- Generation to Generation
We live in a time of great portent, in which cataclysm seems almost commonplace, leaving us numb yet unable to look away. This has far-reaching implications for our psychology, which the late great British psychologist, David Smail, foresaw over a quarter century ago. Come join us, as we discuss these, along with three of his most powerful recommendations: 1. Look for the causes of distress in society, culture, history, not in your heads or body chemistry -- while continuing to hold all people accountable for their conduct. 2. Recognize that damage done cannot easily be undone; but that there are resources you can call upon (quite apart from therapy) to help change your worlds and improve your lives. 3. Consider substituting the pursuit of public happiness -- and what Smail calls 'the moral evolution of the species' -- for the consumerist ideal of interminable gratification.
- Our Parents, Ourselves
In addition to bodies, there are two things many of us have in common. The first is having been raised by parents. Some will recall this as a glorious (at times frustrating) experience; while for others parental love is remembered rather as undependable, conditional, perhaps even abusive. The second thing many of us have in common is the conflict between pleasing our parents and being true to ourselves. And, though self-knowledge is always useful, it is probably inevitable that we spend a significant portion of our lives replicating the hopes and disappointments of our parental bond.
- The New Normal
Contrary to the quest for moral perfection that is religion, or philosophy's pursuit of knowledge, the material psychology of Epicurus and stoicism pertains to the self within the world of nature and community. Hence, the move from soul to subjectivity, prone as well to excess and misperception. With the onset of the modern and romantic periods, however, psychology shifts its focus to the transformative relation between self and world (e.g., aestheticism, existentialism) and, in the 20th century, to the (therapeutic) adaptation of self to society. But, what if reality itself is of dubious merit?
- Return of the Human
After World War II, the scientific pretense of therapeutic psychology gave way, for a generation or two, to a humanistic orientation. This 'third force' of psychology was, I think, a response to the unreliability of psychoanalysis and behaviorism as well as the tendency of psychology (culture generally?) to follow the lead of political and economic trends. But perhaps there are values implicit in humanistic psychology -- not least, freedom, creativity, self-development -- that are nevertheless worth preserving. And perhaps a revived humanistic psychology should include a more realistic appraisal as to the limits of the individual and the challenges of actualizing these (other?) values within society.
- After the Fall
In my view, psychology begins where religion leaves off. You see this, cultural historically, in the transition from the middle ages to the age of enlightenment, and again, in modern philosophy (Spinoza, Hume, Kant), the 19th century novel, and psychoanalytic theory. This view suggests that we are on firmer ground to the extent that we replace the 'absolute certainty' of revealed religion with a literary reading of reality, which affords clarity, courage, consolation, even as it argues against misguidance and the oppression of the dis-empowered. Of course, modern psychology (as I understand it) is by no means against faith; on the contrary, it recognizes that this is all any of us have, in the end, to fall back on. At the same time, though, psychology suggests we expend most of our mental energy on the (moral) management of our (all too brief) embodiment, with its inevitable dependence upon social and material conditions -- power relations, in particular -- quite apart from the head-turning mythologies brought about by the ideological and technological manifestations of the imagination. This is my view; what say you? -- agree? disagree? agree to disagree?
- What is Anxiety?
The poet W.H. Auden famously dubbed the 20th century The Age of Anxiety; nor was he the first or last to characterize this widespread disturbance as a cultural phenomenon. Novelists, existentialists , playwrights, psychoanalysts, social theorists have all tended to see anxiety as an outside threat to the individual (ego or self) -- the difference being the extent to which we are compelled to adapt to society or are free to think and act for ourselves. Psychiatrists and behavioral psychologists, on the other hand, are decidedly in the former camp, in their view of anxiety as a treatable medical disorder derived from faulty biochemistry and/or cognition. And the distinction is a crucial one, it seems to me, with profound implications as to the meaning we attribute to anxiety -- and how we 'defend against' it. Please join us as we compare notes on this most sensitive (and at times comedic) of subjects.
- The Origin of Distress
Inasmuch as we experience and perceive reality within our selves and relationships, we tend to look there for the cause and solutions to distress. But I would suggest this is a misleading notion, fostered by our consumerist society (and reinforced by the therapy industry), which has, in many ways, hindered rather than helped our ability to think for ourselves and care for each other. I would further suggest, with a grateful nod to the work of British psychologist David Smail, that to the extent we are willing to separate the above presumption from religion and romanticism and consider the matter scientifically, we are likely to conclude the reverse is true; that the cause and solution to distress is to be found outside ourselves, in particular, the sources and resources of power.
- Culture and Creativity
We are each of us born, I think, with the potential and drive to become fully ourselves. And yet, all too often, we are diverted from this worthiest of goals by responsibilities and desires that are, so to speak, thrust upon us, by the important persons, institutions, and (social) media in our lives. Please join us as we explore other culture sources (e.g., literature and philosophy) that enrich rather enslave us and consider how we might revive and reify our life projects. Participants are encouraged to share and discuss their favorite inspiring poems, plays, novels, journal entries, paintings, etc.