I am listening to Abraham Hicks, whom the well-loved New Age maven Louise Hay, may the Universe rest her soul, calls “one of the best teachers on the planet.” Abraham is an “ascended” energy being channeled by a woman called Esther. She is touring the country, orating in impassioned spurts marked by anaphora. Tonight, Abraham is advising her enthusiastic audience that they must seek their bliss. She tells them to find a personal frequency, assuring her listeners that everything they could ever want is being stored up for them in their very own “vortex.” All they need to do is think positive thoughts.
So what’s new? A medium is promising people that she can make them rich and happy. Hasn’t this always attracted the needy and the greedy and the seedy? Why is this different? Because uncritical positive thinking has led us to Donald Trump.
Positive thinking has traditionally been reactionary. Go back, for example, to the 17th century to the first new age thinker, Gottfried Wilhem Leibniz (1646 – 1716), philosopher, polymath, and an inventor of calculus. Leibniz believed that God was good, and therefore, all was for the best in the world. Voltaire parodied this philosophy in Candide, or Optimism; Dr. Pangloss, Candide’s tutor and the Leibniz figure in the book, intones “All is for the best in this best of possible worlds” as he, Candide, and Candide’s love, Cunégonde, undergo war, earthquake, pillage, and cannibalism. For the victims, the Leibniz school recommends prayer.
Hay also believed that all is well and perfect in the world, or would be if our thoughts were sufficiently positive; even earthquakes and bad government, says Hay, are caused by faulty thinking. Affirm Donald Trump is loving and honorable and he will be, since thoughts create reality. To that end, both Abraham and Hay urge their followers not to watch the news so as to remain in positivity. Seekers must also not involve themselves overmuch in the problems of others; this, according to the Ayn Randian Abraham, causes you to leave the “high flying disc.” Followers must seek to inspire rather than lend a hand.
At a time of extreme income inequality, class struggle is discouraged by the New Age. Hay suggested that the ambitious let the enormous yachts and other conspicuous consumption of the wealthy give them pleasure. The idea is that if you don’t admire the rich, you might not become one of them. And followers should not look at statistics about poverty: There is plenty for all of us, every prosperity talk insists, and all economies are personal. Collective bargaining, even standing up for abused co-workers, is a no-no.
No one who has sat by an ocean at twilight, breathing its air and listening to the gulls cry as they fly by, can doubt the perfection and majesty of the world. And positive thinking, faith in oneself, and a belief that life is good are healthy outlooks. However, constant meditation on unreal thoughts, saying bad is good, fat is thin, poor is rich, is Orwellian doublethink, doublespeak. And it has prepared us the climate of lies we live in today.
Affirmations are absolute, employing words like all, always, everything, only (“Everything I need is coming to me easily and effortlessly; all my desires are met before I even ask; only good comes to me now”). The gradations of experience, its nuances and subtleties are lost, like rare species of Amazon frog in a pink bulldozer of unreality. And positive thoughts alone are dangerous: Negative feelings, verboten in the New Age sphere, have survival value; anger, which Hay and the 12 Step programs would banish altogether, lets people know when their boundaries have been crossed, when they must stand up for themselves, and most importantly, that they are worth defending.
Thinking in absolutes, affirming what is, isn’t, not defending your point of view (Deepak Chopra advises this), idolizing the rich, staying positive no matter what, and never getting angry is a formula for a mystified and de-hormonized generation, it might be said, a Trump generation. Such people will never be empowered to “create their reality,” as the gurus suggest, especially if that requires conflict, struggle, or effort. It is also painful that people with inadequate medical care are urged to rely on affirmations in times of serious illness, even told their thoughts have caused their sickness.
I think a red light flashed the first time I heard Hay affirm that it was good to take a five-minute break from work every two hours. I grew up in a union household and, as I recall, it was 15 minutes every two hours, not five. No matter—if your work situation is poor, it is because of your thoughts, so get cheerful.
At the end of Candide, Voltaire has his character say, “Il faut cultiver notre jardin”—“We must cultivate our garden.” We are responsible for creating our reality, but not in the atomizing, anti-worker manner Hay and Abraham suggest. And nowadays, negative emotions are highly appropriate. Because if you are not pissed off nowadays, I’m not sure I want to know you.