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Life Arts    H4'ed 2/23/21

Heather McGhee on Progressive Alternative Thinking (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Heather McGhee
Heather McGhee
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) February 23, 2021: In the African American activist Heather McGhee's first book The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together (2021), she perceptively explores how to develop a multi-faceted alternative to the zero-sum thinking in our contemporary American winner-take-all economy in the United States.

As McGhee explicitly acknowledges (page 300), her primary source for describing the zero-sum thinking of certain comparatively economically well-off white Americans is white professors Michael I. Norton and Samuel R. Sommers' article "Whites See Racism as a Zero-Sum Game that They Are Now Losing" in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, volume 6, number 5 (May 2011): pages 215-218.

Even though McGhee sees zero-sum thinking as connected with our contemporary American winner-take-all economy in the United States, she does not happen to refer explicitly to the 2010 book Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class by the white American professors Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson.

For further discussion of Hacker and Pierson's 2010 book, see my 1,500-word OEN article "When Will Winner-Take-All Politics End?" (dated November 26, 2010):

Click Here

However, despite this relevant omission from McGhee's new book, I am not intimating that her book is under-researched, as her detailed "Notes" (pages 295-397) and her impressive alphabetized "List of Interviews" and dates of interviews (pages 399-400) show. According to the dates listed, she conducted her earliest interviews in June 2017, and her most recent in September 2020. She conducted interviews of more than 50 individual persons.

Now, McGhee interviewed two persons at three different times each: (1) May Boeve in August 2018, February 2020, and August 2020, and (2) Ben Chin in June 2017, May 2018, and June 2020. McGhee also interviewed four other individual persons each at two different times: (1) Julie Christine Johnson in August 2017 and June 2020; (2) Angela King in June 2017 and August 2017; (3) Torm Nompraseurt in March 202 and April 2020; and (4) Ali Takata in March 2019 and August 2020. In addition, she interviewed an unspecified number of Nissan workers in Mississippi in August 2017.

See the "Index" (pages 401-415) for specific page references to each of the 52 individual persons listed in the alphabetized "List of Interviews."

More significantly, in my estimate, McGhee is not familiar with the terminology about catastrophizing thinking that the late white American psychologist Albert Ellis (1913-2007) developed. But what she refers to as zero-sum thinking tends to produce what Ellis refers to as catastrophizing thinking as a byproduct. In short, zero-sum thinking tends to be accompanied by catastrophizing thinking - in, for example, comparatively economically well-off white Americans who see Black Americans as advancing economically at the supposed expense of white Americans. This is a salient example of what McGhee refers to as zero-sum thinking at work (esp. pages 5-15 and 124-125).

Unfortunately, McGhee is not the only recent author who is not familiar with Ellis' terminology about catastrophizing thinking. For example, in the 2020 book translated into English as Humankind: A Hopeful History, translated from the Dutch by Elizabeth Manton and Erica Moore (orig. Dutch ed., 2019), the white Dutch journalist Rutger Bregman repeatedly reviews how certain famous psychological studies were received in ways that I see as manifestations of what Ellis refers to as catastrophizing thinking.

For further discussion of Bregman's book, see my 1,500-word OEN article "Rutger Bregman's Hopeful Evolutionary History of Humankind" (dated February 15, 2021):

Click Here

But McGhee's 440-page book is essentially an extended exploration of why and how we need to develop a systemic an alternative to zero-sum thinking, as her main title intimates - despite what Hacker and Pierson refer to as winner-take-all politics in Washington. Because I am generally hopeful about the new Biden administration and the Democrats in Congress, I can only hope that people in the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress benefit from McGhee's efforts to explore developing a systemic constructive alternative to zero-sum thinking.

For further relevant discussion of President Joe Biden, see my recent 2,700-word OEN article "Massimo Faggioli on President Joe Biden, Pope Francis, and Catholicism Today" (dated (February 20, 2021):

Click Here

(Article changed on February 24, 2021 at 12:42)


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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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