Catching Up – Templeton and Positive Psychology

Having mentioned Templeton, the mutual fund manager turned patron of the spiritual arts, in passing in my entry Ruse on Evolution, and Seligman’s Positive Psychology movement in my entry Psychology in Recovery and Be Happy, I was interested in “John Templeton’s Universe” in the The Nation. Barbara Ehrenreich looks at the weirdness that happens when inspiration, large sums of money, corporate values, positive thinking, psychology and spirituality intersect.
Unfortunately, it appears that Seligman, who had said some interesting things in his books on positive psychology, has become another corporate inspirational performer, hyping his own line of coaching and positive thinking “products”.

Therapeutic Man

Around the time that I was reading Christopher Lasch’s books, in 2005, I saw a few interviews with Philip Rieff at AL Daily. There is a long, penetrating essay about Dr. Rieff’s work by George Scialabba, “The Curse of Modernity, Philip Rieff’s problem with freedom” in the Boston Review. Much of Rieff’s work involved the continuing reevaluation of the insights of Marx, Nietzsche, Weber and Freud into religion as a social force. In Rieff’s 1959 book on Freud, he suggested, in Sciallaba’s words:

Until the twentieth century … three character types had successively prevailed in Western culture: political man, the ideal of classical times, dedicated to the glory of his city; religious man, the ideal of the Christian era, dedicated to the glory of God; and a transitional figure, economic man, a creature of Enlightenment liberalism. Economic man believed in doing good unto others by doing well for himself. This convenient compromise did not last long, and what survived of it was not the altruism but the egoism. Psychological man was frankly and shrewdly selfish, beyond ideals and illusions, at best a charming narcissist, at worst boorish or hypochondriacal, according to his temperament.

There is some force to some of these ideas.

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Made to Stick

Made to Stick, Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die is a pretty good book. It’s marketed as a business book by some major bookstores, but libraries may shelve it under social psychology. The Duke University Business school has promoted it on its web page. Co-author Dan Heath is a consultant in the Duke program. The web site for the book has links to other reviews.
It starts with a retelling of the urban legend of drugged travelers and kidney theft. The authors, the Heath brothers, ask why this story is likely to remembered and repeated. They suggest that the ideas that stick are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional stories. They work through those 6 concepts, using case studies from business and the general media.
Which corporate mission statements provide a useful framework for decision-making by employees and customers? Southwest Airlines in the low-cost airline. Their customers know it, and the whole organization knows it. The discussion of corporate mission statements is good, and it’s quite funny. The Heath brothers deflate several meaningless and pretentious mission statements, and that has started a sort of buzz on the internet. Their book blog has tracked stories about moronic corporate mission statements.
Remember “where’s the beef”? Remember the urban myth of poisoned halloween candy? Why is sportsmanship a dead idea, and how has the idea of respect for the game replaced it?
The Heath brothers explain why some ideas are believed by some people, and remembered, even if not believed, by most people. They also look at the business end of psychology – which stories get people to buy products, send money to charities, act better, or simplify decisions.
The book provides a good working explanation of the psychology of decision making, which explains why there is more to persuasion than logic. In spite of the bad name given to rhetoric by Aristotle and other classical philosophers, it works. has some good writing, a cross-section of writing by European journalists. Not surprisingly, Europeans have a lot to say about the whether the religious and cultural values of Muslim immigrants, including their intolerant approach to other religions, their defensiveness of their religion’s approach to symbols and feminism, can be allowed to supersede secular values. Dutch writer Margriet de Moor’s essay “Alarm Bells in Muslim Hearts”. There is a strong, thoughtful debate under the title of “The Multicultural Issue”. There is recent feature called “Blind Exorcism in Poland”, which reflects on the work of Ryszard Kapuscinski, the great writer, who made promises to the secret police in order to travel and write, but always managed to tell his stories, subverting the regime in the process.

Religious Shopping Tour

British writer Roland Howard went on a tour to meet people demonstrating the variety of religious experience in Britain at the end of the 20th century. Shopping for God, A Sceptics Search for Value in the Spiritual Marketplace is a travel narrative – he went, he saw, he listened, he wrote. In the telling of the story, he provides background, he discusses a few questions, he suggests he had an interesting inner monologue running during the journey. I haven’t found much information about him on the Web, but Amazon lists a couple of other books about religion.

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Bliss Chronicles

The cover art on Don Lattin’s Following our Bliss is a Volkwagen Bus painted in the psychedelic style associated with the hippie movement, which goes with the subtitle “How the Spiritual Ideas of the Sixties Shape our Lives Today”. Lattin has been writing about religion or spirituality for the San Francisco Chronicle and an assortment of electronic media for a couple of decades, which gives him a wealth of material.

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Bookstore Visit

While visiting Winnipeg for Christmas, I stopped at the downtown McNally Robinson store and looked at a copy of Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking, by Thomas E. Kida. I did not need to buy this book, but I thought it addressed some key things that contribute to bad judgment.

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A check on the new acquisitions shelf at Greater Victoria Public turned up the 2006 revised third edition of the Granta Book of Reportage. Most of the pieces were in the first edition in 1993. Most of them are long, most are immediate and thoughtful and all are well-written. The thinking tends to represent the conventional wisdom of the British Left intelligentia, Germaine Greer’s coverage of Women and Power in Cuba being nearly effusive in praising a Marxist, egalitarian social experiment. Some pieces were translated from East European publications. Ryszard Kapusicinski covered the 1969 soccer war between Honduras and El Salvador. Svetlana Alexiyevich’s piece “The Boys in Zinc” (the bodies came back in zinc lined coffins) distills the Russian occupation of Afghanistan into a series of short first person fictional narratives.

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