Why Looking On The Bright Side Of Things Is Kind Of Bullshit

Nobody likes a “Debbie Downer”, especially when that person is ruining the hell out of your good time.  Right? I mean why can’t these people get it together? Why can’t they understand that perception is everything? 

The answer is because perception ISN’T everything. Perception is  simply one part of the equation. There’s perception, and then there’s reality. I might imagine that going toe-to-toe with a high-altitude mountain seems like the greatest adventure of my life—until I’m losing toes to frostbite, falling off 100-meter cliffs, and sprinting away from a pack of wolves I thought might want their pictures taken. There’s a reason why all footage of Bigfoot is blurry: shitting in your pants for fear of being mauled by a mythical creature takes precedence over searching your bag for that camera you don’t really know how to operate. The dream is often rosier than the reality that surrounds it, and when it’s time to wake up, there’s no going back to sleep.

This whole thing started after I witnessed some crap headline polluting up my newsfeed on Facebook. There was a picture of that American working-class phony, Mike Rowe (who ironically advocates for wealthy corporations, like Walmart, who refuse to pay workers a living wage), and he’s giving some dejected fan “advice” about life—specifically, about finding a good career.

What spewed out of Mike Rowe’s mouth seemed to be an excerpt from the ruling class playbook, essentially: 

“Don’t have standards or dreams, just find something that works and be happy with that. Also, change your attitude and dub down your self-respect and confidence. Stop thinking you deserve a good-paying job that you like. Stop having dreams about supporting a family and just work for free and hope that someone up there at the royal table might throw you a bone someday.”

Okay, so that wasn’t exactly verbatim. But I’m pretty sure I captured the essence of Mike’s coded message to a class of citizen who ranks well below himself. The message I’m referring to is the same one that gets played like a broken record in this country whenever the ruling class screws up, or imagines that those below them are disatisfied with being treated like second-class citizens:

“The quality of your life and how you feel about it is entirely up to YOU.” 

Essentially, what Mike Rowe’s advice on LifeBuzz implies is that the writer asking for advice would be happier if he simply wanted for less, lowered his expectations, accepted work without pay, and hoped for the best—because wanting to have a family and enjoy one’s work are insane aspirations. If you’re as hard-nosed and keen as I am, that pretty much describes slavery.

The message of “change your attitude and everything will be alright” is often cleverly packaged as THE answer to a better life, but makes staggering assumptions about what control an individual actually has over the real value of their lives. There’s an inherent problem with this message, a message which has a dark-side often hidden from its recipients. Passed off as a call to personal empowerment, encouragement for the pursuit of happiness-by-self, this rhetoric doubles as a subtle means of furthering oppression.

Imagine for a moment that your greatest enemy was an entity you could not beat by brute force. Now imagine that the only way to kill this enemy is to convince THEM to kill THEMSELVES—not an easy trick. The most obvious way to accomplish this is to somehow make the act of self-destruction APPEAR like a desirable thing—you know, dress it up real nice. This would be the way to do it. This is how the message of “you and you alone decide how great your life is” kills. It bascially ignores the oppressive role of the ruling class.

At face value, it sounds like empowering advice: “You decide this and that and every thing else will fall in line”. It’s a great bait, especially in the United States, where the concept of the self-made person is still a prominent necessity of our cultural identity. Yet, this insistence that “perception is everything” can be used as a utility of deception which means to shift all responsibility to the individual—most often those who have the LEAST power over their lives. This keeps the greater populous in their place by renaming THEM as the guilty party, while also reducing the risk of having torches and pitchforks at the doors of the ruling class.

There’s an attempt by the elite class of our society to psychologically normalize the experience of marginalization as a lower class citizen by insisting that all responsibility lies with the person (not those in power). Put this soundbite on repeat for the next three decades straight and you’ve got an elite class all freed up to continue on as they please, because dogmatic ideology adopted by the self is extremely hard to contest (see The Crusades and all other wars and acts of mass genocide).

There is, of course, SOME truth to the idea that altering one’s perception can improve one’s life. We can, in fact, make decisions that change our focus, actions, and at least some of the possible outcomes. However, the propagandized slogan of “you determine your fate” has become increasingly overused to distract the greater populous from the irresponsibility of an elite ruling class that exploits others for their own prosperity. Absolving one’s self of guilt in America is extremely easy—just tell someone that this is a free country and “anything can happen if only YOU did something about it”. It’s a motto that would almost be funny if it weren’t so blatantly untrue.

Using outdated cultural ideology that stresses “individual freedom”, the elite class tries to pass it off as truth in a society where very few have true power, and the rest of us have the illusion of power.

There’s a limit to the benefits of self-deception, where reality lives on the borders, and when people hit it, they wonder why they never noticed it in the first place. And then it’s too late. No amount of self-deception is going to pay down your student-loan and mortgage debt faster than when corporate America DECIDES to pay people living wages again. The most frightening danger here is the normalizing of oppression, where the ruling class solution to genuine social issues becomes: Yes, we treat you like crap, but if you think happy thoughts slavery won’t seem so bad, really. It’s pretty hard to feign the absence of power and manipulation when you’ve got all the money and political pull in the room. You can entice people to imagine something better, but eventually they find the man behind the curtain and the jig is up.

Telling everyone that the reason their life sucks is because they aren’t trying to see the bright side of things, can only make sense for so long. Sometimes your life really does suck. And sometimes it’s really NOT your fault. Evoking the common person’s sense of self-guilt for feeling bad about a shitty situation they did not create is a clever way to keep them looking the other way while you continue to steal from their pockets.

Matthew Rosario

American / Writer / Musician