Review of Jordan Peterson’s first “12 Rules” book

Jordan Peterson is best known as a conservative-leaning psychologist who teaches at the University of Toronto, and also is a practising counsellor.

Serious - Ideology debate thread | Page 123 | nebulous
Dr. Jordan Peterson (center), son of Pepe, Prophet of Kek.

Dr. Jordan Peterson has often been pictured hanging out with students who are part of the far right, and has seemed to have gained an attachment to Pepe the Frog, and in the origins of the symbolism of the frog mascot. He has helped the far right gain dignity with its association with Pepe, by associating it with frogs in Egyptian mythology, and so on. Peterson is a big fan of Carl Jung, and so he shares Jung’s fascination for archetypes and how they theoretically play a role in our psyches. However, I am not sure that Jung had in mind a badly-drawn cartoon frog as an example.

Peterson’s hobknobbing with the far right makes him an easy target for others to discredit. This is unfortunate, since the book itself is compelling. Peterson tries to present himself as an intellectual force to be reckoned with. I remember reading the late Thomas Szasz, another dissident in the helping professions and another powerful intellectual who wrote the book Ideology and Insanity some decades ago, whose fatal flaw was rooted in the author’s association with the Church of Scientology. I can’t help but seeing parallels here. I have no general explanation for it.

Neither book is a waste of your money. Ideology and 12 Rules For Life are both compelling reading and were hard for me to put down. Both books will change you in some way. Ideology was considered a game-changer for the practice of psychiatry back in the 1970s. It is largely the reason psychiatry has moved from being mostly a “talking cure” to being more biologically-based and science-based. But also in both cases, you can only trust their intellectual prowess so far. For this article, we will focus on Peterson’s 12 Rules.

Peterson’s account of the genesis of his book appear to be from a much briefer and  skeletal version of his 12 rules, contributed to an onlike wiki called Quora. His rules became popular, so he fleshed out his ideas for his book.

The most  compelling reading of all have to do with those topics that are central to his profession. He discusses child-rearing in ways that are so down-to-earth and with such conviction that it is difficult to argue with his ideas. He does the same for his discussion of marriage, and of of the complex needs and tendencies of those seeking counselling. He seems like a Rock of Gibraltar here. Utterly clear and well-written. The book is hard to put down at this point.

For some of his rules, he deviates into discussions of the Bible. He takes on the same authoritative tone of various Biblical stories, but in my reading of it (being a churchgoer), they are clearly his views, not views sanctioned by general scholarship, or by the Church. His Biblical interpretations and exegeses are taken to be his own, and supportive of his rules. In his circle of intellectualism, his grasp of the Bible extends just outside the center of his intellect. The Bible is just one of his tools used in support of the rules. Other writings used this way are the writings of philosophers such as Nietzsche. His account of Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor in the book The Brothers Karamazov struck me as utterly succinct and clear. So much so, that I find it hard to believe that anyone could be that clear about that chapter in the book. In fact, it drove me to open my copy of Karamzov to check out this chapter that would be familiar to many first-year Arts majors, and read it again (this would be my third time reading it since university). Peterson doesn’t do a bad job, and his knowledge of church history surrounding this work is, well, plausible. But one senses that the association between Dostoyevsky and his rules are a little too neat and tidy.

Jordan Peterson Kek Boys and Pepe the Frog - YouTube
Jordan Peterson, leader of Kekistan (which only makes sense if you follow right-wing internet memes), addresses the misguided youth of today on their turf. The tweet is located here. “Don’t stay in the underworld” refers to Dostoyevsky’s “Notes from the Underground” which he refers to in his 12 Rules. “Seek your 4chan” — 4chan is a psychologically toxic, un-managed chat site which is rife with hate content, doxxing, shaming and cyber-bullying. Ironic that an academic would be advocating for 4chan. For the record, this is actually Peterson’s face pasted on top of actor Steve Buscemi’s face. I have to admit, the ‘shop job is quite convincing and seamless.

He also cites dissident political writers such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Soviet citizen who suffered the worst of the Gulags and lived to write three hefty books on the experience. This is where things go a little off the rails. While I have long ago given away my copy of the 3-volume Gulag Archipelago, Peterson has used this as an excuse to indulge in the Western intellecutal laziness of conflating communism with a totalitarian dictatorship, the latter of which was the case for the former Soviet Union, which was never close to being a Marxist utopia (indeed, Stalin banned the reading of Karl Marx). This is where Peterson deviates the most from his rules, and where his pronouncements on the evils of Stalinism deviated the most from any semblance the book’s original themes.

It is also where Peterson would find himself the most at odds with scholars such as MIT’s Dr. Richard Wolff, who actually make their living specializing in studying the history and theory of Marxism. This is where Peterson is the most out of his intellectual depth, showing his passive devotion to standard cold war tropes. The only difference these days is, that most socialist voices in our culture have been silenced in recent decades, reducing this to a mostly one-sided debate. This is why in real life, Dr. Peterson can rest on his laurels by challenging “anyone” to a debate about socialism, since he is confident of the success capitalist culture has had in silencing alternative voices, so that no one of any rhetorical skill will take him on. For the record, Dr. Wolff has accepted his challenge, which Peterson has never answered to.

"Pepe Jordan Peterson and screaming Liberal Tears MAGA ...
While we are conflating, Peterson’s support for Pepe has resulted in his likeness being “conflated” with Pepe on various merch, such as bookbags, T-shirts, slacks, aprons and dresses.

Conflating communism with totalitarianism is one thing. Conflating capitalism with freedom is another. Freedom doesn’t come from Capital, it comes from a Bill of Rights, and from laws that protect us. Thus, the tropes of Communism=Totalitarianism and Capitalism=Freedom get aired out here, and it is hard to take since one of his rules tells us to avoid ideology. He fails to see that Capitalism is an ideology just like Communism. He seems hypocritical if he is in jingoistic support of Capitalism while making “avoid ideology” one of his rules. We as a society are so awash in pro-capitalist tropes, that the world doesn’t really need yet another mindless screed against communism, which adds nothing new to the mostly one-sided “debate” about it that exists in our culture.

I would like to state that I am against ideologies also. In politics as in real life, ideologies tend to take a brilliant idea and proceed to completely eviscerate it of all life and meaning. The problem mostly is in the need to enforce ideology. If the ideology was “love”, then we have to love, “or else”. There. I just made love into ideology and ruined it, just like that. Not hard to do. I wouldn’t want to live in that world any more than if the ideology was about something more conventional, like economic systems.

Peterson could have made his point much clearer had he chosen a more neutral ideology. Young adults go through a period of their maturation where they espose many ideologies, and most of these adults are not ideological in a political way. The minute you get it into your head that “All X are Y” or “All X should be Y”, or “All X should do Y”, you are raising an idea or a collection of opinions you once had to a general ideology.  Young adults need to be aware that the world is infinitely more complicated than their ideologies and hard rules, and yes, ideology should be the least important concept in forming a world view. And this, dare I say it, includes the ideology of capitalism.

Peterson’s book on 12 Rules is a good read, so long as you don’t take his views too far beyond his skill in understanding psychology, and take his political views with a grain of salt.

Private hell made public

The Trouble With Cancel Culture | On the Media | WNYC Studios
Natalie Wynn doing a video while getting plastered

1. Natalie Wynn: A Study in Angst

Therapy has established itself as the successor to rugged individualism and to religion as the organizing framework of American culture. The therapeutic outlook threatens to displace politics as well, the last refuge of ideology.

Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism, 1976

Natalie Wynn, creator of the Contrapoints YouTube channel, makes a regular practice of baring her soul to strangers on YouTube. She seems to have some talent at turning her angst, conflicts, and hurts into compelling viewing, at least for someone like me who follows argument, but has little understanding of transgender people specifically. Her video essays extend well beyond the 10-minute guideline suggested by YouTube, and followed by the most popular bloggers. Her last one, a video on “Cringe culture” was nearly 90 minutes. Her topics range from politics to online culture to gender identity issues. Wynn herself has been transitioning from being a male since at least 2017.

Natalie uses theatrics and fictionalizations, to explore and try out different popularly-held views and misconceptions of the day, using spectacle as part of a more serious point she is making. For me, the spectacle aspect is attention-grabbing, and for videos that run 30 minutes or more, one can make a pretty good case for it. It does little to advance the points she is making, but one must give her credit for her one-woman-show production values.

Surprisingly, while trolls are present, by far the most dominant comments on the Contrapoints channel comes from decent people who give empathy, support, encouragement, and share their stories. It would be disheartening to see that taken for granted, and I hope she sees them as the light when everything else feels like darkness.

2 Binge watching the multi-car pile-up that is Eugenia Cooney

There was also a vlogger Natalie mentions regarding one woman named Eugenia Cooney, a fashion and makeup vlogger who has a very large YouTube following. She was in what is called a “5150 hold” for an eating disorder about a year ago, which under California law means she was sent to a mental hospital and kept under observation for 72 hours. To see her videos, she herself seems like a harmless person, acting and speaking like she is a waifish 13 or 14 year-old girl. She is actually 25 years old, and close to 6 feet tall, but appears to be less than 90 pounds, going by her most recent videos. After her release, she appeared to “fall off the wagon” soon after, and she actually looks thinner than before her incarceration. What commenters on YouTube are witnessing is her slow death, with her occasional guest, her mother (who buys all her clothes and makeup) acting silly and behaving as if every day is Eugenia’s birthday. Viewers had never been sure what to make of her mother, according to comments left on Eugenia’s videos.

There is a lot of plausible speculation on YouTube regarding her mental state, her mother, her friends, and her prospects for living beyond six months. But speculation is speculation. We only see what the camera and editing allows us to see. Like every video on YouTube down to iPhone unboxings, we are only allowed to see theatre, and some approximation to The Shopping Channel. In Eugenia’s case, she shows off her new makeup designs, new clothes and jewellery, and discusses them in her videos.

Beyond speculation, there appears to be no dispute about the 5150 hold, or of Eugenia choosing to travel to Connecticut for 4 months to be treated for an eating disorder.

Eugenia just before her 5150 hold. This is not the worst picture of her by far, but it furnishes a reason why I find her videos hard to look at, by and large.

I think I am one of those who is watching videos about Eugenia. I emphasize: “about” Eugenia: as told by friends, interventionists, therapists and former anorexics and addicts as though they know her personally, and that she is some kind of science all her own.

I never subscribed to her channel, nor to any channels talking about her. But today I did succumb to the temptation of viewing “related” titles that wind up on the list of suggested/related videos on the right side of my browser, and I hear analysis about Cooney from every Monday morning quarterback under the sun. The videos I prefer to view are from qualified people, but even then, they are mostly people removed from the action, who never met her.

These “quarterbacks” claiming counselling experience and certainly sound professional and appear to have a fair bit of knowledge. Social worker Kati Morton had an idea for them to appear as guests on each other’s channel, and discuss eating disorders and her 5150 hold. People in their comment sections had some serious criticisms about this.

The criticisms regard 1) Is sitting with Eugenia and discussing her difficulties for the consumption of thousands of viewers (close to 350,000 at last count for Kati’s video), many of whom leave hostile comments for various reasons, helpful to Eugenia? Another criticism: 2) The discussion glossed over pertinent details that let us know Eugenia is facing her problem squarely and is truly on the road to recovery, which means she is surely hiding more than she is revealing.

These are good and proper concerns, but Eugenia’s and Katie’s defense, both of these Monday morning quarterback criticisms gloss over what may have been unavoidable things:

  • Eugenia is very tied to YouTube and has millions of subscribers, thousands of commenters, and whether Eugenia likes it or not, her personal life has already been public for some time. Her personal deterioration has been observed and well-noted by any casual observer without her saying a word about it, for some years.
  • While quarterbacks for point #1 accuse her of saying too much; those accusing her of point #2 accuse her of not saying enough. If Eugenia’s mental health is any kind of priority, these #2 quarterbacks will never have their way. A person who delves into their most private details in a public space like YouTube is not doing any good for their mental health in any capacity. Private should be kept private, except for people you feel safe talking to, such as close friends or relatives, and mental health practitioners. You can’t get a support network from random strangers.
  • The only outcome from airing out your dirty laundry in public is public humiliation and shame. Eugenia already had that in spades well before Kati’s interview. This is a simple idea, but this has been much written about from the days of Oprah, Donahue, and other popular “talk shows” from the 1990s, where this mistake is repeated over and over, turning the private hell of people and families into a freak show, to boost the TV ratings.

I cannot possibly fathom the illnesses that are the eating disorders. Listening to therapists explain “how to talk to anorexics” or to friends that understand the mindset of sufferers of eating disorders make me feel that I could read and listen to vlogs, books, essays, and online articles about this until the cows come home, and I don’t think I could ever feel that I fully understand it. I think I can understand parts of it; empathise with various fleeting things, and sometimes even be able to feel some tenuous connection with the sufferer, but I have trouble seeing the whole picture.

While some vloggers look at Eugenia and feel that they know how to act and intervene, I am more like a rubbernecker slowing down to see a highway accident. I had no knowledge of Eugenia before today, and now it is dawning on me that Eugeniacooneyology appears ready to be its own university major, judging by all of the material, authored by anyone who thinks they can provide a different angle on her, whether qualified or not. Some seem sincere, some are doing it for YouTube hits, and some are doing a combination of both. Always, there is a videographer gunning for a piece of the Eugenia Cooney action. And always, there is YouTube, happily documenting the entire spectacle.

But to me, she is just like a vehicle pile-up, and I am like a rubbernecker, possibly slowing down Internet traffic when I could be viewing something sensible like The Crown on NetFlix, or developing lesson materials, or correcting assignments. Eugenia is a case of suffering served up to viewers as spectacle.

Our therapeutic culture operates here with or without the presence of an actual therapist. We are so immersed in therapeutic culture that we all feel superior to the sufferer and feel we have all the answers, and will offer what we feel to be help. Rather than increasing our understanding of each other, therapeutic culture has more likely made it easier for us to pigeonhole others, and let the label definition fill in the blanks as a pseudo-understanding, similar to how some people use a person’s horoscope in the same way. Rather than contributing to social cohesion, it intensifies feelings of alienation, while giving the labeller a false feeling of empowerment.

The Legacy of Bonnie Burstow (1945-2020)

Bonnie Burstow

Dr. Bonnie Burstow (Ph. D.) was a professor of education at OISE at the Unviersity of Toronto, who recently died of kidney failure at 75 as of 4 January, 2020.

I have been at OISE a few times, but I have never met Dr. Burstow, but her radical feminist approach to anti-psychistry as part of a patriarchical system I am sure helped many, but I wonder if feminist issues were the entire problem with psychiatry. I have always questioned its very scientific basis, a point made early on by the late Thomas Szasz (1920-2012). The only problem with Szasz was that he founded CCHR, which is aligned with the Church of Scientology. It had been the reason I lost interest in the anti-psychiatry movement over the past 30 or so years. Both sides seemed to be locked in a power struggle over who controls an individual’s mind, and both sides are politically tainted in the most unhelpful of ways.

Thomas Szasz

Szasz’s main criticisms, the most basic of which is that “mental illness” occurs in “the mind”, is a myth because “the mind” is an abstraction. He has now been upstaged by findings in “biological psychiatry”, and many are now coining the phrase “psychiatric illness”, which personally I find unhelpful in that “psychiatric” sounds like just another abstraction (maybe a more precise one?). A psychiatric illness diagnosis is still a death sentence to most people’s careers (unless it is being a standup comic or something), making it difficult to understand on what planet is what psychiatrists do considered “helpful” when it involves incarceration?

Szasz wrote a journal article (The Psychiatrist) a year before his death in 2011, which criticized the professional and legal support for modern psychiatry as raising the idea of mental illess from the level of a “myth” to the level of a “lying fact”. In response, Dr. Edward Shorter (Ph. D.) wrote in the same journal that there have been many advances along with the emergence of “biological psychiatry” which has made much of psychiatry more rigorous and scientific, although he admits that the DSM is a largely politicized document, and agrees with Szasz there.

Edward Shorter

Burstow also attacked the scientific basis of psychiatry. She herself did not have any counselling credentials academically, but acted as counsellor and had maintained that psychiatry is a patriarchal structure. I am of the thinking that the “patriarchal” structure is probably due to the lack of science, and that if you addressed the lack of science then the rest of the injustices would be resolved by and large by default. So, unless you are among those that support the notion of “feminist science” and “patriarchal science”, I am not sure what basis in reality this has. Even then, the idea that there are multiple “sciences” in the same field which depend on the views of the scientist is absurd on the face of it. The entire point of science is that the findings of an investigation should not depend on the scientist. That’s why we require reproducibility in scientific investigations. I have read Burstow, but not enough of her to know for sure if that was her take on science generally. From what I did read, I saw nothing I could construe as being part of this philosophy.

It is heartening to hear that psychiatry has come around to insisting on an evidence-based, biological approach. I also like the humanistic ideal of “freedom from labels” that appeal to those in the anti-psychiatry movement, of which Burstow was vocal. The problem is, you can’t have a science (or anything else of intellectual import) without labels. Whatever the “thing” is I need to talk about, needs to have a name, otherwise, the reader will be given a verbal diarrhea of mumbo-jumbo, making discussion difficult. So, in reality, labelling humans is difficult, but if we need to talk about someone who thinks the world is out to get them, it clarifies discussion if we give the thought obsession a name, and are nuanced enough in our discussion that we are labelling what humans do and not labelling humans themselves.

Electability

There has been, in recent elections, a new word that adds to the rhetoric of the role of the media in telling us what to think and helping to shape the outcomes of elections, whether wittingly or unwittingly. “Electability” is a subjective term, taken, I suppose, to mean that the platform and views held by the candidate have what the media deems to be a dose of reality and pragmatism. So, no dreamers, no idealists, definitely no socialists, but no fascists either (although Trump comes close to the latter).

Isn’t the concept of “electability” just another way of deciding an election before the ballots are cast? Why do discussions like this even exist, if it were not for the promotion of one candidate over another? Not sure why Biden is being picked on, I am not partial to him, myself; but I think that some things need to be left to the minds of the voters, and not tell them what to think. I shouldn’t care about “electable”; I should only care if a candidate shares my views and supports policies that affect “me”.

Electability, in the context of the 2020 American elections, begins to sound too much like being careful not to upstage Trump and for the Democrats to return to the role of Greek Chorus to Trump’s every new outrageous distraction.

So what if happiness is a mental illness?

It is rather amazing that through all I have experienced, that these truths were the deepest and most enduring. They are also the most comforting. Simply keeping a balanced life, and looking on the positive side of things. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Perhaps happiness and satisfaction with one’s life, however humble is a form of denial.

Maybe someone someday might point out that all forms of happiness are mental illnesses. After all, happiness is statistically rare, and thus it is not normal. Due to its relative rarity, it may well be characterized by an abnormal functioning of the central nervous system, requiring repeated “positive thinking”. In turn, “positive thinking” requires that we only focus on the bright side of life. Clearly, anyone who thinks positive is only looking at part of the picture, and is thus out of touch with reality. Bentall (1992) had this as an abstract for his article in the Journal of Medical Ethics (widely quoted):

“It is proposed that happiness be classified as a psychiatric disorder and be included in future editions of the major diagnostic manuals under the new name: major affective disorder, pleasant type. In a review of the relevant literature it is shown that happiness is statistically abnormal, consists of a discrete cluster of symptoms, is associated with a range of cognitive abnormalities, and probably reflects the abnormal functioning of the central nervous system. One possible objection to this proposal remains–that happiness is not negatively valued. However, this objection is dismissed as scientifically irrelevant.”

According to Bentall, happy people are off their chumps. Lost their marbles. One clown short of a circus. I would suppose, however, that making happiness an illness will rob most shrinks of a treatment goal.

So for now, while psychiatrists are working away at their objections to happiness, and until it is proven to me that I am better off heeding these objections, I shall forever commit my life to these seemingly shallow, but more enduring truths, that focusing on the bright side of life is the better way, and it should be something that is taught to every child and adult, for their own good, and for the good of society.

The Psychology Contrarian II: The Obsession with IQ

At best, these websites present these people as numbers first, people second. To what extent does saying that Marie Curie has an IQ of 190 or so add to or take away from her discovery of radioactivity or her other contributions to Chemistry and Physics to which she literally paid for with her life, all the while fleeing the Nazis? To what extent does Shakespeare’s assigned IQ of 210 add to or take away from his being the most quoted writer in the English Language? And finally, just who is this guy “William Sidis”, and who in the h-e-double-sticks gave him an IQ of 250 to 300?

William Sidis (1898-1944), was an American who had an undergraduate degree at MIT, and then a studied for a law degree at Harvard before he reached 18. By that time he had given occasional lectures to professors. He was portrayed as Will Hunting in the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting. But Will Hunting was portrayed more as a thug first, intellectual second (it was the reverse in real life). In real life, the psychologist he was to see was his father, Boris Sidis. Now, isn’t that a tad, shall we say, unethical? Exactly what was to be the outcome here? The only way you can be clinically objective about your own son is to not have feelings for your son at all, and doesn’t that defeat the purpose of therapy in a rather deep and profound way? I guess one way to become screwed up is to have issues with your father; and one way to be really screwed up is to have that same father for your therapist. NOOOOOOOO!, I can hear him screaming. Ah, but I digress.

No one doubts that Sidis was a prodigy. But what of the number given to him: 250 – 300, which pretty much isolates him from the rest of humanity (even going back to the dawn of antiquity)  as an intellectual? Is this number even meaningful? Is it legitimate? An IQ like that would make him “smarter” than Leonardo da Vinci, or Michelangelo. Even Albert Einstein had to give the world his special and general relativity theories while chugging along with his meagre 205 IQ.  On this scale, Isaac Newton was an also-ran; and Galileo could be arrogant to the Pope, but like John The Baptist, he should not feel himself fit to tie the sandals of someone on the scale of Good Will Sidis, apparently.

Will Sidis, as far as history can tell, is just known for being smart; he didn’t contribute anything, except for this “human thermodynamics/entropy reversal” stuff, which few have heard of. His contribution doesn’t seem as all-encompassing as Einstein or Michelangelo, so having the IQ score alone is nothing to be envious about. Nearly all of those slowpokes who meandered to their historical achievements had to do so while galumphing along with the humble 190-210 IQs that God gave them, if we are to believe the posthumous IQ scores given to them.

The Psychology Contrarian I: The obsession with IQ

When there are no serious researchers that would place any relevance on IQ and what it measures (indeed, what exactly is it measuring is itself a mystery: does intelligence even have a definition, or am I missing out on something?), I wonder why there are web sites which even go so far as to go back in history, centuries before there were IQ tests or even a field of psychology as we know it, and begin to assign IQs to people like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Aristotle, Hypatia, Isaac Newton, and so on, as if we were handing passing out candies, albeit to dead people.

I think it IQ is the last bastion of that age where math was taken too seriously, and secret societies were formed out of assigning numbers to strange and abstruse things. The IQ, much like saying “chair = 5”, was and is the last of these to fall. The same care and attention given to assigning numbers to daffodils and planets is being given to historical figures who had never seen, heard of, or taken these tests. It forms an easy method by which we can feel we understand the world without having to go through all the bother of reading of people’s biographies or accomplishments, or knowing anything about them at all. Their entire intellectual and scholastic oeuvre can be summarized in a three-digit number, and that’s all that matters to those of us who are IQ-obsessed.

One such person who was IQ obsessed was Rick Rosner, whose first IQ test was about 150, but repeatedly took more tests such that his IQ was inflated to 170 to 190. He said in an interview that 150 was OK for being the smartest in your high school, but not OK for being the smartest person at a place like Harvard. A 150 IQ just sort of blends in.

Of course, this logic fails because it confuses IQ scores with achievement. There is more to life than smarts; of course we can all do with more of it. The main ingredient, and possibly the most important ingredient leading to achievement and success in life is self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the ability to make manifest the goals you set. Self-efficacy takes focus, determination, and discipline. These are things well within the reach of any average person.

Debt freedom is a lot of work

A while ago, I posted that I finally saw, for the first time in 5 years, $0 owing on both my credit card and my line of credit. The battle is never over, however. Unless I want to completely free myself of the luxury of a credit card and line of credit, there will always be the slow creep of regular payments, and short-term borrowing ($100 here, $200 there), which in my situation are unavoidable occurrences.

So, I will always have to pay down between $200 and $300 on any given 2-week period to maintain the zero balance. This is in stark contrast to the prospect of running up all of my credit in all of my cards (credit, store cards, etc), where I know I could be easily $25000 in debt in a week, should I be silly enough to do such a thing.

But there are other issues with money. In my opinion, credit is too damn easy to get. I really shouldn’t have access to $25000, because I know that paying back would be nearly hopeless. I would have to work past my retirement to do that.

In addition, we have grown too accustomed to people pushing product in our face. I have been working for weeks trying to cancel my cell phone contract. I have lost count of the number of times I have had to shake a salesperson off my leg from Bell, trying to push cell phones on us, both on the phone and in person. I have been alive for 45 years without the need of the ball-and-chain of a cell phone, I will live another 45 damn years without it. It is cheaper to use a pay phone. Way cheaper. Even at 50 cents a call.

The pushing of product in the form of a pressure sales job is a rising trend that I find alarming. I think we are at a point where we are buying so much stuff that we can’t pay for, that I find it hard to believe that it will be easy to come out of the recession. Pressure sales, to me, applies to any attempt to sell to you anything you were not considering buying before the sales pitch.

We all like to prioritize our spending to suit our purposes. Pressure sales is a disruption to that purpose. It throws you off-focus. The only possible answer must be “no” to these people. You have to have a steely resolve that they are wasting their time and effort on you. And so what if they think you are a jerk? To them, the only people who are not jerks are people who buy their stuff, so who needs the high regard of people with such shallow values? On the other hand, if your purchasing decisions are deliberate, then you can walk into the store, and give the salesperson the easiest payday they ever had. You get exactly what you want, and the salesman still makes money.

We live in a society utterly awash in the sales pitch, so it is easy to miss the fact that you are not anything but a wise spender if you just say “no”. Make every purchase decision a planned, deliberate one. It takes a great deal of mental discipline to do this. You need to separate yourself from the competitiveness and the materialism of society to be such a person.

Positive thinking is a form of denial

I just wanted to make an observation. In the clinical sense, positive thinking is in fact a form of denial. I say “a form of”, since the difference is in who is in control. Denial is, to me the ignoring of certain aspects in your life in order to make life seem as if it is going the way you want. That is the same as positive thinking. The only real difference is — who is in control, and this is important.

I object to the whole dialectic regarding substance abuse, since it is difficult to discuss any use of illicit substances without talking about it as abuse, and about the user as an addict. I don’t use drugs or drink, yet in my lifetime I have twice been approached by people who say I am an alcoholic. These are presumably people with some authority on the matter. It seems that it is a difficult dialectic to avoid, whether you imbibe or not.

For any kind of real denial — and I do believe that such a thing exists (it’s just that it is so over-used) — the person is truly out of control. I know people who are out of control, and whom no one can control. These same people would act as if nothing is wrong, and would keep the game going causing all manner of stress and sadness for everyone around them.

But even they would readily open up and tell their story in their own voice to those who are receptive enough. Those who have not had their ears tainted or eyes blinded by the jargon and paradigms of what passes for “addiction psychology” would hear their voice in the most authentic way, uncorrupted by jargon, uncontaminated by self-help books. You find that many of them want to get some bearings; to get at the heart of their lack of self-control. But they must know their own thoughts; and hear their own voice. They can’t do it if someone is labelling, “treating”, or giving un-wanted advice. Their minds need to settle.

Addiction psychology doesn’t make life easy for the addict; it makes life easy for the psychologist. It gives them a nice battery of terminologies that simplify thought; a collection of predigested ideas and concepts that one can grab for to help ease the containment and control of the patient. Jargon has a tendency to reduce people to generalities, and only aids their dehumanization. Beyond all else, it saves the therapist all the bother of really getting to the heart of the matter, since addiction psychology already provides them with what they feel is an adequate surrogate “heart of the matter”. And that is good enough.

A person who is addicted is out of control. If they are out of control, then what they really need is more control over themselves and their impulses. The AA/Al-Anon programmes advise people to “let go” of all control. I am at a loss as to why they would think that would succeed. The failure of this programme is blamed on the subject who has “fallen off the wagon” again.

My intuition tells me that, because this goes back to the rise of industrialism and the Temperance movement, this could have been motivated by industrialists who would view the heavy drinkers as disgruntled with industrialism, and the counselling to “let go of control” was meant to temper the anger early workers felt at being displaced from their farms and earlier trades which the machines and assembly lines obsoleted. Because regaining control would work against the interest of the capitalists. Since then, that motivation is gone, but in its stead a whole industry is built around “kicking the habit”. And these interests must be respected above the needs of those who they purportedly serve. A better question is “why” do people drink? Interesting answers may be found there that would allow others to really be of help, I believe.

As for positive thinking, it involves an ability to ignore negative things, emphasize positive things, and to see the world as better than it really is. A positive thinker is dealing only with a partial reality. Thus they are happier than they really ought to be, and they work hard to maintain a mental environment where they can work toward goals that would be otherwise impossible had they been more “in touch with reality”. For its ability to result in greater achievement, a greater sense of satisfaction, a greater sense of self-control, and more rewarding relationships, it is difficult to say that positive thinking is a “bad thing”. Indeed, it is the very mentality we all need to survive and to lead rewarding lives.

Positive thinking is not the knee-jerk alteration of negativity that is characteristic of what we popularly know as “denial.” We all face personal problems of one kind or another. This can only be negative if we say to ourselves that there is no way out of these problems. Dealing with these problems result from optimism, in the sense that we would not deal with these problems if we felt that the effort was futile. Contrast this against dealing with our ongoing and challenging problems by pretending they don’t exist. The latter way of dealing with problems arises not out of positive thinking but out of a profound sense of hopelessness. It might work if the problem is not serious, or temporary. But if it lasts any length of time without being dealt with, it becomes crippling.

In those cases, the help we need to give these people should not be formulaic, like the 12-steps program; and the resolution will not be as easy as giving up a bad habit, although that is part of the goal. What causes a person to drink? Underneath that question lies the tangled emotions between family, work, and other pressures, wherein lies some kind of imbalance. Balance must be restored, and this is not an instant solution. It requires heroic self-honesty and an optimism that the problems the person faces are solveable, and that a brighter future lies waiting for those willing to put in the effort to tackle the problems one faces as they really are. I am not sure I see many other ways out.