The left, thank the lord, is rehabilitating Puritanism. The most recent convert is Barbara Ehrenreich who in the Times this morning writes against what she calls "the delusional optimism of mainstream, all-American, positive thinking" -- an opiate, she correctly argues, is most corrosively peddled by the mega church pastors, best selling authors and Oprah type cheerleaders on the television. The object of Ehrenreich's polemic is the power of positive thinking -- what the left once called "false consciousness":
The idea is to firmly believe that you will get what you want, not onlybecause it will make you feel better to do so, but because “visualizing” something — ardently and with concentration — actually makes it happen. You will be able to pay that adjustable-rate mortgage or, at the other end of the transaction, turn thousands of bad mortgages into giga-profits if only you believe that you can.
And so, as an spiritually cleansing antidote to the cheerfulness of Oprah and Sarah, Ehrenreich goes back to the original Puritans -- those reassuringly cheerless Northern European souls who shipped themselves and their miserable Protestant Ethic over to America:
Americans did not start out as deluded optimists. The original ethos, at least of white Protestant settlers and their descendants, was a grim Calvinism that offered wealth only through hard work and savings, and even then made no promises at all. You might work hard and still fail; you certainly wouldn’t get anywhere by adjusting your attitude or dreamily “visualizing” success.
Is Puritanism about to become fashionable again? Everything in America -- the financial, the political and the moral -- does indeed seem to be failing. When will people grow tired of a wishful personal optimism that continually fails to bear any fruit? In an age of predestined failure, I suspect that it's John Calvin rather than Oprah Winfrey who will be able to make more sense of the world to more people. Lou Dobbs is right -- the future is going to be miserable. The death of delusional optimism in America is one reason to be cheerful, one reason to burst out laughing.