Psychology and Science Lite, Theology Sophomoric, Politics Predictable, and Distinctly Not Scholarship
Granskad i USA den 13 januari 2012
If you are looking for a serious and complex treatment of enduring philosophical ideas and their modern or post-modern iterations, this in not the book for you. If you are looking for a stale late 20th century "hippie" pop cultural treatment of world philosophy, world religion, and political morality this will feel just groovy to you. In general, beware that while this author stresses the importance of rational self-knowledge and objective self-reflection and inquiry, he proclaims he is an atheist and a scientist (a rationalist)and seems unable to draw the links between these two domains in his own case; he demonstrates no self-reflection or insight into how his personal worldview might skew his perceptions and writing, and seems to assume that his way of framing reality is "the self-evident truth."
He illuminates and breaks apart (or so he thinks) the biases, blinds spots, intellectual pretensions of other ways (non-rationalist, non-liberal, religious) of framing reality, but does not feel the need to present these differing philosophies with any depth and complexity. This is particularly true for religious thinking, where he is amateurishly enthusiastic about certain ideas on the one hand, thought taken out of context (he does like those Eastern metaphors and methods, so long as they make him feel good and do not make any controlling truth claims that conflict with his "rational autonomy"), and is equally amateurishly dismissive of others (such as the entire Western tradition of religiously based social justice.)
Shot through this book is a deep assumption -- an unreflective one -- of Enlightenment sponsored historical "progress." The author assumes that the claims or developments in world knowledge contributed by "science" are ipso facto true, trumping other explanatory models of human behavior, morality, politics, war, etc.; if you read closely however, you will see that many of the truths of "positive psychology" that he cites or uses are not in fact the products of methodelogically sound, hard science.
A Couple of Examples:
-- on science: the author presents two charts in his "love and attachment" chapter which he describes as follows: "I've drawn out how the intensity of passionate and compassionate love might vary in one person over the course of six months." Nice, scientific looking charts, with the lines going up and down according to his theory, labelling of the axes ("intensity" and "time") and a grand title ("The Time and Course of Two Kinds of Love (Short Run)"). The problem is: these are completely fabricated. What is this way of presenting his thoughts all about? (is itart? a visual shorthand?). Irrespective of how a careful reader might interpret these charts, this author is not engaging in science while at the same time presenting his ideas in a forms and ideums of academic psychology and science, By presenting these "charts" to look like those found in scientific literature, he borrows from the trappings of science (charts presenting data) to steal a gloss of authority for what is a confection of his own imagination, not hard data.
-- on evil, he elides away from up-front grappling with the issue of self-generated evil (say, for example, in cases such as Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, pedophiles and sexual sadists, terrorists such as the DC snipers, Tim McVeigh in the US, or sarin gas terrorists in Japan and the Beslan school terrorists in Russia); instead he stresses the following line of pseudo-scientific psychological argument: we all are capable of evil because we all can misunderstand and misjudge others, dehumanizing them, particularly if we harbor foolish ideals that conflict. He cites the perpetual left/liberal/progressive straw man of President George W. Bush as a clear demonstration (in his view, though he does not present this as a personal political view) of evil thinking (of course, who else could possibly be more self-evidently evil in this world than George W. Bush?); he cites what he calls the "brave" example of a psychologist who has written at length to the effect that victims of evil contribute to their own victimization by not understanding those who hurt them, and therefore escalating or provoking those who victimize them (so hey, get some insight all you battered women and abused children, you victims of crimes against humanity, war refugees, chattel slaves, etc: you need to stop doing what you are doing because you are provoking your victimizers to react evilly by not understanding them). The author seems completely unaware of the complexities behind the long-established philosophical difference drawn between natural evil (tsunami, earthquake, disease) and human evil, and of the differences between human evil and average day-to-day human wrongdoing -- which difference is both a matter of scale and and also a matter of essential differences in nature between evil and wrondoing. We are all capable of wrongdoing, but are we all capable of evil? Most people do not engage in evil, though everyone does wrong. He does not address this difference in any real way. I guess we should just all learn to get along.
In sum, as an unwitting and inadvertent case study of American left/liberal philosphical musings circa turn of the millenium, this book is mildly interesting artifact from a fading era in our intellectual history; as such it is completely unsurprising intellectually and perhaps soon forgotten. When an author purports to synchronize and critique such domains as the Hindu tradition, the Buddha and the traditions that flow from his life and teachings, the entire Abrahamic tradition of Judeo-Christian and Islamic thought, the contributions and power of science, not to mention geniuses such as Aristotle and Plato, William James and both Freuds, he or she had better have himself or herself well in hand and well understood, and above all remain humble in the face of the intellectual giants he or she is trying to channel. Furthermore, if you optic of choice to parse the great, classic thinkers, philosophies, and traditions is "science" it had better be good, hard, airtight science. Otherwise the results read as a messy display of one person's grandiosity and hubris, not wisdom for the ages.
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