23 May 2010

We don't want to look like a failure, and just for that reason we are one

One of the interesting things about the internet is that you learn things about other cultures whose existence you never suspected. And one of the things I've learnt in 20 years of online interaction is that one of the favourite insults of Americans is "loser" (though it is often spelt "looser", which I first took to be a reference to a liberator, or an invitation to "hang loose").

Fifty years ago I read Lawrence Lipton's The holy barbarians, which described the lifestyle of the Beats, who dropped out of the cult of the bitch-goddess Success. But the cult continues.

My son works in a bookshop, and tells me that the best-selling books are self-help books, often books on how to be a big success by wroting self-help books, and so the cult feeds on itself. Motivational speakers charge high fees for speaking on how to be a big success, and there seems to be no lack of people to pay to listen to them.

Another blogger has blogged about one of the latest offerings in the genre: Clarissa's Blog: Turning Your Teen Into a Neurotic:
Here is a sample of wisdom that this book offers to poor teenagers:

All successful people have the habit of doing the things failures don't like to do. They don't like doing them either. But this dislike is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.

Obviously, the purpose of this 'successful' individual does not include being happy or enjoying life. The quote makes a lot more sense if we substitute the word 'neurotic' for successful. It's also curious how a person who refuses to do things s/he doesn't enjoy is necessarily seen as a 'failure.' In this masochistic worldview, the only permissible lifestyle is the one that includes constant self-repression and suffering.

Other pieces of advice the book offers include making weekly lists of the goals you need to achieve and looking at yourself in a mirror in order to find in yourself qualities that need to be eradicated.

Little has changed since Norman Vincent Peale wrote The power of positive thinking

An American Anglican priest once told a joke about it.

Norman Vincent Peale was transported to Calvary at the time of the crucifixion of Christ. He looked at Jesus hanging on the cross and said "Think positively!"


James Higham said...

Yes but after all that, Steve, what is your take on it?

Malcolm said...

But, I still don't know how these books define "success"!

PamBG said...

Hah! That last line will probably fit nicely in my next sermon: "The Servant King".

I was going to add that we in the US worry about our Churches being successful and our ministers being successful. :D

Yewtree said...

About 20 years ago a marvellous book came out in the UK, by Stephen Pyle, called Heroic Failures.

I think the obsession with success is a consequence of the Protestant work ethic.


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