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Bloggingheads 10-29-2009 03:44 PM

The Perniciousness of Positive Thinking (Hanna Rosin & Barbara Ehrenreich)
 

nikkibong 10-29-2009 04:59 PM

Re: The Perniciousness of Positive Thinking (Hanna Rosin & Barbara Ehrenreich)
 
Yay! Barbara Ehreinreich!

Apologies for the positive thinking - I'm a big Ehrenreich fan - and she's got a great Alma Mater, to boot.

TwinSwords 10-29-2009 06:00 PM

Re: The Perniciousness of Positive Thinking (Hanna Rosin & Barbara Ehrenreich)
 
Wow! Barbara Ehrenreich! Welcome to BhTV! It's great to have you here!

TwinSwords 10-29-2009 06:03 PM

Re: The Perniciousness of Positive Thinking (Hanna Rosin & Barbara Ehrenreich)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by nikkibong (Post 135255)
Yay! Barbara Ehreinreich!

Apologies for the positive thinking - I'm a big Ehrenreich fan - and she's got a great Alma Mater, to boot.

And a great Blogginghead for a daughter (as you know), too!

claymisher 10-29-2009 06:15 PM

Re: The Perniciousness of Positive Thinking (Hanna Rosin & Barbara Ehrenreich)
 
The power of positive thinking has creeped me out since I was a little kid. What a terrific subject for a book! Can't wait to hear this one.

Winspur 10-29-2009 08:40 PM

Re: The Perniciousness of Positive Thinking (Hanna Rosin & Barbara Ehrenreich)
 
Thank you for a great diavlog. Barbara's explication of Calvinism, Christian Science, and the prosperity gospel was really interesting (my grandmother was an ardent Christian Scientist). How creepy that the megachurches have stripped all Christian symbols from their interiors--the better to worship Mammon, I guess.

Ocean 10-29-2009 09:13 PM

Re: The Perniciousness of Positive Thinking (Hanna Rosin & Barbara Ehrenreich)
 
Interesting daivlog. I haven't read the book, but I saw Barbara when Jon Stewart interviewed her a couple of weeks ago. At the time I was rather disappointed in what she said. I'm glad I had the opportunity to hear about her book in this diavlog, as her argument seems more reasonable now. Barbara seems to emphasize --and reject-- in her book, the more extreme forms of "positive thinking", from its religious origins to its business derivatives. She didn't seem to be very balanced in her appreciation of "positive thinking" and health, or in the context of self help groups of cancer patients. She apparently encountered people that represented the more radical positions. Patients that deal with cancer go through the regular Kübler Ross stages of grief. Anger is certainly a legitimate phase and suppressing it isn't conducive to wellbeing. By the same token, getting stuck in that phase, feeling sorry for oneself, or feeling overwhelmed by pessimistic possibilities isn't going to help. When I think about positive thinking when it refers to cancer or other serious illnesses, I don't think about some magical cure but rather about a coping skill, a strategy to overcome, from a psychological perspective, a very difficult life circumstance.

I appreciated Hanna's very effective interventions in giving context and perspective. Hanna and Barbara make the distinction between the application of psychology to clinical populations (from subnormal to normal), and psychology as a way of improving well being (from normal to supranormal). I would guess that there are legitimate and illegitimate trends in both areas. Identifying the fringes or the illegitimate approaches shouldn't invalidate the legitimate ones.

Towards the end Hanna brings up positive thinking as part of cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is the application that I'm familiar with. Just as an aside, although in its origin and for some of its defenders, cognitive behavioral therapy can be viewed as "a reaction to" psychoanalytic therapies, in fact it is not. These are two different treatment modalities. Each has its indication which is dependent on the specific psychological problem to be addressed, as well as on the individual receiving the treatment.

Overall, a thought provoking diavlog.

Simon Willard 10-29-2009 11:37 PM

Re: The Perniciousness of Positive Thinking (Hanna Rosin & Barbara Ehrenreich)
 
Humbug. This is like a Hanna/Barbera cartoon. Who pays attention to these silly theories, anyway? Positive thinking, negative thinking... it was always nonsense, and there's no need for these two to analyze the nonsense.

Starwatcher162536 10-29-2009 11:41 PM

Re: The Perniciousness of Positive Thinking (Hanna Rosin & Barbara Ehrenreich)
 
Don't diss my Chi, dawg. I komaaya kommaya your ass.

Baltimoron 10-29-2009 11:52 PM

Blame It on William James
 
Firstly, props for booking Barbara Ehrenreich. It dates me, but I had the privilege to attend some student conferences in New York hosted by Democratic Socialists of America when I was a college student in the 80s. I listened to Ehrenreich and Michael Harrington when I should have taken more notes for posterity

But, I was surprised Ehrenreich didn't mention the influence of William James in her capsule history. "The Will to Believe" is seminal - and available online. As a matter of fact, although I do chirp to Ehrenreich's critique of alternative American cults, I associate positive thinking with the most fertile of periods of American academic work, the pragmatic movement. I think a critique of James, as much as he refined the "logic" of positive thinking, begins with Charles S. Peirce and other pragmaticists. But, Ehrenreich's and Rosin's emphasis on popular, middlebrow authors is a treasure trove of woo-smiting spleen.

Finally, I'm struck by the connection between positive thinking and 12-step programs.

Markos 10-30-2009 01:50 AM

Re: The Perniciousness of Positive Thinking (Hanna Rosin & Barbara Ehrenreich)
 
I enjoyed this discussion very much. But I wish I could have participated in it.
I think the Millionaire Mind seminars make the leader(s) of the seminars extremely wealthy while the followers who make them wealthy pay a lot of money upfront for "courses" of dubious value. And there are lots more Reverend Ike-ish churches and get-rich infomercial come-os that deserve these women's scorn.
On the other hand, I wish I could have participated in this discussion because I don't Barbara and Hanna might have thrown the baby out with the bath water.I would have liked to question Barbara especially about what keeps her going in life. Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, J.K. Rowling and Albert Einstein (to name a few) all employed visualization and "mental discipline" to achieve what they did.
I think Barbara sounds like she paints a too-extreme picture of he target of her critique. I would have really enjoyed asking her some questions and discussing some things with her that Hanna didn't cover.

Baltimoron 10-30-2009 02:24 AM

Re: The Perniciousness of Positive Thinking (Hanna Rosin & Barbara Ehrenreich)
 
Quote:

Barbara and Hanna might have thrown the baby out with the bath water.I would have liked to question Barbara especially about what keeps her going in life. Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, J.K. Rowling and Albert Einstein (to name a few) all employed visualization and "mental discipline" to achieve what they did.
I think you implicitly accept tenets of positive thinking. Ehrenreich ends - and I agree it's all too short - on a note about realism. James and religious nuts share the belief, that reason is inadequate. The "discovery" was, that will is the under-appreciated third wheel of the human soul, after the Romantics had destroyed feeling or sentiment forever as an alternative. Ehrenreich also mentions how her previous experience as a scientist helped her to understand cancer without accepting the crackpot notion, that immunology had any bearing on cancer cells. Debunking religious crackpots, new age woo, and championing evidence-based medicine is a coherent world view. I wish Ehrenreich had emphasized that.

JonIrenicus 10-30-2009 06:09 AM

Re: The Perniciousness of Positive Thinking (Hanna Rosin & Barbara Ehrenreich)
 
I am not going to defend a bunch of nonsense about positive thinking curing disease, but it seems lopsided to me.


Take this critique of her book.

http://www.amazon.com/review/R1XNYF0...R1XNYF0HJJYNP3


Take that or leave it.



Also how does this relate to the placebo effect? No effect in specific cases of immune function against cancer (why would it, the point is that cancerous cells are typically seen as the bodies own cells and not targeted), but what about the general case where two groups are given a drug sample with one group given the placebo and still doing better than being given nothing. There must be something there beyond the absence of a negative like severe stress. Or is that all it is?

Baltimoron 10-30-2009 08:35 AM

Re: The Perniciousness of Positive Thinking (Hanna Rosin & Barbara Ehrenreich)
 
Quote:

Also how does this relate to the placebo effect?...
Just a quick googling brought this up: secondary symptoms are alleviated, but the actual tumors are unaffected.

Francoamerican 10-30-2009 10:17 AM

Re: Blame It on William James
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Baltimoron (Post 135330)
But, I was surprised Ehrenreich didn't mention the influence of William James in her capsule history.


Most unfair to Wm James, who was a cheerful pessimist, a bit like Nietzsche. But it would take too long to argue the point. I agree that this was a excellent discussion of the transformation of the dreadful Calvinism of early America into the dreadful cheerfulness of positive thinking in contemporary America.

The following account of Wm James of his visit to the "ideal" suburban utopia of Chautauqua might interest you:

A few summers ago I spent a happy week at the famous Assembly Grounds on the borders of Chautauqua Lake. The moment one treads that sacred enclosure, one feels oneself in an atmosphere of success. Sobriety and industry, intelligence and goodness, orderliness and ideality, prosperity and cheerfulness pervade the air. It is a serious and studious picnic on a gigantic scale. Here you have a town of many thousands of inhabitants, beautifully laid out in the forest and drained and equipped with the means of satisfying all the necessary lower and most of the superfluous higher wants of man. You have a first-class college in full blast. You have magnificent music—a chorus of 700 voices, with possibly the most perfect open-air auditorium of the world. You have every sort of athletic exercise from sailing, rowing, swimming, bicycling, to the ballfield and the more artificial doings of the gymnasium. You have kindergartens and model secondary schools. You have general religious services and special club-houses for the several sects. You have perpetually running soda-water fountains and daily popular lectures for distinguished men. You have the best of company, and yet no effort. You have no zymotic diseases, no poverty, no drunkenness, no crime, no police. You have culture, you have kindness, you have cheapness, you have equality, you have the best fruits of what mankind has fought and bled and striven for under the name of civilization for centuries. You have, in short, a foretaste of what human society might be, were it all in the light, with no suffering and dark corners.

I went in curiosity for a day. I stayed a week, held spell-bound by the charm and ease of everything, by the middle-class paradise, without a sin, without a victim, without a blot, without a tear.

And yet what was my own astonishment, on emerging into the dark and wicked world again, to catch myself quite unexpectedly and involuntarily saying: “Ouf, what a relief! Now for something primordial and savage, even though it were the Armenian massacre, to set the balance straight again. This order is too tame, this culture too second-rate, this goodness to uninspiring. This human drama without a villain or a pang; this community so refined that ice-cream soda is the utmost offering it can make to the brute animal in man; this city simmering in the tepid lakeside sun; this atrocious harmlessness in all things---I cannot abide them. Let me take my chances again in the bid outside worldly wilderness with all its sins and sufferings.

Me&theboys 10-30-2009 10:44 AM

Re: The Perniciousness of Positive Thinking (Hanna Rosin & Barbara Ehrenreich)
 
Excellent diavlog, but way too short and too many topics covered too briefly. Bring Ehrenreich back for a diavlog to address one (or each) of the topics in more detail. A Rosin/Ehrenreich discussion of these churches they describe would be fascinating. Also, the topic of positive psychology as perpetuated in popular media by well known academics deserved far more discussion. Maybe Ehrenreich and Jon Haidt would be a good match for that discussion. I read The Happiness Hypothesis by Jon Haidt, which was great and thoughtful and intelligent, followed by Authentic Happiness by Seligman, which I subsequently threw in the trash it was so horrible (the only book I've ever thrown away in disgust, other than The Bridges of Madison County - blech). Seligman's book wasn't horrible because of the writing but because of the concept and how it is sold in the book. Short term, it's-all-about-me-thinking, dumbed down, feel good pablum that is inexcusable for someone of Seligman's training, IMO. Here's a good link to a criticism of positive psychology.

claymisher 10-30-2009 12:31 PM

Re: Blame It on William James
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Francoamerican (Post 135392)
Most unfair to Wm James, who was a cheerful pessimist, a bit like Nietzsche. But it would take too long to argue the point. I agree that this was a excellent discussion of the transformation of the dreadful Calvinism of early America into the dreadful cheerfulness of positive thinking in contemporary America.

The following account of Wm James of his visit to the "ideal" suburban utopia of Chautauqua might interest you:

A few summers ago I spent a happy week at the famous Assembly Grounds on the borders of Chautauqua Lake. The moment one treads that sacred enclosure, one feels oneself in an atmosphere of success. Sobriety and industry, intelligence and goodness, orderliness and ideality, prosperity and cheerfulness pervade the air. It is a serious and studious picnic on a gigantic scale. Here you have a town of many thousands of inhabitants, beautifully laid out in the forest and drained and equipped with the means of satisfying all the necessary lower and most of the superfluous higher wants of man. You have a first-class college in full blast. You have magnificent music—a chorus of 700 voices, with possibly the most perfect open-air auditorium of the world. You have every sort of athletic exercise from sailing, rowing, swimming, bicycling, to the ballfield and the more artificial doings of the gymnasium. You have kindergartens and model secondary schools. You have general religious services and special club-houses for the several sects. You have perpetually running soda-water fountains and daily popular lectures for distinguished men. You have the best of company, and yet no effort. You have no zymotic diseases, no poverty, no drunkenness, no crime, no police. You have culture, you have kindness, you have cheapness, you have equality, you have the best fruits of what mankind has fought and bled and striven for under the name of civilization for centuries. You have, in short, a foretaste of what human society might be, were it all in the light, with no suffering and dark corners.

I went in curiosity for a day. I stayed a week, held spell-bound by the charm and ease of everything, by the middle-class paradise, without a sin, without a victim, without a blot, without a tear.

And yet what was my own astonishment, on emerging into the dark and wicked world again, to catch myself quite unexpectedly and involuntarily saying: “Ouf, what a relief! Now for something primordial and savage, even though it were the Armenian massacre, to set the balance straight again. This order is too tame, this culture too second-rate, this goodness to uninspiring. This human drama without a villain or a pang; this community so refined that ice-cream soda is the utmost offering it can make to the brute animal in man; this city simmering in the tepid lakeside sun; this atrocious harmlessness in all things---I cannot abide them. Let me take my chances again in the bid outside worldly wilderness with all its sins and sufferings.

I love James (and his pals Dewey and Peirce), but that's nonsense. Only a high-status white man at the top of the social hierarchy would say that. I'm pretty sure the poor, the weak, and the hated would settle for the atrocious harmlessness in all things. There's enough drama in the unavoidable -- illness, loss, death, etc -- to keep me on my toes.

bjkeefe 10-30-2009 02:22 PM

Re: Blame It on William James
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by claymisher (Post 135413)
I love James (and his pals Dewey and Peirce), but that's nonsense. Only a high-status white man at the top of the social hierarchy would say that. I'm pretty sure the poor, the weak, and the hated would settle for the atrocious harmlessness in all things. There's enough drama in the unavoidable -- illness, loss, death, etc -- to keep me on my toes.

I take your point about James having had the luxury of his position to be able to make those complaints, and I certainly agree it's correct when one adopts the point of view of those less well off than he was.

Still, I don't think his grumbles are entirely unjustified. It is legitimate, to my mind, to be dissatisfied with an observed situation, no matter that it is not the worst of all possible worlds, and it does not suffice merely to point out someone worse off to completely delegitimize the dissatisfaction. (Being told "think of all the poor starving children in Biafra" is not a good way to get Junior to clean his plate.) There is no reason why everyone should have to use the same set of standards, given our different lots in life and taking as axiomatic that life itself is unfair.

Perhaps it is the nature of how we're wired up that once we get to a point where one set of complaints is addressed, another set always presents itself for attention. (It also seems true that solved problems look easy in retrospect, and current ones hard.) Maybe this is, at least in part, a good thing -- rarely is progress made except when someone says, "I don't like the status quo." And in any case, it seems perfectly fine to me for someone to wonder, as James did, is this all there is? Is this the endpoint we'll reach if we manage to conquer hunger, disease, strife, ignorance, and other problems now facing humanity as a whole? Somehow, I had hoped there would be something ... more, and in any case, I had hoped it wouldn't be so boring.

Of course, shorter this whole discussion:

Quote:

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

Francoamerican 10-30-2009 02:30 PM

Re: Blame It on William James
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by claymisher (Post 135413)
I love James (and his pals Dewey and Peirce), but that's nonsense. Only a high-status white man at the top of the social hierarchy would say that. I'm pretty sure the poor, the weak, and the hated would settle for the atrocious harmlessness in all things. There's enough drama in the unavoidable -- illness, loss, death, etc -- to keep me on my toes.

No doubt, but is it nonsense? I think you are forgetting that for some people the satisfaction of basic needs induces nothing but boredom, ennui and thoughts of suicide. Romantic balderdash? Maybe, but without the dissatisfaction James describes humanity would probably still be roaming the savannahs in seach of the next meal.

Wonderment 10-30-2009 03:16 PM

Re: Blame It on William James
 
Quote:

I love James (and his pals Dewey and Peirce), but that's nonsense. Only a high-status white man at the top of the social hierarchy would say that. I'm pretty sure the poor, the weak, and the hated would settle for the atrocious harmlessness in all things. There's enough drama in the unavoidable -- illness, loss, death, etc -- to keep me on my toes.
I'm also a big fan of James and the pragmatists, not to mention Henry James, Willie's brother, who is on anyone's short list for the top 10 novelists in US history.

I would never defend the quackery of curing cancer with positive thoughts. California, where I live, is overrun with people who have absorbed all sorts of crazy nonsense about medicine, especially regarding vaccines and homeopathy.

That said, I am reluctant to throw out the baby with the bath water in too polemical a critique of self-help and pop psychology. People get enormous psychological benefit from the broad range of religion, self-help and alternative medicine. It's only dangerous (in my view) when it substitutes for science or when the beliefs conflict with science (as in the anti-
vaccine movement).

Also, worth mentioning is that people usually turn to alternative modes because they've been burned or neglected by mainstream medicine. If a doctor had more than 5 minutes to talk to them without the meter running, if psychotherapy were not prohibitively expensive, and if mainstream health communities did a better job of prevention, counseling and follow-up -- people would turn less to questionable alternatives.

Barbara's main point of a creepy ideological component in the self-help and corporate coaching industries seems right on target, however.

PreppyMcPrepperson 10-30-2009 03:33 PM

Random James aside
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Wonderment (Post 135434)
I'm also a big fan of James and the pragmatists, not to mention Henry James, Willie's brother, who is on anyone's short list for the top 10 novelists in US history.

I grew up (and currently reside) in New York and have lived some chunk of that time within five minutes of Henry James' part of town. He's a favorite novelist of mine and I've always thought of him as a New York writer.

But when I lived in the UK, I met tons of people who has read his books in school British Lit classes sandwiched between Dickens and Hardy, and who were absolutely convinced that he's a British novelist because it's where he emigrated to and where he died.

Thoughts?

Wonderment 10-30-2009 03:46 PM

Re: Random James aside
 
Well, he was an expat who was obsessed with the theme of America/Europe, and he spent 40 years of his life in Europe, so the Euros have a case for claiming him (sort of like T.S. Eliot).

I also wanted to mention in the previous post that William's "The Varieties of Religious Experience" is a seminal text in 20th century theology (published in 1902) and certainly influenced the likes of writers like Bob Wright.

claymisher 10-30-2009 04:59 PM

Re: Blame It on William James
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by bjkeefe (Post 135423)
I take your point about James having had the luxury of his position to be able to make those complaints, and I certainly agree it's correct when one adopts the point of view of those less well off than he was.

Still, I don't think his grumbles are entirely unjustified. It is legitimate, to my mind, to be dissatisfied with an observed situation, no matter that it is not the worst of all possible worlds, and it does not suffice merely to point out someone worse off to completely delegitimize the dissatisfaction. (Being told "think of all the poor starving children in Biafra" is not a good way to get Junior to clean his plate.) There is no reason why everyone should have to use the same set of standards, given our different lots in life and taking as axiomatic that life itself is unfair.

Perhaps it is the nature of how we're wired up that once we get to a point where one set of complaints is addressed, another set always presents itself for attention. (It also seems true that solved problems look easy in retrospect, and current ones hard.) Maybe this is, at least in part, a good thing -- rarely is progress made except when someone says, "I don't like the status quo." And in any case, it seems perfectly fine to me for someone to wonder, as James did, is this all there is? Is this the endpoint we'll reach if we manage to conquer hunger, disease, strife, ignorance, and other problems now facing humanity as a whole? Somehow, I had hoped there would be something ... more, and in any case, I had hoped it wouldn't be so boring.

Of course, shorter this whole discussion:

How about, "Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens?"

Hey, back up there! I wasn't defending the status quo. I just think "it'd be more interesting around here if somebody got raped" is bonkers.

I get anomie and Durkheim. What'd Haidt say, nobody is more satisfied and happier than a nation fighting for independence? On an individual level you gotta have some stress to stay fit (Sapolsky talks about this in "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers." Old folks in retirement homes keep it together longer when they have chores to do vs. being pampered). Heck, you might even need some germs to keep your immune system from wigging out.

So no stress (Hotel California) and the war of all against all are unhappy extremes. How much and what kinds of stress and hardship are optimal for people to thrive?

I'm surprised nobody mentioned William James's "The Moral Equivalent of War." It holds up really well. (Give it a read, it's only as long as a long blog post.) However, in the 100 years since it was written I think we've found the outlet for innate warlike tendencies: professional sports. Okay, just kidding. BTW, anybody see "Big Fan"?

bjkeefe 10-30-2009 04:59 PM

Life imitating art, once again
 
Just as Heinlein predicted, almost half a century ago.

This is the Church of the New Revelation, to a tee.

The really worrisome thing? Recall that Jubal at one point fretted that before he died, membership would become compulsory. And so far, I'm not seeing any Valentine Michael Smiths that'll prevent that from happening.

Ah, well. Guess we'll have to take care of that ourselves. And to that end, hats off to Hannah and especially Barbara.

Lyle 10-30-2009 05:10 PM

Re: Random James aside
 
Is Christopher Hitchens American?

bjkeefe 10-30-2009 05:35 PM

Separated at birth?
 
1 Attachment(s)
Mostly listened to this one, happened to look at the screen toward the end and ... whoa, is that a chair back?

graz 10-30-2009 06:00 PM

Re: Blame It on William James
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by claymisher (Post 135452)
I'm surprised nobody mentioned William James's "The Moral Equivalent of War." It holds up really well. (Give it a read, it's only as long as a long blog post.) However, in the 100 years since it was written I think we've found the outlet for innate warlike tendencies: professional sports. Okay, just kidding. BTW, anybody see "Big Fan"?

Yes. The genius of Patton Oswalt, the NY football Giants (backdrop) and the screenwriter for The Wrestler who was a fanatical sports radio listener as a kid... to say nothing of the plug from the best show and Sharpling.

P.S. Welcome to the Mike show
Jesse Thorn from The Sound of Young America podcast (available free on iTunes) does a good interview with the writer, Robert Siegel.

claymisher 10-30-2009 07:54 PM

Re: Blame It on William James
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by graz (Post 135464)
Yes. The genius of Patton Oswalt, the NY football Giants (backdrop) and the screenwriter for The Wrestler who was a fanatical sports radio listener as a kid... to say nothing of the plug from the best show and Sharpling.

P.S. Welcome to the Mike show
Jesse Thorn from The Sound of Young America podcast (available free on iTunes) does a good interview with the writer, Robert Siegel.

VELLCOME to ZEE MIKE show!

graz, when you were watching Big Fan did you keep thinking Spike would call in? I did.

ginger baker 10-30-2009 09:12 PM

Re: The Perniciousness of Positive Thinking (Hanna Rosin & Barbara Ehrenreich)
 
its great to hear ehrenreich on bhtv. she is also very easy on the eyes...

Baltimoron 10-30-2009 10:31 PM

Re: Blame It on William James
 
Quote:

I'm also a big fan of James and the pragmatists, not to mention Henry James, Willie's brother, who is on anyone's short list for the top 10 novelists in US history.
I was fortunate to attend a seminar on religion and William James as an undergrad. I recall some quip, that William was the better writer of the brothers. Throughout the course, though, I developed a wariness about James. I've never read a writer whose prose was both so lucid and yet so deceptive. I don't have access to my notes now, or else I could cite examples. But, as far as I recall, compression played a large part in how James presented his interpretation of other philosophers' arguments. Reading James is a case study in how a master rhetorician works to persuade.

I also agree "Varieties" is a brilliant, thoroughly entertaining book, perhaps one of the best American non-fiction books ever written. I often rely on the healthy-/sick-minded and once-/twice-born distinctions when I listen to or read some person talk about their religious beliefs or perspective in general. The book allows for far more objectivity about what people really believe than thinking about official dogma or institutional history. After I read that book, though, I became much less enamored of James during that course. "The Will to Believe" particularly annoyed me, and I ended the course much less satisfied than when I started.

Baltimoron 10-30-2009 10:46 PM

Re: Blame It on William James
 
I view this as an illustration of James' sick-minded perspective that led him to apply his psychological and philosophical insights to religion in the first place.

Baltimoron 10-30-2009 11:39 PM

Re: Separated at birth?
 
Great flashback of Lily Tomlin at her best! I just thought of a way to mask diavloggers, because whatever technology is used now is just hurting my eyes: run vintage videos, perhaps with some patchy lip sync'ing. without sound! Tea-baggers can choose their favorite Glenn Beck tirade! Comedans can run the Three Stooges! It could be film-educating and informative!

Baltimoron 10-31-2009 12:03 AM

Re: Random James aside
 
Considering how much Henry James, Sr. invested in his kids' education, including schooling and travel, it's hard to conceive of the James family as "New Yorkers". Both Henry and William were unusually cosmopolitan and Euro-savvy compared to the average American of their time. Then again, upstate New York throughout the 19th Century was chock of unusual Americans: abolitionists, suffragists, evangelists, reformers of any conceivable stripe. Maybe we can call the James brood ordinary New Yorkers for a very unique region.

Baltimoron 10-31-2009 12:04 AM

Re: Random James aside
 
Quote:

...William's "The Varieties of Religious Experience" is a seminal text in 20th century theology (published in 1902) and certainly influenced the likes of writers like Bob Wright.
That gives me cause for concern. Can we call Wright a "radical empiricist"?

AemJeff 10-31-2009 12:31 AM

Re: Random James aside
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Baltimoron (Post 135555)
That gives me cause for concern. Can we call Wright a "radical empiricist"?

Not after The Evolution of God.

bjkeefe 10-31-2009 01:18 AM

Re: Blame It on William James
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by claymisher (Post 135452)
Hey, back up there! I wasn't defending the status quo.

I didn't mean to suggest you were. Sorry if I created that impression -- I did get off on a little bit of a tangent, perhaps. But I did want to argue for the legitimacy of someone who seems like "he has it all" to be discontented.

Quote:

I just think "it'd be more interesting around here if somebody got raped" is bonkers.
I didn't notice that line anywhere. Of course I agree, though -- that's nuts.

Quote:

I get anomie and Durkheim. What'd Haidt say, nobody is more satisfied and happier than a nation fighting for independence? On an individual level you gotta have some stress to stay fit (Sapolsky talks about this in "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers." Old folks in retirement homes keep it together longer when they have chores to do vs. being pampered). Heck, you might even need some germs to keep your immune system from wigging out.

So no stress (Hotel California) and the war of all against all are unhappy extremes. How much and what kinds of stress and hardship are optimal for people to thrive?
I haven't read what you've listed, but I do share that view, that there is an in-between place; i.e., that a life with some (kinds of) stress is better -- in so many ways -- than one with none. I don't know if it can be said to be an ideal place, but it may be that "best possible" is all we can hope for. (And keep working towards -- here's a case where moving goalposts are a good thing.)

Quote:

I'm surprised nobody mentioned William James's "The Moral Equivalent of War." It holds up really well. (Give it a read, it's only as long as a long blog post.)
I will try to get to it. Thanks for the link.

PreppyMcPrepperson 10-31-2009 01:37 AM

Re: Random James aside
 
The above comments are interesting, and yes, Baltimoron, NY in the late c19 was something of a distinctive place.

But I'm not sure the thing that confuses me about James has grown any clearer. I'm interested in whether Henry James' writing is more accurately placed in the American or British literary tradition. That may or may not be related to the question most of you answered--of whether Henry James, the man, should be properly thought of as a famous American or a famous Briton or a famous citizen-of-the-world.

Any insight from fellow James fans or literary geeks about how to classify his work would be eminently useful.

Baltimoron 10-31-2009 01:54 AM

Re: Random James aside
 
I'm no Henry James fan or expert, or even a lit-geek. A moronic question, maybe: why, aside from geography, do lit-geeks distinguish American from British lit? Didn't early 19th Century Americans like Cooper and Irving try to create a distinct American literature? Was there something to this other than geography? Maybe James just didn't fit into this project.

Baltimoron 10-31-2009 02:29 AM

Shorter Ehrenreich
 
I found this Ehrenreich interview, which offers a shorter, handier version of the diavlog (no snub of dinglelinks intended). This response seemed to summarize the entire thesis of the discussion entirely:

Quote:

EW: When does this idea of positive thinking change into being what you're saying it is now?

BE: It had ceased to be seen as a healing method, although that comes back. By the time I encounter it, breast cancer has come back into the health area. But in the early 20th century there was, for the first time, scientific medicine and the beginnings of some sorts of effective treatments. That kind of closed a door for the positive-thinking movement, which then increasingly in the 20th century addressed itself to prosperity and wealth and success.
Firstly, are the healing and success variants, as Ehrenreich has it, actually related?

Secondly, if science killed the first version of positive thinking, is there a way to kill the second that is analogous?

Quote:

EW: You write that the alternative to positive thinking isn't despair. What do you see as the alternative?

BE: How about a little realism? How about not seeing the world so totally colored by our own wishes and emotions? For the positive thinker, that means everything looks rosy and everything is going to be all right no matter what, so you have to block out the little warning signs....

...One of the major sources of misery in the world is poverty. We can do one of two things. We can tell poor people they need to change their attitudes, and there's a whole industry of that kind of thing -- motivational speakers that tell people to get over their bad attitudes towards wealth so it will just come to them.
But, what about ending the practices underlying the Great Moderation? There's no policy alternative to poverty similar to clinical medicine and healing, even if clinical medicine is more art than science.

Francoamerican 10-31-2009 06:10 AM

Re: Blame It on William James
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Baltimoron (Post 135539)
I view this as an illustration of James' sick-minded perspective that led him to apply his psychological and philosophical insights to religion in the first place.

How so? Unless you are a believer in the positive thinking excoriated by Ehrenreich, I don't see how you can dispute what James is saying in the passage I quoted. The American vision of the good life in suburbia is both infantile and boring. Nothing much has changed in that regard.

Anyone who has read Jame's Principles of Psychology or A Pluralistic Universe or Pragmatism knows that James had a scientific mind and, after youthful phase of fashionable, romantic Weltschmertz, regarded religious beliefs as either pathological or as "ways of coping" with a harsh reality peculiar to certain types of mind. In his own vocabulary he was "tough-minded" rather than "tender-minded." See First Lecture of Pragmatism: The Present Dilemma of Philosophy.

The Will to Believe offended many 20th-century scientific positivists, and I agree that James makes some dubious arguments but he rightly saw that natural science leaves too much out of the picture to be satisfying to an adult mind.


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