people will knowingly inflict painful electric shocks on other people in the name of science. In other words, all you have to do to get people to commit crimes against humanity, is to call it science. And that’s a scientific fact.

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By Rgyle, July 30, 2009 at 8:33 am Link to this comment

Gordy (and Mark): Enjoying your discussion but no need to get so personal. Is this really personal after all? Any of it? Humanity would simply love each other if the personal concerns were dropped.

Yes, Gordy, Nisargadatta is absolutely THE medicine for right now. Far more effective than belief and positivity and other illusion/delusion addictions. Have to really want to hear what he says to benefit most from it. Time’s lessons increase the will to understand, no?

Just a few years ago no community blog like this could be found.

Byron Katie walked into the room and said “I know you all love me, you just haven’t realized it yet.” Good start to the meeting!

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By Gordy, July 30, 2009 at 3:40 am Link to this comment

Mark, you are ranting away, calling me a Fascist without justification, attributing views to me that I have not expressed, and STILL failing to understand or accurately represent the experiment. 

The experiments prove scientifically what many of us could already tell from observation, but science is like that.  What they prove is that the proactive consciousness that seeks to avoid pain or bad conditions is deactivated when relatively primitive (and therefore adaptive, if that sets you off less than ‘good’) neurological structures decide that the pain has been around for a while, that attempts to act have not changed it, and that it would be energy-efficient to give in.  The fact that the dogs’ condition afterward bore a striking resemblance to human chronic depressives is also a useful piece of information for scientists.  It tells us that depression is not all about personality issues in the neocortex, but probably deep into the limbic system as well. 

I am not in Dr Seligman’s shoes but I feel that I would not in a million years subject dogs to that kind of suffering in the name of science.  But for you to assume that he must be motivated by pure evil… you are apparently more interested in some good vs evil narrative in your own mind than you are in reality.  You don’t know Seligman, neither do I, scientists have been doing animal experimentation for as long as there has been science, so if what you are saying is true then most scientists are evil.  If that is your assumption make it plain, but I don’t agree with it.  I kinda think that it’s not so black-and-white… 

I am staunchly against torture and the eugenics policies of Nazi Germany.  It makes me laugh to even have to say this. 

You need to close your runaway mouth for a second and reflect on how much you have wrongly assumed about me, and how much blah and bile you have wasted on me trying to lecture me for opinions that I never expressed.  I get the impression that you are stuck in the mode of fighting against an enemy - I suppose you get a kick out of it - and when there is no enemy there you just imagine that the person in front of you is your enemy. 

Mark, I’m the kind of person who steps out the way of pigeons and feels that prison is inhumane never mind torture - you are waaay wrong about me, and you need to realise that you have made a mistake so you can learn from it.  The art of listening is more important to world peace and harmony than arguing the ‘correct’ left-wing view with aggression and evangelical zeal.

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By Mark E. Smith, July 29, 2009 at 8:28 pm Link to this comment

Part One of 2-part comment)

You really don’t get it, Gordy.

Here’s wikipedia on Japanese WWII war crimes:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_war_crimes

And here’s a New York Times article from 1995:

http://www.nytimes.com/1995/03/17/world/unmasking-horror-a-special-report-japan-confronting-gruesome-war-atrocity.html

“The research was kept secret after the end of the war in part because the United States Army granted immunity from war crimes prosecution to the doctors in exchange for their data.”

And here’s a link to Robert J. Lifton’s book, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide.

And now here’s you, in the same fascist tradition, seeing something as a scientific experiment, where I see abuse of animals, torture of animals, that had no other use than torture of humans.

Did it show how dogs could escape? No. Of course not. Yet the dogs repeatedly tried to escape. Only AFTER their spirits had been broken and they no longer tried to escape, were the conditions changed so that escape from the shocks was possible AND NOT BEFORE. The purpose of the experiment was to show that the dogs could be broken and it is being used now to break humans.

Yes, anything can be broken. Is breaking things, people, or animals, science? Progress?

What we call science is the business of taking things out of context so as to misunderstand them better.

What we call objectivity is the loss of empathy.

That anyone who calls themselves human could look at the abuse of animals and see a “scientific experiment” rather than abuse of animals, is due to viewpoint or frame.

Some people have an inhumane or fascist viewpoint or frame, so they can look at needlessly imposed agony and suffering and call it science.

Some people can look at the breaking of the human or animal spirit and call it science—and even say that it has “a good side.” The good side, in your view, is that “it enables animals and people people to maintain some emotional balance and contentment even while stuck in dire circumstances. If unhappy people did not adapt in this way, and genuinely had no way out that they were able to pull off, they would go insane or kill themselves.”

But it is nothing new. Similar methods have been used for thousands of years to break the spirits of women, slaves, and other captives so that they wouldn’t try to escape.

(continued)

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By Mark E. Smith, July 29, 2009 at 8:27 pm Link to this comment

(Part Two of 2-part comment)

What is “good” about a person not going insane or killing themself while being subjected to agonizing torture? Do you think it is “good” that they will have to experience every agony that our torturers can inflict without escaping into insanity or death?

Of course someone who thought torturing animals and breaking their spirits was “science,” would also be the father of positive psychology. That way, those who were tempted to see what he was really doing, would take a more positive attitude try to find something good in it, as you do.

But there is nothing good in it. It is pure unadulterated evil. There is no benefit to animals or to humanity in “scientifically” breaking their spirits. And if you can’t see that, if you’re afraid to look at it and see it for what it is, all the enlightened philosophers in the world can’t help you.

Happiness consultants won’t stop a depression and they won’t stop corporate destruction and pollution of the planet, torture, wars of aggression, or crimes against humanity either. All the happiness consultants can do is lull you to sleep, in the Gurdjievian sense, so that you won’t be “disturbed” or disturb others with reality or truth.

Question: What do you call a society that has developed and produced weapons of mass destruction that could destroy the entire planet many times over, and that they cannot safely dispose of?

Answer: Civilized.

Question: What do you call doctors who torture animals and humans?

Answer: Civilized.

Question: What do you call people who have lost their humanity and whose spirit has been broken? Who cannot even name torture for what it is and instead call it “science” because they believe that there is nothing they can do about it?

Answer: Civilized.

Seligman wasn’t a “doctor” or a “scientist.” He was just a bad person like the Nazi doctors and the Japanese doctors. He may have been a sadist like serial killers who start out torturing animals, but was able to make a career of it in our society. Or he may have been a fascist, like the nuclear weapons engineers who are just doing their jobs without caring about the consequences.

There is such a thing as responsible medicine and such a thing as social responsibility. Try these:

http://www.pcrm.org/
http://www.psr.org/home.cfm?id=home

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By spectral, July 29, 2009 at 7:36 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/07/28-10

George Monibot:
“American conservatism could be described as a movement of denialogues, people whose ideology is based on disavowing physical realities. This applies to their views on evolution, climate change, foreign affairs and fiscal policy. The Vietnam war would have been won, were it not for the pinko chickens at home. Saddam Hussein was in league with al-Qaida. Everyone has an equal chance of becoming CEO. Universal healthcare is a communist plot. Segregation wasn’t that bad. As one of George Bush’s aides said: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

Blatant lies, perfidity and evilness of ruling class are underlying cause of all these anomalies what C.H. describing in its articles. For how long? As long as plebs is ready to endure!

You have lunatics like this one, with his pamflet:
http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa640.pdf
People like he creates corporate policies, brainwash employees, “create own reality”, and, justifying unequality. But they have no shame, they will shot at us, tomorrow, if they get the chance. 

Here is the answer from Simon Johnson:
http://baselinescenario.com/2009/07/25/inequality-will-wilkinson-paul-krugman/#more-4475

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By Gordy, July 29, 2009 at 5:57 pm Link to this comment

Here Mark, if you can be bothered to check the facts I have made it even easier for you; you don’t even have to google it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness

Kay Johnson, I just read your post and I feel it was insightful and useful.  I think The Secret is absolute poison.  Belief in it seems to me to be classifiable as some sort of mental illness. 

Other good posts here as well; I liked the DOD gossip from NAW’lins. 

I still feel that although Chris has written an important article here, he has failed to nail the exact problem because his religious background involves a strong belief in free will.  I want to bring this into the discussion if I can, and I invite respondees to read my earlier post of July 29 at 10:45 am. 

Oh, and Rgyle, I am well familiar with most of the authors you mention - Nisargadatta Maharaj should be far more well-known than he is and now that I think about it he has illuminating things to say on this very issue.

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By Gordy, July 29, 2009 at 4:00 pm Link to this comment

Mark, you are barely paying attention to what I am saying - you are just using it as fuel for your own train of thought. 

I expressed no opinion on the morality of animal experimentation or of Dr Seligman.  I was not ‘defending him’.  You are projecting all of this. 

Try asking a question sometime instead of assuming so much.

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By Mark E. Smith, July 29, 2009 at 3:24 pm Link to this comment

RonTruth, I think that other prison is Baghram.

And Gordy, I don’t appreciate your insinuations that I am emotional, irresponsible, untruthful and dishonest. No matter how you phrase them, those are ad hominem attacks.

RonTruth is correct that we have been using Seligman’s learned helplessness techniques in our prisons. They are torture techniques, and using them on dogs was cruelty to animals. Not to mention that anyone with any sense knew that the results were preordained.

They were also misinterpreted. The dogs realized their true situation. So do some people. Other people, the more gullible ones, use positive psychology to avoid thinking about the torture techniques that are being using on innocent people in our name and on our dime, for no constructive purpose whatsoever. You can’t get useful information through torture, as people being tortured will say anything they can to try to get it to stop. At least three different prisoners confessed to being Osama bin Laden, and none of them looked anything like him.

It is those who are adaptable and who try to “maintain some emotional balance and contentment even while…” innocent people are being tortured and killed in their name, paid for by their tax money, and avoid thinking about it too much because it is a very negative subject and might depress them or upset their equilibrium, who are the fascists responsible for all the evil in the world.

Seligman tortured animals. His techniques are now being used to torture people. And you, Gordy, are unemotional about it and rebuke anyone who gets too emotional for not being balanced and contented.

All that is needed for evil to prevail, is for those who know about it to remain unemotional and contented instead of emotional and angry.

You can call it positive psychology, but before we made torture and wars of aggression U.S. national policy, we used to call it being a “good German.” Pastor Niemoller, before they came for him, was a good example. As long as it was only happening to other people, it wasn’t his problem. By the time it happened to him, it was too late.

I am emotional. I am also responsible, truthful, and honest. I will not remain emotionally balanced and content while my country is committing crimes against humanity. Anyone who does has blood on their hands and all the positive psychology in the world won’t wash it away.

Amazing that you are more concerned that I might have misrepresented somebody who abused animals, than about the FACT that he abused animals, or that his techniques are now being used on humans. So watch the game on TV, have a beer, and keep thinking that you are sane, balanced, and honest. The fantasy-based community will agree with you, and you may be able to avoid facing reality for a long time. But it is still there. And the chickens WILL come home to roost.

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By Rontruth, July 29, 2009 at 2:09 pm Link to this comment

Ifidler,
I don’t know what Hedges knows or doesn’t know about happiness. I would guess that, in his personal life he might have a good deal of happiness. But, in his article, I think he is using the “happiness” aspect of the BS that corporate leaders and their talented mouthpieces, the ones who make people feel good about themselves, then by the use of, I think it was Carl Rodgers’ stimulus pairing, causing the perceived reason for feeling good about onesself to shift from real reasons to the truthfully non-existent, pure BS ones that the great corporate masters want you to believe, and me and everyone else that has to come into contact with them.

Personally, I would take every one of the corporate masters of today way, way out into the country, put a hat on their heads, and lock them in a barn full of very smelly,  crap=assed cows, and tell them to use the bucket of warm, soapy water sitting in back of each cow, and wash the cows’ tails.

Oooh. Oh, what a wonderful, sweaty, poopy, urinated on scent of fresh country aroma would permeate those suits and ties. MMMMmmmmoooooOOOOO!

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By rico, suave, July 29, 2009 at 2:03 pm Link to this comment

Attention everyone posting on this article:

Gordy is weighing in.

READ EVERY WORD HE SAYS.

I’m serious.

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By rico, suave, July 29, 2009 at 1:58 pm Link to this comment

rontruth:
Sorry I didn’t read your post first. Funny story, but still don’t know what Hedges knows about happiness.

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By Rontruth, July 29, 2009 at 1:46 pm Link to this comment

It’s interesting that, somehow, the learned helplessness of dogs experiment, and the resultant non-resonsiveness of the “subjects,” was, only in the past few years or so, actually PRACTICED on unaccused human beings at Guantanamo, and Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and that other prison in Afghanistan. I forget it’s name.

I wonder if the US trained and/or hired torturers had learned anything from the dog learned helplessness experiments, or perhaps from Alberto Gonzales. You might remember he was the torture master in the learning of how to torture as much as Operation 40 members had learned how to assassinate presidents after all those failures at trying to assassinate Fidel Castro. They turned their guns on an easier target: President Kennedy when he did not, in their CIA/Mafia eyes do enough to get back the gambling casino’s, prostitution rings and drug trade in Havana.

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By Gordy, July 29, 2009 at 1:31 pm Link to this comment

Mark, your emotional reaction to my post is totally unwarranted - nothing that I said was in any way justifying subjecting people to bad conditions. 

Please look up the experiment - you are misrepresenting Dr Seligman’s work.  Regardless of what you think of his agenda and career overall, you should be responsible, truthful and honest.  This is ‘Truthdig’ after all.

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By Mark E. Smith, July 29, 2009 at 12:40 pm Link to this comment

Gordy writes: “Mark E Smith, that is not how the ‘learned helplessness’ experiments were conducted: the dogs were not supposed to ‘escape’ like Steve McQueen, just move to a different area of the floor of their cell.  When they were repeatedly zapped for a long period with no possibility of evading pain they ceased trying to even when, later on, obvious opportunities were presented to them.”

They were still in cages, still in the laboratory, still surrounded by the people who caged them and inflicted pain on them. The “opportunities” were NOT real opportunities. It is like a cop telling a criminal to run so that he can shoot him in the back for trying to escape.

Gordy: “Dogs, like people, hold out hope for a while and eventually acclimatize to and accept their undesirable situation.  It is like an abused slave one day finding himself unshackled and free, yet he patiently awaits his master because all initiative and autonomy has been beaten out of him.”

Many abused slaves managed to escape, but were tracked down and killed. Others did manage to escape, but you had to not only weigh the odds, but also the repercussions to other slaves. In many circumstances if one person escapes, everyone else is punished.

Gordy: “This mechanism has a good side as well obviously - it enables animals and people people to maintain some emotional balance and contentment even while stuck in dire circumstances.  If unhappy people did not adapt in this way, and genuinely had no way out that they were able to pull off, they would go insane or kill themselves.”

I can’t believe you actually said that. I suppose that if you were in a secret prison being raped and tortured daily, you would “maintain some emotional balance and contentment,” rather than going insane or killing yourself. Personally, I’d rather go crazy or commit suicide than “adapt.”

Gordy: “However, the notion that the whole of society is somewhat like a prison deserves some consideration.”

Yes, it does. Once the commons was privatized and we were cut off from the free food supply that nature provided, we became domesticated animals. Many who refused to submit were killed, while those who were willing to “adapt” and could “maintain some emotional balance and contentment,” were allowed to live. But no matter how well adapted we are, it is a fantasy to imagine that we are free.

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By Gordy, July 29, 2009 at 12:15 pm Link to this comment

Mark E Smith, that is not how the ‘learned helplessness’ experiments were conducted: the dogs were not supposed to ‘escape’ like Steve McQueen, just move to a different area of the floor of their cell.  When they were repeatedly zapped for a long period with no possibility of evading pain they ceased trying to even when, later on, obvious opportunities were presented to them. 

Dogs, like people, hold out hope for a while and eventually acclimatize to and accept their undesirable situation.  It is like an abused slave one day finding himself unshackled and free, yet he patiently awaits his master because all initiative and autonomy has been beaten out of him. 

This mechanism has a good side as well obviously - it enables animals and people people to maintain some emotional balance and contentment even while stuck in dire circumstances.  If unhappy people did not adapt in this way, and genuinely had no way out that they were able to pull off, they would go insane or kill themselves. 

However, the notion that the whole of society is somewhat like a prison deserves some consideration.

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By Ed Harges, July 29, 2009 at 11:17 am Link to this comment

If these happiness consultants truly believe that happiness has nothing to do with external reality, but is only a product of one’s attitude — which can be fixed — then why do they need to “fix” the employees? Why don’t they “fix” the employers? There are fewer of them, so it would be a smaller job.

If corporate employers report dissatisfaction with their workers or with their sales figures, let them hire consultants to fix their own attitudes, rather than those of the workers. Let the happiness consultants train the corporate masters to be delighted with their workers. In turn, the workers will be happy, because they work for such nice people.

But gee, since this is never tried, you’d almost be tempted to think that the corporate happiness consultants don’t really believe in what they’re selling….

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By Rontruth, July 29, 2009 at 11:15 am Link to this comment

rfidler:
Did you read my posting? I am a non-corporate visually impaired nobody (no comments accepted about how else I might be “impaired”), who is trying to make people like you laugh. Laughing can help clear one’s mind so that they can become creative and find ways of helping dig themselves out of economic turmoil. Just a thought.

God bless.

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By rico, suave, July 29, 2009 at 10:57 am Link to this comment

What the fuck does Chris Hedges know about happiness? He’s in the misery industry for pete’s sake!

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By Rontruth, July 29, 2009 at 10:16 am Link to this comment

It was way back in the mid-1970’s. I worked for a Japanese zipper company in a Denver warehouse. It was before I decided that low-paid professional social work was a heck of a lot better than low-paid, back-breaking work was.

While working in the zipper warehouse, I was asked to attend a week-long winter garment show in Las Vegas, Nevada. While there, some of the zipper company sales reps. put on a skit in which they were unshaven, said they had spent the night in jail, and had just been let out. They tried to act hung over, and acted stupidly. Everyone felt sorry for them. winter garment manufacturers bought a lot of zippers that week.

With several days left in the “show,” one of the “guys” went out to a real show, and got stone-splashed drunk. He ran up to the front of the large casino showroom, grabbed a microphone from in front of a guitarist in a 70’s rock band, yelled profanities into the mike and out to the whole audience, and the police were called, and he was tossed out.

While he walked away from the entrance to the casino, he stopped along the sidewalk, and in front of everyone, took out his wee-wee and took a pee. The police, who were still inside the casino ballroom, were, at that time, on their way out. He got arrested, and spent the next three days in jail.
This was one of those times when you wished that corporate bigwigs, of which the three brothers (and they were, in fact, real brothers) were considered by the corporate owners of the zipper company to be a part of “the inner circle,” had been able to create a corporate culture in which decency at all levels operated.

But, apparently in today’s corporate culture where the “bigwigs” are given a free handout by the government, while these same bigwigs are now trying to keep real healthcare reform from reaching their employees, and decent wages, are doing much more than the one brother did when he took out his wee-wee and tee-teed on the sidewalk. That is doing #2 on a sidewalk.

Today’s corporate welfare moguls are doing #1 on their own employees and everyone else. I guess you know what #1 is.

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By Night-Gaunt, July 29, 2009 at 9:37 am Link to this comment

Neurologists have found that happy people have an organ in their brain that is working over time for them. Called the rostal Anterior Cingulate Cortex (rACC) which creates the feeling of happiness from all of those natural drugs your body manufactures flooding your system. The more morose and melancholy like myself conversely it is seldom active. It also becomes active for about two years when you find your significant other, it lasts about two years then the bliss shuts off. [Note; I got to feel that for a time, it was a false alarm and I shut that down quickly.] I couldn’t help but smile all of the time and barely felt any physical pain. Just something the security services could use too.*

*In the opening 2 part episode of ST:NG we saw a post world war III quasi-Asian despotic court of Lee Quan in the Euro-Asian country of Alexanregurre in 2083. The gray armored soldiers of the court guard had instant mood/body altering nasal injectors of sophisticated neurochems for every need on and off the battlefield. Along with their wrist guns. Just select, inhale and you are whatever mood you need to be instantly.

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By WriterOnTheStorm, July 29, 2009 at 9:21 am Link to this comment

Forget “Terminator”, we are already surrounded by monstrous machines which have taken over and enslaved us.  The sole purpose of these machines is wealth production, and they pursue that aim with relentless singularity. As these apparatuses advance into ever stronger, more efficient wealth aggregators, the human fuel is used up, and eventually cast off as slag.

The corporate state has emerged as a new mercantile feudalism in which the consumer-cum-vassal pays fealty to the corporation as lord, and all for the dubious privilege of devoting our lives to its welfare.

“Corporate collectivism”. Well done, Chris. Even Frank Luntz would’ve been proud of that one. This is a truly dangerous idea to the disciples of Adam Smith - one that could really throw a wet blanket on all their invisible hand-jobs.

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By Mark E. Smith, July 29, 2009 at 9:04 am Link to this comment

Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, was also responsible for the “learned helplessness” experiments on dogs.

You take a dog, put it in a cage, subject it to electric shocks, and don’t let it escape. After a while, the dog learns that it cannot escape and stops trying. Then you unlock the cage door and the dog still won’t try to escape. See? Now the dog is free but it has “learned helplessness” so it remains in the cage.

Oh yeah? The dog is NOT free. It is still in the laboratory and if it tried to get out of the cage, it would promptly be caught and put right back in. The dog knows that the lab is full of people and that those people put it in the cage. If the dog DID try to escape once the cage was unlocked, it would simply be subjected to more shocks until it either learned helplessness and stopped trying to escape, or died.

Both learned helplessness and positive psychology are nothing more than blaming the victim.

No, you cannot escape a secret torture prison by imagining that you aren’t confined in a secret torture prison or by continuously attempting to escape. Like Seligman’s dogs, you’ll just be subjected to more and more torture until you either stop trying to escape or die. And, by the way, Seligman’s learned helplessness techniques are actually used by American psychologists to break the spirits of (often known to be innocent) prisoners in our secret torture prisons, and this is condoned by the American Psychological Association.

Positive Psychology is a great way to silence dissent because any criticism of the system is deemed negativity.

Great article, Chris. And there are some really good comments, but, as usual, there are some who just don’t get it.

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By Rgyle, July 29, 2009 at 8:14 am Link to this comment

I don’t feel sorry for those who have fallen “victim” to the corporate promise of significance and security in exchange for their soul. How else can they deeply learn about illusion/delusion other than going through it? Then you might find that it’s really you who ultimately put the chains on yourself.

I haven’t done much time in the big corp prison, but did enough to finally get out and find out what’s what for myself. Is it scary being fully responsible for serving life and people well, yet never knowing from where or when the next paycheck is coming? Well, not nearly as scary as being caught in an illusion of security. And even “not knowing the future” is only frightening if I think about it (meaning dwelling on and worrying about it). Worrying is a waste of imagination and time. Get over it as soon as you can.

After 15 years of being totally on my own – freelancing – I have seen real magic happen, meaning frequently getting paid and paying my bills, just in the nick of time. It’s not always that tight – quite unpredictable, actually. But here I am, years later, with food in the frig, work lined up, sun is shining, might rain later, taking some time out to share my experience on this seriously intelligent blog.

Now I’m no “Christian” true believer, but if you need more encouragement, Jesus’ sermon on the mount comes to mind, along with the teachings of Buddha, Lao Tzu, Shankara, Bucky Fuller, Krishnamurti, Nissargadatta Maharaj, Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle. But these beautiful teachings only earn their beauty when for you they become deep learnings, your own direct “felt” realizations. And this, no matter in what challenging situation you may find yourself, you can attend to right now, starting by calming down and getting clear. The truth is revealed when all that is not true is seen clearly.

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By Gordy, July 29, 2009 at 7:45 am Link to this comment

Chris, I agree that positive psychology and self-help culture is used to shift the blame for failure to the individual, when in reality all things are interdependent and ‘blame’ as a concept has no meaning nor even utility, beyond pack-mentality accountability. 

You make the comparison between positive psychology and eugenics, which is a fruitful one.  I have a quibble here though - one about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. 

Eugenics has something true to say about reality and human life - about the genetic quality of future generations and the possibility of deliberately determining this through methods fair or foul.  Likewise, positive psychology should in theory be a legitimate area of study as long as it is not appropriated by today’s Hitlers seeking a moral fig-leaf. 

When science is appropriated for dishonest political ends it poisons both the politics and the science.  There are still remnants of worthwhile science in there though - these should not be ignored: if we encourage integrity in those fields then they can resist false politicisation from within. 

Chris, is your essential objection one concerning the presumed existence of free will which is at the foundation of (as far as I can tell) most of these happiness doctrines?  Because surely as a Christian you believe in free will?  It is the idea that YOU COULD AND SHOULD BE DOING BETTER that is what really oppresses life’s losers, not techniques for and abstract ideas about positive reinforcement and so on.  ‘You could and should be doing better’ is a feeling that comes with a sense of individual responsibility, not with a science of positive psychology.  Corporations could in theory encourage positive thinking without making you feel like the bad guy for not being a happy clapper. 

Please respond - I am most keen to know what you think.  Thanks.

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By elisalouisa, July 29, 2009 at 6:20 am Link to this comment

I too am a believer in unions ITW. Our elected officials in Washington and also our corporations have managed to greatly diminish the union’s bargaining power by bringing cheap labor into our country, be it unskilled, white collar or professional. Bank of America recruited foreign workers while “downsizing.” This is not a haphazard occurrence.

LA County unemployment rate to top 13% according to the Daily News Wire Services updated: 07/28/2009.

There can be no recovery without employment. Did our representatives think of that when they allowed many of our factories to go to China? When I shop with my grandchildren I cannot bear to look at a Schwinn bike because it is from China also Tonka trucks and Radio Flyer wagons. How could something so American, made with pride and precision, giving gainful employment to our people, end up in China?  They may look the same but the quality is not them same. All for profit.
So, you see, it is not just the “happiness” corporation cancer and all that goes with it that is destroying our country. Since many of our corporations, such as GM, who got big tax payer bucks to recover, are now global, I doubt that our poor economy will affect investors, at least not as much as the worker trying to put food on the table. What kind of global poker game is going on? The American worker chip was not played with care. The profit chip is the winning one. Why did Washington not only allow this to happen but was the leader in bringing the present day situation about. It is almost like there is a missing piece to the puzzle. More young people are joining the Armed Forces after graduation because recruiters offer attractive incentives.  It really doesn’t take much to conclude what that missing piece to the puzzle is. . . ..

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By AS, July 29, 2009 at 6:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr. Hedges, I have just completed my reading of your most inspiring 2009 book, when the NYT op-ed columnist, Mr. Cohen, published an article (o7/26/09), quoting Warren Buffett’s optimistic pronouncement that “It’s hard to short America in the long term.”
I could not resist, and had to write a comment by quoting extensively your book: “I find it very difficult to believe that Mr. Cohen could possibly be the author of what reads like an eloquent advertisement for the NYT and its readers to join the “Transformational Positivity-Positive Psychology” movement; after all, its lofty goal is to “spread happiness around the world,” based on the premise that, no matter what the reality is, “optimism can and must become a permanent state of mind.”

According to Chris Hedges’ (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize) new 2009 book, titled “Empire of Illusion-The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle,” such “positive psychology could be (and is being) used (by an army of professional psychologists and Corporations that adopt their ideas), for mass coercion;” this, despite the fact that some philosophers “call such positive illusions ‘life lies,’ that may work for a while but collapse when reality becomes too harsh and intrudes on the dream world…; positive psychology, like all other illusions peddled in the culture encourages people to flee from reality when reality is frightening or depressing.”

Moreover, Mr. Hedges quotes David Jopling’s warning (page 123) of grave moral consequences for a delusional society:”... the range of social, emotional, and personal relations that connect us to others, to the social world, and to our own humanity, are progressively weakened as self-deceptive strategies become progressively entrenched in our behavior and thought.”

Hence, as harsh as our present reality is, the only way to solve our problems, is to see them as they are, no matter how painful that may be.

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By Sepharad, July 28, 2009 at 10:32 pm Link to this comment

Inherit the Wind, It’s even more awful that they were venal and dumb but not dumb enough to get sued. Does the company have any competitors in good enough shape to upgrade their staff and get some of the clients back the idiots lost? Is there some way you could freelance your knowledge? Not knowing exactly what field you’re in I don’t have any more specific ideas—assume you’ve had all the good ideas there are already, anyway.

Only mention the “freelance” because after major frustrations working for a couple of statewide organizations, one public and one not, doing their magazines etc., it became so frustrating—the people we had to go through were idiots and the people who hired them didn’t care that they were but wanted major results anyway—we went out on a limb and started our own magazine. (After, that is, telling the group that what they needed to be doing with their publication, based on reader input to us, was more x and y and less to zero z—z being their favorite thing. They refused. So we said well, we would like to try it on our own because we think it would work and are giving notice. They laughed and said it would fail and we couldn’t have our contracts back if it did. By the end of the second year of publishing we had twice as many readers as they had members.

It was scary. Our two oldest kids were still in 7th and 11th grade, I was pregnant, and we told them—before talking to our clients—that we could put this off till they’d gone through college as we probably wouldn’t make enough to help them a lot even if it worked, but they both said “go for it.” (We did have to give it up after 15 years for something more lucrative when #3 son got cancer—but it was fun while it lasted.)

On the other hand, if you are good at house repairs and flourishes, it WILL save you a fortune. But you could probably come up with something you’d enjoy doing using your accumulated expertise when everything is shipshape. Having a second income is beyond ideal. You have time to let go, work with the wood (my dad and grandfather were both master carpenters—grandpa also liked knocking off marble sculptures) and let your mind roam. They both claimed to have their best ideas while carving or shaping or tapping nails gently.

I’m definitely for unions. Dad worked at a place where he was promised every year that even though he couldn’t have the sales manager job—which was the lowest level guaranteeing a pension—because he’d never gone to college, they would definitely take care of him when he retired as he was their best salesman. (They did. Handed him a check for $5,000. One of his best clients and friends, who’d come to the ceremony, told Dad he’s hire him to work as a consultant 1/3 of the week for three times his old salary as long as he wanted. And he did. But guardian angels like this guy are not plentiful, which is why we need strong unions.)

When we lived in San Francisco, my husband wasn’t handy around the house but he liked to make special things, like a freestanding cherrywood spice shelf for me with a crescent moon carved out of the top, which shape I like. Also made our daughter a skinny, useful redwood desk with shelves that was big enough for her computer and papers in her tiny SF studio apartment. But when we moved up here, and he discovered horses—I didn’t dragoon him or anything; he just wanted to see what it was I liked so much about riding them—it was a sad day for the furniture making. The woodshop he enthusiastically set up in the barn and all the equipment has gathered spiderwebs since ‘90. And he can’t stand being off a horse more than one day unless we are in an airplane or across too much water to take them.

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By Inherit The Wind, July 28, 2009 at 8:15 pm Link to this comment

Seph,

I barely told the half of it, but every word is true—it happened.  18 months after these VC guys took over the West Coast company, the average age of an employee was under 30, and the average tenure was about 3/4 of a year.  In the East, I knew many of my colleagues 10 years or more.  Experience meant….you were expensive and saw through the BS—therefore you were dangerous.

I guess it’s a blessing I had to deal with this for less than 6 months.  Hedges’ story was about people who had to deal with it for YEARS—and about unprincipled cheating to fire somebody.  That is SO fuckin’ stupid.

It’s FAR better to lay people off or eliminate their job, take the unemployment hit, but inoculate the company against a law suit.  See, I have no grounds to sue my former company unless they re-create my position and don’t offer it to me, or, they say publicly that the RIF was really a cover for firing me for cause.  Dumb as they are, they aren’t as dumb as FedexKinko—HR “experts” and lawyers are right: Let the former employee take unemployment, say it was a Reduction In Force (RIF), and ensure you have no liability.  Plus, that kind of FedexKinko crap encourages union formation.  Unions exist to protect against double-dealing by management.  Which is why they HATE unions and have fought a bitter war to get rid of them.

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By Sepharad, July 28, 2009 at 5:03 pm Link to this comment

Inherit—Wow. What a story. (I thought Hedges’ was good too!) You know, the kind of “positive team thinking corporate culture California style” that got you laid off has for many years permeated our schools out here. Even elementary: a teacher told me our kid was brilliant but didn’t work well with his study group (then later his team circle, still later his cohorts). Worse, a school friend of mine then in corporate communication told me we should cooperate with the teacher in trying to make the kid defer his judgment to that of the pack because that was how the new world was. Teams and committees geared to make the bottom line look appealing to investors. 
(She has long since reverted to sanity, raising horses and goats and freelancing art.)

On the other hand, persistent individualism may be why we do not yet have socialized medicine, why we’re still plagued by corporate and financial irresponsibility. Perhaps the only solution will be when everyone becomes persistent individualists who consider the good of society as a whole, and act creatively, accordingly. IOW, paradise on earth.

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By tom kelso, July 28, 2009 at 4:05 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Ronald Reagan “Light of day” mantra “If you aren’t rich in America it’s your fault and if you don’t set your sights right now to create wealth and become rich, there must be something ‘very’ wrong with you was a diversion a “Big lie”. A lie so abberant that in the age of Ted Bundy it succeeded. It became “The Goal’ of and entire generation.” It tamed the cur dogs of progressive thinking an ignored the issue of human goodness, and why not, in that world people are only things, put on earth to make money for others and themselves and it enslaved not only a nation but the world.

It wasn’t Machiavelian, he was a piker, it was the facilitators of the likes Machiaveli could never have imagined. Ken Lay, Bernie Ebbers, Conrad Black, Sandy Weil, Anthony Arnaut, Angelo Mazillo, Maurice Hank Greenberg, Richard Fuld, the Morris’s, Lanny Davis, Jack Abramoff, Alan Greenspan ad nauseum, their minions, the media giants and the politicians they bought and paid for.
One look no further then to Bernie Madoff. The corporatate media and the Criminal Justice system worked night and day to put a happy face on the coporate financial system, blame him and erase his image with lightining speed. Why? Because Bernie knows where the bodies are buried, how they go there, by who and why. Bernies old Nasdaq is now up over 30% and Goldman Sachs is paying compensation packages in excess of 2007.

All the while the major corporations are slashing employees, losing not as much money and increasing stock prices and market shares.
A shameless, scandalous creation of wealth that created little more then worldwide debt and shifted money from the US Treasury from one pocket to another. Todays “Light of day” is “I ain’t got a Chinamans chance”.

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By Ed Harges, July 28, 2009 at 1:54 pm Link to this comment

It’s not just that loyalty is a one-way street. It’s that reality itself is defined differently, situationally, depending on one’s corporate position.

If you are dissatisfied with the corporation, it’s because you fail to see that there IS no external reality; there is only the reality that you generate by your own negative or positive attitudes.

But if the corporation is dissatisfied with you, they can’t be accused of the same fault. They are not guilty of failing to take a positive attitude toward you, of failing to see that their dissatisfaction with you has no objective basis and is merely caused by their failure to think positively about you.

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By WykydRed, July 28, 2009 at 1:46 pm Link to this comment

Wow Chris, another great article! You did indeed hit it on the head!

I’ve been thinking for a long time that it’s this coporidicitude that make the general mass the total pissants they are. They bow and beg at work, they fake their smiles and the scrambling they have to do for real assholes demanding everything because if they don’t, they’re fired—or worse, the now-common “keep ‘em on the schedule, but don’t let ‘em work” method of non-firing someone for the simple reason that THEY CANNOT COLLECT UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE. That is the only reason people do it. Oh but sure, they’ll tell the other employees, “We’re giving him/her a chance to come and discuss it with me.” Buuuulllllshit! It’s done in Colorado all the time. I’ve had to “fill in” for employees I was told was sick. Funny how they show up on their normal shift and look at me all shocked and surprised and have to ask ME if they were fired! And I’m the one supposed to tell them.. well, I don’t know what I’m supposed to tell them because the managers have never discussed anything with me, let alone tell me I’m supposed to turn that person away! And the Labor Board is just soooooooo understanding! “Well, you weren’t fired! Your managers report that you just stopped showing up for work, and they have the schedules to prove they never took you off! Your claim is denied and how DARE you lie to us so you can lay around at home and get paid for it!”

So, can you stop the tyrany? There is, but people are lazy and more to the point, they don’t give a shit. They take their rage, their hatred and their impotency in their own jobs and lay it all on some poor peon they can abuse and terrify. Most of them go so far as to complain falsely as high as they can to get someone fired. THAT makes them feel better! That makes them feel “empowered”! Oh yeah, I’m a big person in charge of my life and no little shitheel is going to get in MY way!

When you complain, don’t use the employee’s name or make up lies about them to get what you want. Hurry to the top and complain about the COMPANY and it’s obvious misuse and terrorization of its employees! Tell them the employees were GREAT, but you have a problem with the obvious company effort to work them into the ground. Use some quotes from Chris’s article! Tell them when people are doing good jobs, and when they aren’t, don’t make shit up, just tell them, “I have a suggestion to make service better”. And try not to use names except when praising. Use more of Chris’s excerpts. It’ll confuse a Manager, Regional Manager, and higher ups will have brain lock. And instead of “drawing in happy”, how about handing some out? I do it in person whenever possible, really! (No, I’m NOT lying!) But piss me off, and I can get real corporate on your flagrant ass. You’ll suddenly find lots of people actually DO take their jobs seriously, and they’d really LIKE you to leave with a good feeling.

Shit, I almost typed “positive experience”. Someone hire a hitman before it’s too late!

One last response to this quote: ” (I will never understand why people compose term-paper length treatise inside a comments area.) “
Because a comment area is the one place you can say what you’d like without being interrupted. Easy, huh?

Next time someone treats you decently, does something to make life easier for you, just say, “hey, thanks”. And before you complain to get free stuff, if you still have any kind of spirit or soul left, just ask yourself, was I a prick? If the answer is actually no, then complain. But if it ain’t, just take a deep breath, shut up and walk away clean, k?

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By Night-Gaunt, July 28, 2009 at 1:30 pm Link to this comment

“This ideology condemns all social critics, iconoclasts, dissidents and individualists for failing to seek fulfillment in the collective chant of the corporate herd. It strangles creativity and moral autonomy. It is about being molded and shaped into a compliant and repressed collective. It is not, at its core, about happiness. It is about conformity, a conformity that all totalitarian and authoritarian structures seek to impose on the crowd. Its unrealistic promise of happiness, in fact, probably produces more internal anxiety and feelings of inadequacy than genuine happiness. The nagging undercurrents of alienation, the constant pressure to exhibit a false enthusiasm and buoyancy, the loneliness of a work life in which one must always be about upbeat presentation, the awful feeling that being positive may not in fact work if one is laid off, are buried and suppressed.”

That sums it up. A pernicious form of group think and social/emotional engineering that can certainly be applied in schools and in churches and mold us into that kind of society where the elites are the ones who are really happy. I am one of those who just don’t fit it. Too morose and melancholy for them and eccentric to become anything more than a drone. [With so many unemployed not even that.]

Every where you go they always advertise for the “team player,” and the “cheerful go-getter,” and the gregarious ones. Not all of us fit that rigid mold and shouldn’t. The personality tests are skewed to remove types like myself. Even at a Pacifica station they fell into that self same didactic rant. Gospel that is unquestioned it is so deeply buried.

“The HPD is highly reactive. If there is another major disorder present, such as delusional disorder, then emotional intensity will create anger, rage, abuse and distance in relationships.”CW+MCHAMMERED

Actually it also sounds like a “spell binder” a form of psychopath that is very good at getting others to follow them. Heavily narcissistic in their motivations as you say. If they succeed they can be leaders of cities, or nations and if they fail they are just cranks in the woodwork. Either way they are not healthy for those who follow them.

Cmarcusparr, see also the Great Depression of 1869-1875 where several states were under martial law. Our own Great Depression will be far worse because we have much further to fall and more of us are fallen or falling. It started in 1980 and its first phase was in 2001 and we are approaching the next phase of us with another jobless “recovery” which is an oxymoron.

A tried and true method of control. It is everywhere and who benefits? You and me? Or who else? That is the answer.

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By jmarrin, July 28, 2009 at 1:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Chris is one of my favorite contemporary commentators and I am saddened by the lack of hope I read in his latest book, Empire of Illusions.
All of the negative facts he lists do not lead me to the same emotionAL despair. Daily I talk with people on the bottom of the american urban scene and daily I meet their drive, grit and spirit. They buoy me up with what the Rev. Wright rightly called the audacity of their hope. And I do not think they are naive. The propaganda, lying and deceit are real…so too are those working against them…not least of whom is mr. Hedges. Illegitmati non carborundum, Chris. There are even theologians who are on real topics, e.g. Sr. Perry, ursuline nun who preaches at Marble Collegiate in NYC with faith, conviction, erudition and a healthy sanse of humor.

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By Inherit The Wind, July 28, 2009 at 12:57 pm Link to this comment

Yeah, all this happy talk bullshit is to convince you of what they believe:

Loyalty is a one-way street that only goes up.

And that’s the way they want it.

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By Ed Harges, July 28, 2009 at 11:53 am Link to this comment

ITW writes:

“They DEMAND loyalty, and insist they don’t have to give it in return.  It’s your DUTY to be loyal to them, but it’s in the interest of society for them to have no loyalty to you!”

That’s it exactly. The frantically compulsory happiness preached by the corporations as the Right Way to approach life doesn’t apply to our corporate bosses.  The corporation doesn’t have any responsibility to “think positively” about you.

If they’re not satisfied with you, they have no moral obligation to try to find a way to be happy with you. They don’t try to “turn that frown upside down”, because there is surely some way to feel really, really, deliriously great about you, and if they can’t feel it, they’re not trying hard enough.

They look at what you do in a coldly critical light, at all times, considered from the point of view of their own material interests. But if you look at your job that way, you’re “negative” — unhealthy, weak-minded, and vaguely French — while for some reason, it’s not “negative” when they do it.

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By Don Stivers, July 28, 2009 at 10:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I used to do business with Kinko’s before they were bought by Fed Ex.  The stores were fantastic.  Everybody knew what they were doing in the printing business and were VERY helpful without ever pushing a thing onto you.  I began to ask the employees how they liked working for Kinko’s and they would respond in the most positive manner.  Some had worked for the company for over 15 years and said they were always treated fairly and paid well.  You could believe that by the good service you received and quickly too.

After the company was absorbed by Fed Ex, it slid downhill FAST.  Machines ran out of ink.  Some did not know what offset printing is.  There are long waits to get help.  No one knows how to scale prints.  It is very sad that a GREAT company built from nothing was run into the ground.  Corporate America does not know where the bottom line is because if Kinko’s was run the way it was when it was acquired it would be doing well, I am sure.  I own a construction surveying and engineering company and have since bought my own machinery at a GREAT cost.  Large lazer scanners and printers are VERY costly but very much needed in my business.  Kinko’s filled that gap at a VERY reasonable cost.

So I just wanted to say, whoever ran that company did an EXCELLENT job and they could have been a model for others.  Sort of like Apple is for quality and innovation.

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By Inherit The Wind, July 28, 2009 at 10:47 am Link to this comment

Ed Harges, July 28 at 12:22 pm #

re: By Inherit The Wind, July 28 at 8:05 am:

What a nightmare you describe, ITW. I have always been fortunate to work creatively and independently, outside of any corporate culture. I have never had to submit to this kind of happy-talk indoctrination. The closest I ever got to it was when I worked briefly in a chain pizza restaurant as an undergrad, and we had to endure these horrible corporate-scripted pep talks before opening, full of bromides about “Leadership Skills”® and “The 7 Habits of Winners”™. It was like a Maoist cult.

I have friends in the corporate world who made good money, until recently, when many were summarily dumped from their jobs without warning. I make OK money, I get to be creative and independent, I virtually can’t ever lose my job, and I don’t have to think like a robot, or monitor my facial expressions for “negativity”.
******************************************

EH, we don’t agree on much, but this I think we do.

Since I wrote this I’ve been thinking about it.  What they want is very much like medieval Japan.  The Daimyo expected absolute, total loyalty. If he told you to kill your wife and kids, you did it.  In return, while he was expected to have some noblesse oblige, he didn’t have to, and when you got too old to work, could order you to commit suicide so he wouldn’t have to support you.

As I HAVE argued that the neo-cons want corporate feudalism, we see this as a tool to bring it about.

I said that the previous owner, for all his flaws, was and is an amazingly loyal man to his employees—even now I hear from him regularly.

But all this happy talk propaganda bullshit comes down to the Japanese Daimyo concept. 

They DEMAND loyalty, and insist they don’t have to give it in return.  It’s your DUTY to be loyal to them, but it’s in the interest of society for them to have no loyalty to you!

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By Ed Harges, July 28, 2009 at 9:22 am Link to this comment

re: By Inherit The Wind, July 28 at 8:05 am:

What a nightmare you describe, ITW. I have always been fortunate to work creatively and independently, outside of any corporate culture. I have never had to submit to this kind of happy-talk indoctrination. The closest I ever got to it was when I worked briefly in a chain pizza restaurant as an undergrad, and we had to endure these horrible corporate-scripted pep talks before opening, full of bromides about “Leadership Skills”® and “The 7 Habits of Winners”™. It was like a Maoist cult.

I have friends in the corporate world who made good money, until recently, when many were summarily dumped from their jobs without warning. I make OK money, I get to be creative and independent, I virtually can’t ever lose my job, and I don’t have to think like a robot, or monitor my facial expressions for “negativity”.

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By felicity, July 28, 2009 at 9:22 am Link to this comment

hippie4ever - ah, yes, the Chicago School under the direction of Leo Strauss and his disciples who declared that “the superior intellectually and morally men of insight and superior wisdom must rule.”  And, of course, they all must adhere to the teachings of the School while they are allowed to rule inconditionally - because they’re smarter, moraler and wiser than the rest of us inferiors.  Hello, neocons.  Goodbye, democracy.

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By hippie4ever, July 28, 2009 at 8:53 am Link to this comment

Another outstanding article by Mr. Chris Hedges. As awful as this corporate tactic is, it is preferable to the work of Dr. Ewen Cameron that occurred in tandem with the CIA and the Chicago School of Business in the 1950s-1960s. Cameron advocated use of torture in order to “wipe the slate clean” and produce happy capitalist citizens, and a “pure” form of capitalism unfettered by human concerns such as poverty and injustice.

This was also the philosophy of Milton Friedman, who advocated and advanced a “school” for Latin America; the best and brightest of that region attended indoctrination at the Chicago School of Business, and returned to spread the glories of pure capitalism. Only Allende, a socialist (and poet), and Marxism were far more popular, so the CIA stepped in and remade Chile in its own image. Chile became and remains a fascist torture state, like America.

Now the Beasts of America are doing the same to us. I suppose working at a Staples is better than being an inmate at Auschwitz; at least the workers got to return home after shift, and had more than 600 calories to consume each day. Isn’t America wonderful. It took the Final Solution and fine-tuned it for perpetual war and unlimited Corporate profits.

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By MeHere, July 28, 2009 at 8:52 am Link to this comment

Inherit The Wind

Thanks for a great description of your personal experience.
Many of these companies may not hire child labor but they certainly engage in psychological torture.

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By sharonsj, July 28, 2009 at 7:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I learned years ago, while holding various jobs at publishing companies, the meaning of loyalty.  It meant you were expected to be loyal to your employer but not the other way around.  I’ve also seen a rise in depression among my peers as we struggle to survive on limited or hard-to-earn incomes.  Modern life is much too complicated and filled with paperwork, instant messages, and cell phones.  We get no respect and we can’t get any rest.

Now if someone could just explain to me how this article leads to Israel bashing…?

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By NAW'lins, July 28, 2009 at 6:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It just isn’t in corporate. I saw this stuff firsthand as a civil servant in the DOD. Commands from all over the world would call me, a lowly GS-9, to get help when they found out that I actually knew what I was doing and wanted to help the troops in the field.

This was a big no-no, to my “superiors”. The final nail in my coffin was during a so-called support meeting when I got up and made an impassioned plea to support our guys with better lighter more rugged gear that was cheap and easily available vs. the expensive crap we were sending over that wouldn’t last a week. It was clear the higher ups didn’t give a rats a—s about our troops and that courting the contractors was what it was all about.

I got that “phsycologically unfit” profile and was given an ultimatum, to sign a confession or lose my security clearance foreveor and be put on a blacklist. I refused and I have not been able to get a clearance again. I later read a copy of a JAG letter telling commands not to use the phycological tactic against potential whistleblowers (you know, the idea they borrowed from the soviets)fat chance.

PS. I also got a “friendly chat” from one of these guys who tried to tell me that Machievelli was just misunderstood. PPS ... NIS is dirty!

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By C. Curtis Dillon, July 28, 2009 at 6:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is funny (in a truly sad way) that companies start with the best of intentions and go down hill from there.  I have spent half of my work life with startups (several my own) and the remainder in large corporations.  When a company is small, everyone comes together naturally in a mutual effort to achieve success.  Personality is important but you tolerate a person’s idiosyncrasies because there are bigger things at stake.  The differences create a creative friction that helps the project and company grow.  Dissent is encouraged as a source of new ideas.  There is little management as that is counterproductive to the company’s rapid growth and success.

There comes a time, however, when that all changes.  It often happens when the company is sold (like Inherit the Wind) and new management appears.  I’ve been through several of those and failed to survive a single one.  Overnight, the company culture changed from open and challenging to conformist and “keep your head down”.  I am not endowed with that trait and always clashed with management who then saw me as a negative influence that needed to be excised.  I was glad to oblige them.

In a corporation, you often find that departments can occupy either side of this coin.  I’ve worked in both.  If you boss (and most often his boss) encourages an entrepreneurial environment, the same risk taking and dissent can be tolerated to a certain extent.  I have flourished in such environments.  When management takes the opposite position, I usually washed out in a few months.  But, what invariable happened was a change in management at some level above my immediate supervisor which forced a transition from the tolerant to the oppressive (never saw it go the other way unfortunately).  It happened in my last two jobs ... and with the expected results.

The constant in all these situations was the willingness of management to allow power to accrue at lower levels.  When employees had power to influence company performance, they were happy and productive.  There was no need for the kind of “pink smoke” psychobabble Chris writes about because people were naturally challenged and happy.  When management became paranoid and controlling, no amount of smoke would change the fundamental lack of control and contribution that the employees felt.  And, if you combine this with substandard compensation, you have all the ingredients needed to brew a lethal situation.

Of course, in companies like FedEx and UPS, there is a natural tendency to over manage everyone since the company culture assumes lower level employees are poorly motivated and too stupid to actually take responsibility for themselves.  But they have this terribly conundrum ... hire low paid employees and then put them in front of the customers who ultimately pay the bills.  By blowing pink smoke, the company hopes to create an artificial environment where employees smile and service the company while also being scared out of their minds about job security and advancement.  Of course, it doesn’t really work and one can always sense the uneasiness of their employees when facing them across the sales counter.

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By Inherit The Wind, July 28, 2009 at 5:05 am Link to this comment

Part 2

There were new hires—all BD “business development” or salesmen.  None of them knew anything about our business, but they “knew” corporate sales—or so they thought.  They talked metrics and pipelines and funnels and quality phone calls and all the other bullshit and were utterly convinced they’d have the company humming in months.  After all they had done it on the West Coast.

Oops.  Our industry doesn’t work that way.  Connections, reputation, successful history, and who the key staff are is how business is generated.  A successful sales pitch MUST have a real line manager there, who’ll actually be directing either all or part of the project, and who has already done it.  I’m no salesman and have no head for it, but I could sell a follow-on product simply by showing how it worked and how it was zero-cost (for the client).

I did question some of these practices in an attempt to protect my co-workers and my line staff. I didn’t break the chain of command—I went to the correct V.P. with whom I thought I had a rapport and spoke of my concerns. I guess that was a no-no.  One day, soon after, I was called into the C.O.O.‘s office and told my position was eliminated.  I was out.

In the spirit of his basic nastiness, Robert, aka “Mr. Xerox” insists I was fired because I’m crazy, sick and have a big mouth.  Here’s the real story: I was caught in this Chris Hedges nightmare scenario.

Coda: It was all a failure. The West Coast op has had its business dry up.  The East Coast BD effort is a total failure—what little new biz has come from…line managers. Some of the BD new-hires were fired, including the “director” (the embodiment of Meryl Streep’s character in “The Devil Wears Prada”).  Everyone was asked to take a pay cut.  In this pseudo-psych newspeak “asked” means you were told your salary was cut, from 5-20%.

The fear and shock of my being let go clearly had the desired effect.  Like the French general who said “I will shoot 9 soldiers to keep up the morale of the 10th” the message was clear.  Be afraid. Be very afraid. NOBODY has communicated with me on the company email, but only on their own, private accounts—and many have.

But I’m luckier than others.  We are still OK as we were a two-income household, have cut expenses, and I’ve had the opportunity to catch up on YEARS of household repairs, saving us a fortune there.

But Hedges hit the nail on the head on this one.

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By Inherit The Wind, July 28, 2009 at 4:59 am Link to this comment

Part 1

As most people here know I am generally highly critical of Chris Hedges, and have difficulty with much of his work.

But not this time!  Wow!  I am SO close to what Hedges describes line by line in agonizing detail that I cannot offer any unbiased or even biased criticism of his piece.

I worked for a single-owner business for many years, over 15.  To this day I am still friends with the founder-owner.  We had our ups and downs but mainly ups over the years.  I was, for him, a go-to guy.  He was, for me, the only loyal boss I ever had in over 35 years of working.

Then, last fall, to enable his retirement, he and his partner sold to a west coast company backed by venture capital.  At first all seemed good.  Then the corporate indoctrination Hedges described began. The California Corporate Psychologist was sent to start the brain-washing process.  Deeply experienced professionals were asked deeply personal questions.  The worst was the role-playing stupidity.

Nothing was confidential—the Consultant ran to the CEO even when we had bathroom breaks.  It was like descriptions of Scientology “therapy sessions”.  You must reveal your flaws and mistakes or you were in trouble.  Then your flaws and mistakes would be cataloged to be used against you.

The CEO told us negativity was a cancer—and he’d fire anyone who was “negative”.  We were not to worry about the company (ie, the changes) just do our jobs and “Be happy in your work!”  Anybody ever see “Bridge on the River Qwai”?  The Japanese POW camp commandant says that to the prisoners!  And this asshole said the same thing.  I’m still surprised he didn’t say “Work sets you free” which, of course, was the slogan over the gate at Auschwitz—Arbeit Macht Frei.  We were told, no matter what the customer wants, get it done “We are a customer-oriented company!”.

This may sell to twenty-somethings with less than a year in the industry, but to 40- and 50-somethings with 10, 20, or 30 years in, we know that means nothing more than a) Don’t bring Corporate your problems b) work insane amounts of extra hours c) don’t expect to be paid for it—it’s your duty and d) con your employees into doing the same thing e) implied but not stated: Even though it’s illegal, push your non-exempt employees to do it too.

The effect was the opposite: the staff were nearly paralyzed with fear.  I had been there forever, knew everyone and people talked to me.  They universally now hated their jobs and lived in terror they’d be next to be cut.  From a small staff, 30% of the workforce was let go.  A portion were contractors, but many of those were long term.

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By patrick jones, July 28, 2009 at 4:13 am Link to this comment
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In review of the comments listed in the past 24 hours, it seems a general consensus has been reached regarding Mr. Hedges “conflation” of Positive Psychology with that of “misused corporate therapy techniques.”  In short, we reject Hedge’s perversion of Positive Psychology.

[ Here, I have borrowed from john kurmann and Chumley, where the quotations denote their words. ]

Additionally,  Mark White contributes a similar theme.  As does, BobbieB, in an admittedly long-winded post.  (I will never understand why people compose term-paper length treatise inside a comments area.)

As the headline on the Truthdig homepage reads: “Positive psychology is a quack science that justifies the cruelty of unfettered capitalism.”

This is an embarrassment to the integrity of this website.  The editor would find it prudent to amend this blatantly misguided allegation.

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By thebeerdoctor, July 28, 2009 at 3:11 am Link to this comment

Good news my brothers! The chocolate ration goes up to 30 grams next month.

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By prole, July 28, 2009 at 1:41 am Link to this comment

Well, what if, “Tal Ben-Shahar who wrote ‘Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment,’ taught hugely popular courses at Harvard University titled ‘Positive Psychology’ and ‘The Psychology of Leadership’” It’s perhaps not so surprising that gut courses in pop psychology should be “hugely popular” as an easy elective to pad your GPA; but there’s also a darker side to the happiness professor - or actually a temporary lecturer and never a tenured prof at America’s premier brand-name elitist University. Ben-Sahar, an Israeli national and former IDF stormtrooper was a consultant to The David Project Center for Jewish Leadership - which has offices in Boston, NY and Tel Aviv - and which describes itself as “a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring strong voices for Israel through dynamic educational seminars, workshops, and curricula”. It further asserts, “The David Project has a long-term strategy – to populate the campuses with educated, trained, and confident college students, to prepare high school students and Jewish teens to become Israel advocates and to activate the Jewish community in response to the growing anti-Israel discourse”. In keeping with this “strategy” The David Project conducts a series of 13, of what it calls, ‘Unique Educational Workshops’ which includes such tasty titles as The Misuse of the Apartheid Analogy, The Iranian Threat, Defeating Divestment, etc. But seminar no. 6 in the series goes by the more generic title of Jewish Leadership, and is described in some detail: “In this workshop, students learn 6 major principles of leadership and discuss how they can apply these principles to become leaders on campus. The leadership presentation was designed by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar of Harvard University. Based on ‘Psychology of Leadership’ course taught at Harvard, this presentation has been tailored to fit the needs of Jewish students by focusing on what can be learned from some of the most inspirational Jewish leaders of our times, and using these insights to make a positive impact in the Jewish world.” It seems Ben-Sahar had other things than the happiness of the goyim on his mind when he concocted his cunning theories. Not at all surprising, given some of his other statements in the past. Besides his collaboration with The David Project, Ben-Sahar is also a great admirer of Ayn Rand and he was a co-founder of the Harvard Objectivist Club. Which may help to explain why there are “no economic systems to challenge in the land of happy thoughts. In the land of happy thoughts, we are to blame if things go wrong. The corporate state, we are assured, is beneficent and good”. And of course, so too. is Israel, in the happy po;litical psychology of Ben-Sahar and his adolescent groupies. In a piece he penned for The Atlas Institute, an outside Ayn Rand organization, in ‘02, called ‘Israel’s right to self-defense’, Ben-Sahar declaimed, “why did Israel capture land in the wars of 1948 and 1967? The answer is simple: self-defense….And it is because the wars were fought in self-defense, that Israel has every moral right to the land that has been used to attack it and endanger its livelihood.” And Ben-Sahar went on to appallingly state, “Palestinians in the contested (sic) territories are deprived of some of their freedoms because they looted and murdered, and because there is nothing to suggest that they would change their ways were they given independence.”(!!!) How’s that for a positive psychology of happiness (i.e. for zionist psychopaths)? No wonder the barmy Ben- Sahar is “hugely popular” with the moral scum at Harvard and their class.

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By Outraged, July 28, 2009 at 12:21 am Link to this comment

Many good comments, perspectives and truths, I thank the many commenters for their clarity and brevity.  When I first read this article I was debating whether to laugh or cry.  So many stories I could relate regarding this “happy to be getting screwed” BS shoved down the throats of workers across America.  So many times I have experienced it and too many times I have heard story after story.  All of them comical in one sense yet in another sense alarming.

A personal favorite is “the satisfaction” one supposedly receives from stiffing customers….... SAY WHAT….!?  Or that entertaining moment on your first day of work wherein it is realized that “for some odd reason” you’re the ONLY THINKING PERSON ON THE PREMISES….. oh, oh…. this isn’t gonna last long.  It’s that point at which one realizes that somehow.... one has suddenly and bizarrely inherited that G.W. “gut feeling”.... yeah, and it’s all funny until you get the shaft (which truthfully is STILL kinda funny too….except for that part where you get totally and outrageously screwed over).  Whoa…. what’s going on here?

Quote: “This childish belief discredits legitimate concerns and anxieties. It exacerbates despair and passivity. It fosters a state of self-delusion. And it has perverted the way we think about the nation and ourselves.’

It is childish to assume that what happens at work is “all good” and then go home and chill.  I swear I’ve seen this a million times.  Everyone knows the script, “just go home and forget about it.”  Reality says, it doesn’t work that way and it doesn’t.  Try as some do, it does not work THAT WAY.  They then attempt to invent other realities to qualify their existence in this conflicting malady.  Try and try again they sincerely “soldier on”, but nothing works, nothing.  At this point stress sets in, and they become edgy, beligerent and demanding….. still, they will NOT cave, again…. they “soldier on”.  Again, it doesn’t work.  Fustration and stress become overwhelming, all empathy and consideration become moot.  At this point, viciousness replaces commonsense and logic because “positive” hardworking people DO NOT QUIT AND THEY DO NOT LOSE.  Still, it does not work.

Increasingly their actions become childlike and just shy of uncontrollable.  They feel desperation but “know” they can “succeed”.  The rest of us go about our business and methodically sit in silent patient wait of their demise.  You get the picture.

The sad reality for sincere ones is that they WILL LOSE if the constuct does not change, simply because this construct is designed and built to undermine their success all the while siphoning off every skill, creative idea or intuitive premise simply for nothing, this gets old quickly.

There’s no doubt in my mind that good help is hard to find.  Too bad, so sad.  If you pay for a Geo you will not be suprised with a Ferrari.

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By tom kelso, July 27, 2009 at 8:28 pm Link to this comment
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“Positiveness is a good quality for preachers and orators, because whoever would obtrude his thoughts and reasons upon a multitude will convince others the more, as he appears convinced himself”. Johnathan Swift

One of sound mind would expect that a pathological coporate culture that extolls and demands positiveness and blind euphoria, would then deliver defeat and destruction would be shamed. Unfortunately their behavior remains unchanged as it was trumped and handsomely rewarded by a multimedia driven socio-pathological governance.

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By samosamo, July 27, 2009 at 7:54 pm Link to this comment

I have for a long time thought the ‘positiveness’ of everything was absurd and unhealthy, one just can’t be so positive as some commenters here have witnessed to from their experiences; just as a pure ‘negativeness’ is absurd and unhealthy.

Makes me think of Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ and the conditioning in each story of opposite types of ‘keep them repressed’ and ‘let them have fun but make em work’ and all for the benefit of the few who like to sit around like an emperor or king dishing out orders and laws.

I feel it around me with my friends and family especially when I decided to take this road of just finding out what in the hell is going on in this country and the world and what is wrong by starting out reading Chalmers Johnson’s ‘Blowback’ trilogy on through to Mike Davis’ ‘Late Victorian Holocausts’ on to Naomi Klein’s ‘Shock Doctrine’ to Greg Palast’s ‘Armed Madhouse’(that was a good one for sure) and now I am researching or reading Acharya S’s ‘The Christ Conspiracy’ to find the origins of religions which affect us all and it has been a long and mostly depressing read but informative.

But all of that is nothing I can discuss with my family and friends basically as they pretty much go the ‘positiveness’ way and shun anything that is not to their liking as they still cannot conceive of how the religions, the government and the corporations have all but destroyed this country and are working on destroying this planet for most, just so those creeps who want it all will have it if there is not a stop them.

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By MeHere, July 27, 2009 at 7:01 pm Link to this comment

Thank you Chris for writing on an important subject. 

I just want to add my own observation that the question of “positive thinking” has extended beyond the corporate world to areas such as how we think about ourselves and the way we relate to each other. Very frequently, when we express pain or difficulties, we are told to “think positive.”  It is the same mechanism that Chris describes. Very often, it is a way of not acknowledging what’s wrong, not being empathic, and not thinking about solutions.  Positive thinking only works when it is part of thinking constructively, and that means that one first needs to become well acquainted with the source of a problem.  The happy-thoughts ideology, whether at the individual or the corporate level, only helps to maintain a degree of indifference and denial that can be very destructive to both the individual and society.

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By Yossarian666, July 27, 2009 at 6:42 pm Link to this comment

Another good one, Chris.

This kind of reminds me of how Hinduism was used historically by the upper class to justify the caste system (i.e., your lowly “untouchable” position in life is due to your bad deeds in a past life—so don’t get mad at me for owning a sweatshop).

I think we’re seeing a lot of this “be-positive-at-all-costs” minset in society right now—how else is it that we’re not rioting while Goldman Sachs and its ilk destroy our currency and rip off our treasury? Like another poster, I, too, have been chastised by friends and coworkers for not jumping for joy when the DOW goes up a bit.

Off the topic slightly, but this whole “be-positive-at-all-costs-even-while-Goldman-is-ripping-you-off” mindset is largely due to the middle class’ buy-in of the 401k. We’ve got to root for the bloodsuckers lest our portfolio go down a bit more.

The 401k is the biggest swindle of all time.

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By silverstreak, July 27, 2009 at 6:29 pm Link to this comment

As a psychologist whose career has spanned four decades, and who finds the development of “positive psychology” to be an embarassment to the field, I thank you for a marvelous article.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy, of which positive psychology is a part, does not have as its main competitor “western style pill pushing”, as ‘Chumley’ suggests.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy’s main competitor is the discipline of modern psychoanalysis, which takes human complexity and conflict as fundamental, and which takes as its treatment aim not the cultivation of robotic thinking or some contrived standard of happiness, but the development of human autonomy.

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By Mark White, July 27, 2009 at 5:06 pm Link to this comment
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Chris, your writing is usually really good, but this piece is all over the place, exhibiting the kind of straw dog characteristics I imagine you’d hate if it was of the loony right. It’s muddled. The relentless boosterism of the corporation and its attempt to harness your self-image to its ends is something I can remember from a job I had 10 years ago. But when you try and connect that to happiness studies—wtf? They were expressely designed to try and break the assumed link between rising GDP and rising happiness. They say very clearly that rising incomes do not bring rising happiness levels, and that social networks etc are the more important. There’s not much in CBT and positive psychology that the Buddha wouldn’t recognise. Being in a crappy situation is awful, but if all you is feel awful in that situation how are you helping yourself? Recognising that it’s an emotion but it doesn’t rule you then enables you to look wider at the causes, instead of trotting off to the doctors for legal medication or drowning your sorrows in booze or sex of illegal medication. Positive psychology is not about passive acceptance, and it’s got nothing to do with the Law of Attraction. It’s a tool to help you live clearly and without having bullshit psychotropic poison from Big Pharma keeping you drooling slave to the system.

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By Jean Gerard, July 27, 2009 at 4:41 pm Link to this comment
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People who don’t want to know the dark side of what’s going on (and there’s more of it recently than previously) will try to shut you down as “negative” and “not constructive.”  Yet one can’t speak truth by overlooking misery, injustice and chicanery.  What to do, what to do?  Maybe the only answer is to study up on organizations that are working hard on various problems, day in, day out, with limited resources, and contribute oneself and get others to contribute.  It is a pretty sure thing that people who aren’t contributing to solutioins are a big part of the problems.

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By colin2626262, July 27, 2009 at 4:39 pm Link to this comment

“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” (John 15:11)

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By Chaz Valenza, July 27, 2009 at 4:16 pm Link to this comment
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This corporate happiness movement has been going on for decades.  I was recently asked the “magic wand” question by someone who was supposedly trained in cognitive behavior therapy, which I had read was the most effective of the “talk therapies.”  Having had enough of magical thinking I immediately ended the session and never returned.  Read the entire story here:

http://www.wordswillnever.com/failure/

Chris, you’re the best.  Keep up the good work.

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By cmarcusparr, July 27, 2009 at 4:02 pm Link to this comment

Felicity,
You are correct. “For 30 years running we have borrowed $500,000,000/yr from foreign governments.” I mention 40 years in my response because I include the robbing of the Social Security “endowment” to pay for the Vietnam War.

Add to the $15 trillion that you mention the $167 trillion in derivative exposure through “toxic assets” of Wall Street and you have a recipe for disaster. When Chris Hedges says that the “walls are collapsing” he’s correct, but ruling elites have never tolerated Casandra’s for long.

The reason Democrats and Republicans alike do not want universal health insurance through a single-payor system in this country has nothing at all to do with our national debt, as you suggest. The majority of them are in the pockets of the insurance industry. None of them have said publicly that we must take the profit motive out of medical care. How medical care is delivered in American is just another facet of our corporatist (Mussolini’s phrase for fascism) culture, of taking a profit off of the suffering of others.

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By felicity, July 27, 2009 at 3:50 pm Link to this comment

cmarcusparr - lying about our economy has been going on for at least 30 years.  For 30 years running we have borrowed $500,000,000/yr from foreign governments.  My arithmetic makes that $15 trillion total so it amuses me no end when politicians scream about ‘going into debt’ to fix health-care or…the list is endless by this time.

The question remains - what did we borrow it for?  Who profitted?

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By Clark, July 27, 2009 at 3:49 pm Link to this comment

As I remember it, the emphasis on being a “team player” seemed to become more important to corporations at about the same time they stopped employing “personnel” and started hiring “human resources.” In both of these terms - team player and human resources -  there is a distinct message to the employee that the individual is less than what the corporation needs. Thus, the employee should be thankful that the corporation has such great tolerance.

Another aspect of this mindset which is now well established is that human rights are less than corporate rights. In the past 30 or so years this has resulted through major efforts by the majority of both dominant parties (or both sides of the dominant party) in all the branches of our government.

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By BobbieB, July 27, 2009 at 3:11 pm Link to this comment

I’m a big fan and usually love what you write. But I’m afraid you’ve missed something important here. You are condemning a science (yes, Positive Psychology uses scientific inquiry with the same methods that are used for all psychological scientific studies) because of what unscrupulous corporations are doing with it.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Hitler used psychology to control the population. Karl Rove and the Neocons did too. And Madison Avenue uses it to do the same. Does that make the study of psychology quackery?? Come on, Chris, that’s just plain dumb!

It’s a body of knowledge that can be a tool for great good as well as great evil.

I agree with you about a lot of what my colleagues and I have for many years called “the flow and glowers.” The people who dumb down brilliant truths and wrap them in what is the same old nasty mindset. This includes the religious, Madison Avenue mind polluters, and the corporate cheer leaders. Those who are stuck in a mindset that says that only positive emotions are acceptable are folks who, in my opinion, don’t have the sense that god gave geese!

But then I’m afraid you are going to the other extreme, Chris, and doing the same thing by throwing out something important because some are using it toward unscrupulous ends.

Before World War II the three tracks of psychology were 1) curing mental illness, 2) improving normal lives, and 3) identifying and nurturing talent and ability. After WWII, there was money for #1 and so that became the focus of psychology. The other two were pretty much left in the dust. Now the field of psychology is coming back and putting more energy into the other two. It’s about time.

The problem is that corporate law mandates the corporate entity to behave in such a way that, if it were a person, it would be classified by the DSM as a sociopath. Corporations are required to care only for their shareholders! That’s sociopathic. Therein is the problem. Change that and the world is changed. As long as corporations are sociopaths, whatever tool they use will likely be used in a sociopathic manner.

Ah duh!

It all comes down to what you want. If you want to just rail against evil, go for it and live with the physiological and psychological ailments that naturally come from constant negative emotion. Or you can become more emotionally intelligent and build more facility to experience all the emotions without getting stuck in any of them. A big part of self-mastery is the ability to shift your emotional focus at will. We are not as effective when we are depressed or angry, though certainly anger is very useful to motivate us to action. To argue that staying there is beneficial would only indicate a lack of knowledge about how the human brain and body works. Emotional intelligence (EQ) has proven to be the factor that most consistently distinguishes those who are effective and those who are not, far and away above IQ. It’s not rocket science.

So if you’re going to blame someone, please include the schools which are designed to pump out docile drones to perpetuate the corporate machine’s ends. Blame organized (corporate) religion which does the same thing in spades. These and other institutions produce the unthinking minds that accept the drivel that the corporate bosses and corporate-owned media feed them.

I’m glad that you are bringing to awareness this unethical use of the science of psychology within the corporate machine, but at least entertain the notion that giving more air time to positive emotions and personal strengths and virtues can actually make us more effective in either revolting against or restructuring the machine that is grinding so many of us under it’s sociopathic wheels. It’s not quackery, unless you consider that all psychological study and practice is quackery. It’s just a common-sense tool in service of what we want.

So the question is, what do you want?

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By NE PDX, July 27, 2009 at 3:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Once again Mr.Hedges hits the nail on the head.
My experience with the corporate stink, as I call it, comes from of all places, a bicycle shop. Well, now it’s a chain, but not really. Seven shops in the PDX Metro area. I was hired roughly at the cusp of when this company was becoming a small corporation after being a multi-store, family owned outfit for more than a quarter of a century. Along with that comes the changing of my title from bicycle mechanic to technician. When the Operations portion of the business moved to it’s own facility, a swanky new conference room was added. Long table, plenty of chairs and of course the now ubiquitous video screen. In this room the indoctrination happened. Flow charts were presented and role-playing was expected. You be the tentative new customer, while you be the happy, shiny salesperson we all know you can be. Work on that upsell….
At this point in my life I had been in the bicycle business for nearly 15 years, being both wrench and salesperson. I was paid well, had health benefits, the place was air conditioned and clean. Really clean. But I had a bad attitude apparently, because I wouldn’t follow up on my “training” and wouldn’t coddle customers with unreasonable requests. I was asked to leave because I didn’t fit in.
The topper was at the last spring company meeting I attended. Typically, as in for years, this was when spring bonuses were handed out. This year, instead of an envelope containing sometimes over $200 cash, a one dollar coin was handed out to each employee, followed by a explaination of the symbology of the coin. To be honest, I can’t recall the little speech, ‘cause I was to pissed off about the lousy one dollar.
This is the same year the corporation bought out another failing shop in town and promptly installed a completely re-fitted “retail environment”, homogenous with the rest of the corporations “retail environments”.

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By TAO Walker, July 27, 2009 at 2:58 pm Link to this comment

Mood altering chemicals don’t really do anything about the CONgeries of actual CONditions inducing what is commonly called “depression” in “individuals,” either, of course.  At best (which they hardly ever are anyhow) they merely mask symptoms, which lets the user/victim go on indulging-in/being-subject-to whatever kinds of habitual abuse brought on the misery to begin with….yet do so while “feeling no (or somewhat less) pain.”  So things CONtinue irreversibly to degenerate.

It’s hardly surprising that this “magic” principle works just as effectively, and to the same ultimate dead-end, when applied to captive populations of “workers,” in the form of “feel-good” CONtrol regimes.  Nor unexpected that a well-intentioned Chris Hedges, ensnared in his very own “individual”-ity, is unable to offer any real remedy for the rampant social disease he diagnoses here.

That Medicine is available.  It is unfortunately in a form the domesticated peoples have been programmed to fear and shun, even while they’ve been “....trained to take what looks like the easy way out.”

The subspecies homo domesticus is even now in the throes of destroying itself.  Yet there persists among them that “....yearning to breathe free” which is maybe the last trace of true Humanity left to them.  As “individuals,” that spark is doomed to being snuffed-out in them by the kinds of institutionalized torments described here.  Only in Living Communities can it be nurtured back to organic health and vital wholeness. 

So there it is, tame Sisters and Brothers.  To save your lives you must give-up the smothering shroud of “individual”-ist false IDentity that is your make-believe “self.” 

You’ll be much happier, though, and honestly so, all together as real Human PERSONS.

HokaHey!

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By Chumley, July 27, 2009 at 2:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Well, there are some good articles that challenge positive thinking (I remember an old one by William James, I think, taking aim at Christian Science).

But this one is just a screed.

Mr. Hedges, I enjoy you lacing in when the criticism is due, and I think this would have been a good article if you’d targeted just how corporations misuse cognitive therapy techniques to brainwash employees.  I’ve worked for a couple startups…I know the dark side of company spirit.

But to try to make an attack that affects a whole field of psychology from Norman Vincent Peale onward, well, it doesn’t just fall short. It sounds dumb.

Recognize what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy competes against: western-style pill-pushing.  Better to give people tools to analyze their negative thought patterns than a drug to dampen them.

Again, it was an interesting article about its potentially cruel application in the workplace. Beyond that, misguided and unconvincing.

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By whyzowl1, July 27, 2009 at 1:51 pm Link to this comment

“In this case, marrying the academic discipline of Positive Psychology directly to a delusional corporate ideology is probably irresponsible of the author.”
                  patrick jones

Why would you assign agency to the author rather than the corporations responsible for the (supposed) bastardization of positive psychology? Hey, Hedges is just the messenger, it’s the corporations who are guilty of misusing PP as a tool to extract the last ounce of effort from their deluded “human resources.”

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By wysiwyg, July 27, 2009 at 1:49 pm Link to this comment

One could take this discourse one step further and ask what motivates the happiness Nazis.  Is it really ideology or is it remuneration in a form that cannot be traced, e.g. mega travel miles, extra loyalty card points, carbon tax credits, etc.?

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By cmarcusparr, July 27, 2009 at 1:20 pm Link to this comment

Welcome to the Economic Wilderness

After the Reagan Revolution, after decades of supply-side economics and throughout the ascendancy of Alan Greenspan’s monetary policy, the American economy has been gutted. In 2009, we’ve ended up with false economy based upon easy credit, criminal monetary transactions and pernicious borrowing. What we are experiencing today in the current recession is the direct outcome of disastrous economic policy and deregulation of the financial system.

The recession has cleared the smoke and smashed the mirrors of political deception, lies that assured Americans everything was okay; that the irrational exuberance of easy credit and insurmountable debt was the natural order of the world when, in fact, it killed the promise of America and turned the American dream into a nightmare. We are no longer an upwardly mobile people with ever-increasing standard of living, not that we ever were. Corporatist thinking, the kind illustrated in Hedges’ latest column, deceived us into thinking “everything was possible.”

Through the severity of this recession, we have seen the stripping away of an artifact, a kind of propagandistic deception that once concealed the lack of support at the base of our economy. The current crisis has revealed that we are in deep trouble and that our politicians and federal officials have spent the last forty years lying to us about the solvency of the United States Treasury.

Our economy has long been gutted of substance. The manufacturing base we associate with the “American Empire” has been shuttered and moved offshore, to Mexico or China, to whatever country supplies workers at slave-labor wages. This process of relocation began in the 1970s, accelerated under Reagan, and reached a crisis point in the 1990s after NAFTA. The critical nature of this loss of American manufacturing base, one that used to employ American workers at a fair wage, increases in importance during severe recessions when the country needs to produce its way out of crisis and toward economic expansion. But the tools with which to end this current contraction are not available to us: our manufacturing base no longer exists, not onshore.

This will be a recession like no other in memory with the exception of the Great Depression. However, comparisons end there. In the Great Depression we had a manufacturing base that rebuilt the world after World War Two and that manufactured its way out of the deflationary cycle begun in 1932. Today, 70 percent of our economy is based upon consumerism; it’s a consumer- and service-based economy. We have spent years borrowing money from foreign banks to provide easy credit to consumers who purchase goods manufactured in China, India, Japan, and Europe. We have been living in the illusion of affluence financed by foreign loans. Predictably, the loans have now come due.

The dollar is being printed at a rate that guarantees hyperinflation in the coming months and years. Our national, corporate and personal debts are unacceptably high. To sponsor our standard of living, to pay for wars of adventurism and entitlement programs at home, the federal government has borrowed from abroad by selling debt in the form of Treasury Bills, e.g., to central banks in China and the European Union.

After 40 years of mollycoddling to a consumerist Zeitgeist, of telling us everything is peachy when nothing could be farther from the truth, after offering us decades of easy credit and unbridled borrowing, the bill has come due and the wolf is at the door.

We are entering an economic wilderness where political smoke and mirrors are no way to lead a people. We need national leadership to be honest with America, to tell us the truth of what we face. Otherwise, our illusion of grandeur that is based upon ever-increasing debt to foreign banks, based upon printing more and more dollars, this delusion of empire is bound to ruin our country and bankrupt the lives of future generations.

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By entactogen, July 27, 2009 at 12:46 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Reminds me of an article some years back by I. Warde in LMD where he describes some of the insanities of those cults (http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/26/218.html).

I could never forget this gem:

“Combining constant lowering of costs, empowerment and emotional fulfilment of employees has often required ingenuity. In December 1999 the Bank of America, after announcing the prospect of 10,000 redundancies, sent all its employees a glossy brochure inviting them to adopt an automated teller machine. Adoption meant assuring, on their own time and at their expense, the weekly maintenance of an ATM machine in an urban or rural area. The brochure explained how to keep your ATM on the road to success; pick up any trash that may have been left behind, clean the screen and keyboard, make sure the lights are working and trim bushes. The initiative promised to be a win-win endeavours characteristic of the new economy: customers would enjoy shiny ATMs, employees would derive pride and satisfaction from their volunteer work and shareholders would gain value.”

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By WmICIII, July 27, 2009 at 12:41 pm Link to this comment

All this wouldn’t be so pernicious if the psychology didn’t have so much truth in it.  There is no point where possitive reinforcement does not help to better one’s life, but it must be kept in relative proportion to one’s situation.  Nourishing the soul does little good if it replaces the nourishent of one’s body, for example.  The difficulty arises in defining the limits of one’s terms. What is ‘possitive’?  And how can one defend one’s ‘relative situation’ to another who is not disposed to humility or a generosity of spirit?  Once one’s internal emotional state is opened for examination, comment and critisizm, there becomes a “democratization” of all behaviors; one’s disposition gets a treatment by commitee.  Such is a recipe for dehumanization.  The only solution to this state consists in avoidance:  Such critisizm must be defended against before its onset.  Since such behavior has become institutionalized, corporate culture will likely not change without substantial negative reinforcement.  I fear even political will cannot cause substantive change in this arena, but that only wide-spread education, recognition and intolerance of such anti-social behavior can affect the needed changes.

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By Gary Namie, July 27, 2009 at 11:56 am Link to this comment
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Seligman began with the dark side. His work centered on learned helplessness. From the discovery of the roots of pessimism, he decided to make himself more saleable—optimism. Now he has morphed into happiness!!

Workplace mistreatment (aka bullying) is epidemic but the business press, defense attorneys, and positivist psychologists (who must never have worked under anyone’s thumb for too long) want to convince the public that they are lucky to have a job. It’s never the work environment as determined by owners that is toxic, it’s simply the worker’s personality that invites abuse. Put on a happy face and eat the crap fed you.

Another current HR fad is “employee engagement.” As if the cessation of dehumanization of work and interpersonal relations at work is not sufficient.

Psychologists colluded with CIA torturers (while psychiatrists condemned the practice) out of nationalistic loyalty. Of course, they also long to sit at the right hand of a CEO as part of the delusion that their work affects lives outside the narrow confines of the academe.

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By pamrider, July 27, 2009 at 11:20 am Link to this comment

Oh! Chris, are you suggesting coroporations are for-profit dictatorship. I’m so glad I have never been a corporate employee. Are corporate copyeditors required to look past errors, because they should be considered positive creative communication? Sure would explain some of the material I am hired to index.

Have a nice day only if that’s appropriate and what you want.

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By politicky, July 27, 2009 at 11:16 am Link to this comment

Ah, but of course corporate America can fix it, right?

“Close to 10 percent of men and women in America are now taking drugs to combat depression.”
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-medicated-americans&print=true

Meh.

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By J Kerbel, July 27, 2009 at 11:00 am Link to this comment
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Chris,

Right on once again!  Of course this goes back to Freud.  He was a gloomy Gus but in “Civilization and its Discontents” he makes clear that the role of therapy is do make the subject adjust to Society rather than the reverse.  At least Freud did not stamp a smiley face on it!  Please do a follow up piece about all the pastors who preach prosperity and positive attitude as if it were the Gospel. I remember one church in Chicago, Christ Universal Temple had bumper stickers that said, “Prosperity is my birthright.”  Oy.

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By john kurmann, July 27, 2009 at 10:11 am Link to this comment
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I have a lot of respect for Hedges’ work, but he’s gotten things all mixed up this time around. He’s dead-on with his critique of corporate psychological manipulation using delusional positivism, but he’s conflated that with what I think is the genuinely-beneficial new field called positive psychology—and then he’s gone on to further conflate that with the “wishful thinking” folks who believe in “the Law of Attraction.” Though I wouldn’t be surprised if corporations are using some elements of positive psychology to “motivate” and produce conformity among their employees, and they may even occasionally hire academics associated with positive psychology as consultants and/or presenters, this doesn’t mean positive psychology is a servant to corporate greed. I highly recommend Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom to learn what positive psychology is really about. Positive psychology is most definitely not the same as Norman Vincent Peale’s “positive thinking,” either.

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By Political Insurgent, July 27, 2009 at 10:00 am Link to this comment

Ah, Chris, you’re such a pessimist. raspberry Good article.

Let the sheeple have their soma. They can have the Gramme and we can give the Damn. I like living in the real world. It provides a much more entertaining seat to bear witness to the collapse of western culture.

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