Ralph Reed and Bill Maher Discuss Faith

reed and maherIn a rather lopsided discussion with mockery versus sincerity Bill Maher loses sight of what’s important to Christians in both rhetoric and value. Ralph Reed a Pentecostal asserts that national debt, welfare (even social security and Medicare), and the greater difficulties of children from single-parent families could be resolved by faith. What Reed is really saying here is the forced endurance of a permanent familial relationship is the best means of preventing government support on near all levels. Though I presume huge costs for the military (even if only defense) would still be required. I also wonder how he would support infrastructure but I would guess he would say that would be done by volunteered charity.

What so many miss in these conversations is the family unit has never been very stable. Even when societies were agrarian physical mobility was essential. Only by technological improvement was agriculture able to increase productivity such that land produced more with the same amount of labor. Otherwise, and this occurred often since productivity improvements are not linear, children had to leave the land to begin anew elsewhere. Often to other countries and outlying areas taken either by discovery or conquest. It’s a small world now.

Often primogeniture laws or customs were supported to prevent land from being divided by giving the entire amount to a single child, typically the oldest male. This breakup of families means oral and familial traditions are not easily passed from generation to generation. The loss of parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents requires outside traditions, laws, and support to preserve wisdom, knowledge, and labor between generations.

Industrial ages haven’t done much better. Factories and manufacturing centers might arise with surrounding communities but as changes in efficiency and market endurance occur these communities move or die, dissolving families and intergenerational traditions and support.

With productivity exceeding consumption ability, exacerbated by the constant pressure to reduce wages due to increasing competition, forcing lower profit margins, family members have to work more to keep up. Without extended support families aren’t able to provide basic sustenance on their own.  Servants and institutions are paid less in the hopes that thee wage differences will offset the loss of labor at home.

With an increasing labor surplus, forcing both parents to work, families have to extend themselves beyond their nuclear core. When well paid work that could pay for this additional support requires one parent having a great job and another having any job, because an area cannot support enough well paying jobs, couples split and move on. Chid labor laws, and schools, prevent their indenture and added income as well.

This process has nothing to do with moral turpitude or fidelity. it is the economics of productivity and the variance in wages. Reed’s hope that a covenant that forces a family to remain together will ensure prosperity falls apart. The reality of wage disparity makes it impossible for a local community to support its members equally or even toe subsistence levels. With the loss of land it is impossible to live off the land as the last, desperate, level of familial independence.

Another problem is the questionable need for couples and families to remain together when abuse is present. When families, nuclear and extended, could remain near by, geographically, it was far more easy to ensure continuity and support in relationships as they changed. It’s no longer possible to provide psychological and emotional support by family members who must leave. Monetary support is important but what Reed values is much more than that, as do must of us.

The only effective way to compensate for these difficulties are schools, child-care centers, and community support for those who can’t possibly make enough. If a parent, grandparent, or sibling is absent, outside support must replace that familial resource on all levels. Schools are not just for education but to cache children so more adults can work.

Few want to talk about the issue of labor surplus and resource shortage driving families apart, negating the utility of faith covenants, but that’s the issue.

Reed’s second goal is the use of the bible to provide a personal relationship with god through Jesus. While admitting that he doesn’t think it is about rules and regulations he is clear that covenants are essential. Rules don’t get much stronger than this essentialist contract.

Reed’s hope, trust, that a personal relationship with god and Jesus will create appropriate information to do the right thing is far more dependent on the details of that informing than he admits. Trusting faith does not ensure that right information and desires are passed along. So called natural laws may inform many, naturally, but natural disobedience does the same. Some sort of specific laws and mores must be codified that can be followed without simple faith.

Reed does admit that nonbelievers can be good but also asserts that everyone has fallen. But why and how to remedy? More and more specific laws are required to meet growing demand for certainty and diversity. We all can’t be farmers, capitalists, laborers, or foragers. The expansion of products and consumption means the division of labor becomes more specific, and diverse, requiring greater mobility and not less. Moral laws work the same way. They are another product. Being charitable or kind must change its expression to meet more diverse needs and desires.

A simple example of this is in the old testament, assuming one uses the old testament. Thou shalt not kill. This usually means thou shalt not murder wantonly for no good reason. What about about abusive relations where it’s not murder but physical damage? What about those who can’t do unto others because they are self abusive and would be fine passing that along? What about people and companies that do harm, even murder, in blindness? There are reasons why the old testament has 10-800 laws. The new testament isn’t specific enough for people to follow without more information and support. And Reed is clear that the rules and regulations of the old testament are antiquated and mostly useless. Even being kind has its issues. Is it Ok to beat children to make them behave? Will a pacifist Quaker harm an intruder attacking their family?

The issue of patriarchy is so embedded in both testaments no one can read them in any fashionable hermeneutics and not be tainted.

Catholics created a hierarchy to met this need. Protestants rely on direct, individual, intuition or local pastors. Pentecostals depend on direct intuition. But what holds these pastors together in some sort of coherence that doesn’t create dissonance as people move around as they must? They have to deal with often vast culture and moral changes and the moral compass does’t know where to swing because true North has changed.

The video is below and somewhat disturbing.

Jim Newman, bright and well www.frontiersofreason.com

Theology, Atheism, & Pissing on People

atheist strategyThe pope continues his confusing thoughts and actions. He is still pissing on the people. The Vatican is worried that he is a workaholic. Perhaps it is his ongoing exhaustion that keeps him from thinking clearly enough. He goes to the Mideast and asks for peace sounding like a contestant for Miss America. Everyone wants peace but not to the loss of justice–punitive, restorative, or just isolating the offending parties. Better that he would declare religious issues are the root of the problem. If all of them put aside their childish texts and follow humaneness things would be different. At least something specific.

The pope inviting the Eastern Orthodox to Rome seems more like inviting the wolf to the house for hopes of conversion. Best beware. The last time this had any real effect was when Constantine visited, decided Rome was too corrupt to bear, and decided the East was to be the center of Christian authority. Perhaps they discussed how they would divide up Russia. Maybe they commiserated on how followers were being attacked by Muslims; a chorus of an enemy of my friend is my friend. Was it to establish how to divide territories for missionary work.

The clean out of the Vatican financial auditory board is more an acknowledgement of its dysfunctionality due to personalities and quests for authority.  Where is a real concern to dismantle the money-laundering and money-hoarding schemes of a church that claims it wants to help the poor? That the pope is confused about priorities is well shown in his inane statements that relationships with pets prevent breeder mentality and birthing action. We really do need more people, and more hetero folks at that.

The incredulous example of how the Catholic church abused children sickens. This is the Catholic love of children yet hates abortion and birth control?  Women who shouldn’t or couldn’t economically be having children left their children in their care only to have them be treated as less than less. When dead, they were buried, some 800, in a septic tank. Many of these children were used for *scientific* testing. If the Catholic church had promoted family planning and women’s control of their bodies they wouldn’t have needed to create these concentration death camps.

The children were abused in their surrounding society. With shunning, social ostracism, and neglect how did the adults sleep at night? Aaah, but that’s not all Christians. We have to contextualize it to Ireland in their worst days. Hmm, one didn’t need a potato famine or a dysfunctional landlord system to want to get the hell out of Ireland.

As to animals, PETA was quite wrong and lost a lot of support with their ridiculous ad showing milk to be linked to autism. First this supports those who consider autism to be caused by vaccinations since it implies it is all chemical, just which one. Further, that milk can’t be a good middle ground between being a carnivore or a vegetarian. What next? Eggs are the aborted fetuses of chickens and they are people too? I can see their ad now; fried fetus for breakfast is another person down the hatch. This would make egg eaters both abortors and cannibals. The expanding circle of self would cause even eggs to be us in some way. Wouldn’t it be better to promote better conditions for chickens and dairy cows? It would further their cause more effectively to provide examples and recipes of alternatives.

Protestants are proving that they may be even worse than Catholics in their sexual abuse of children. In one month some 25 cases were brought to law in the US and surely more exist. This is scary as does this prove that privatizing religious authority actually enables more abuse? Is Hobbes right that an abusive, tyrannical authority still helps keep renegade individuals in line? I trust not. The issue is the inculcation of religious patriarchal law based on books that are inherently contradictory and inhumane. Good laws make good people. If they don’t we change the laws.

This confusion of fairness is displayed by London College disbanding a Nietzsche club as well as their preventing the speech of atheists-humanists in an attempt to console the offended religious and sensitive liberals. Claiming offense is not an automatic red card to eliminate opposing voices. That past philosophers said things that inspired some to do wrong means these philosophers should be studied more carefully, not less. Or that their words actually promoted violence. On inspection, we can winnow the bad from the good. Just as in the bible, where the messages for  the growing number of progressives are love, charity, compassion, and the embrace of the other. Just don’t forget to annotate or edit the texts. Frankly, Nietzsche saying god was dead was an affirmation that society should return to a passion that is so strong it could be considered beyond good and evil. He is important for considering passion an essential aspect of the human condition. Dated yes, obsolete no.

Atheists are themselves showing a startling imitation of past farm, labor, and suffrage movements. Debate has become more centered around members and what membership means. Was there ever an original strategy of uniting to a common goal? It seems that the male-centered, atheist-humanist-skeptic movement really was just another white boys club where the only rally cry was no god(s). Tempting, and happening, to stand on their shoulders and pee. Reasonably so since those still alive seem more intent on protectionism than inclusion. The denial of social justice when atheism is just *no god* is a facile and vapid discussion. It only discourages new members and many older members, white boys even. The only reason we cared to discuss theology was because those who practiced it weren’t doing justice. We wanted to know why, what inspired them.

Dismantling god was a good start. We need to dig deep to follow the evidence of what that means. Evidence shows god to not be true and not helpful. Following the evidence leads to strategies and tactics towards justice and equality. If evidence is the muscle of the arguments on god’s existence then evidence also leads to prescriptions of how to have a better life.

The remarks of atheist-humanist, social-justice bloggers that the most and worst comments are not from the religious but members supports the inability of too many to see social justice as a core value. This is an interesting inversion and example. It mimmics the debate of suffragettes on whether to include atheism in their platform. Elizabeth Cady Stanton said it must but others said no. They worried it would alienate the wider public. In this case social justice is the issue. It is worrisome that online discussions go astray simply because one person uses “” instead of  ** when paraphrasing or for emphasis. This should not create a flame war.

I wonder if it isn’t part of follow-the-money. Professional (paid) bloggers vie for followers and *up* marks to get better ad revenue and a larger platform from which to publish books and be asked to lectures (another cost to platform base). If a movement evolves through 10-year generations there must be turnover. This makes profitable, political professionalism a short tenure except for a very few. A contrary view was that this is just more tribalism where disagreements attract audiences with strong but poorly reflected loyalty to a person. My spouse, a retired, evangelizing, political feminist, offered to me that movements tend to try to achieve perfection where any flaw is exaggerated beyond reason. At some point, one stupid remark and you’re out. Shall we all be quiet until we get to 100% right?

The Global Secular Council blew it on a grand scale. It tagged its introduction with a post-dinner, casual-but-posed photo of four white men and two women from the US and UK. This certainly caused me and others to wonder how this could be global. The responses were condescending, patronizing and name-calling. It resulted in some being blocked because they kept asking questions instead of shutting up. I narrowly missed being blocked myself. I was *warned* several times and put on a Level 1 list by an SCA supporter. I had to block him as he sent me incessant messages that I was defending the wrong person and trolling. I wondered if I were skipped purely because I was a man, only women were blocked, or because I was new to the community. My remarks were just as adamant.

In making posts to this new Twitter community of mine I did find that random people would follow me. When I checked their posts I saw they were not *”followers”* but clear opponents. I found “Block” to be one of my more common Twitter words. I didn’t join Twitter to make war but for education and to find community. It seems impossible for many to just let a diametric opinion be. I don’t see how I can deconstruct this kind of binary aggression in digital streams of 140-character flotsam. Just what does trolling mean?

Sam Harris found a winner in his essay contest of whether science informs, proves, or sustains morality.  The winner writes there must be something before science that anchors moral value. Harris asserts evidence provides accurate descriptions for creating moral prescriptions and prosthesis, a kind of hindsight accuracy of consequentialism. He seems unwilling to say we can discern what to do in advance without the assumption that well being is always the goal regardless.

Could society choose not to follow well being and even self destruct for the sake of the planet, for example? A death wish is immoral? It gets so much more complicated. Families are a prime example of organizations that sacrifice for continuity, well being. People without children enhance society. It gets difficult to say which action is beneficial until it’s all over. Evolution is the judge. Nevertheless since no knowledge can exist without empiricism, the foundation of science, it would be impossible for any morality to exist without it. This tautology pretty much rigged the contest.

The most grotesque news recently: the rape of so many in India and their excuse by authorities; the refusal of so-called Muslim education societies to admit they support stoning; and the complete obliviousness by the press and public to Boko Haram’s killing of hundreds in Nigeria. I guess it wasn’t as good a photo opportunity as Christian school girls, fully obscured, and reciting forced, Muslim prayers.

At the end of the week, it’s clear that religions destroy more people’s lives than they help, movements shoot themselves in the feet, and women are still at the bottom of the heap.

Jim Newman, bright and well www.frontiersofreason.com

Christians Freak over Offensive Book, Student Gives them Away

brady kisselIdaho the state you love to leave but miss the mountains. An Idaho school banned the bookThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” Brady Kissel took a few copies over to a nearby park to give them away.

A steady flow of students showed up Wednesday afternoon, at a municipal park near Meridian’s perpetually crowded Eagle Road thoroughfare. Kissel made sure a box load of the books went back to the school’s drama club for distribution. One classmate asked Kissel to autograph her copy — her first autograph, Kissel said with a smile.

If they haven’t yet a university should give her a full-ride scholarship.

However, when Christian parents found out about this, they were furious and attempted to call the police to stop the event because they believe the book is too sexual and anti-Christian.

“If God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn’t have given us thumbs,” is among the many lines in the book that concerned parents seemed to have a problem with.

The police showed up, talked to her, did nothing as she had done no wrong and left.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was published in 2007 and it is one of the most popular books for schools that want to discuss the life of Native American children growing up today. Both critics and students have received the book with open arms because of its impeccable use of wit and charm, so much so that when it was banned, a petition circulated inside after Mountain View High School received more than 300 signatures, compelling authorities to reinstate the book in its reading list. The book, written by a Native American author Sherman Alexie, isn’t particularly anti-Christian, except it raises several questions about religion – questions similar to those raised by most teens who wrestle themselves while trying to discover their identities.

Alexie was outraged when schools in Idaho decided to remove the book from their reading lists, saying, “Book banners want to control debate and limit the imagination. I encourage debate and celebrate imagination.”

brady kissel bookKissel’s book promotion caught on.

Two Washington women, University of Washington student Sara Baker and Jennifer Lott of Spokane, started a fundraising drive. They eventually secured about $3,000, enough to pay for 350 books. Their goal was to make sure every student who signed Kissel’s petition would have access to the novel.

Then, on Tuesday, Alexie’s publishing house committed to donate 350 more books. They’ll arrive next week, said Erin Nelson of Rediscovered Bookshop, a Boise shop helping with the distribution.

At Rediscovered Bookshop, there were no second thoughts about wading into the controversy. For Nelson, who read the novel during her senior year of high school, the topic has added resonance. She believes parents should have a say over what their children read. But she says this novel, which chronicles an American Indian student assimilating in an all-white high school, explores real-world issues of class and race.

“I think it’s a really important book,” she said. “If anyone wants to read it, they should have the right to do that.”

I guess if trigger warnings catch on we will have to start labeling these books so Christians won’t experience PTSD since they are still recovering and say they continue to experience persecution.

One has to wonder about the Native Americans. Maybe we need trigger warnings on stories such as these so Native Americans will be more ready when they are exposed to this bullshit.
Jim Newman, bright and well www.frontiersofreason.com

Religion as Theater

caught in pulpitHave you ever done something nice you’re really not tuned in to and then had to continue or be rude? Often social manipulation relies on this kind of goodwill. It can be worse if you’re a religious leader.

If you’ve ever been lured by your own basic goodness into a situation where you (or your neighbor or both of you) must suffer unjustly, think how your predicament pales next to that of the preachers Linda LaScola and I describe in our 2010 pilot study of five Protestant pastors, “Preachers Who are Not Believers,” and our 2013 book, Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind, which reports on 35 participants from diverse religious backgrounds.

How many little white lies, how many whoppers, how much dissembling, how much systemic hypocrisy have they accumulated in their quest to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?

None of the secretly non-believing preachers and pastors who have poured out their hearts to Linda in confidential interviews went into the ministry for the money — a laughable goal — or for fame and glory or political influence. A few of them may have been particularly attracted to a career in the clergy by their self-assessment as natural-born preachers, relishing the spotlight for their eloquence or indulging their love of ceremony or showmanship in the service of God. But when their faith wanes, they pay a heavy price for their play-acting, since their congregations include many — or so they must assume — who would feel deeply betrayed to learn that their speech acts had been less than the candid truth.

For many there is still a need for community, social enthusiasm, and even spectacle.

Many of these people miss the traditional ceremonies — the art and music, the processions and rituals — and the sheer opportunity for moments of solemnity in their hectic lives. Well, we already have a well-established set of traditions, needing no introduction, no training or reminders, that could serve here: the traditions of the theater.

When the curtain goes up, the audience goes quiet; everyone realizes that it would be anti-social, and an act of vandalism, to interrupt the actors in the middle of a scene, to stroll up and down the aisles, to talk to one’s companion. The respectful attention almost automatically paid to the activities on stage is at least close kin to the decorum observed when sitting in church. Dramatic ceremony requires a family of attitudes and postures that are infectious — and welcome. Whether laughing or crying, or frozen in horror, we in the audience feed off the synchrony of our reactions with those around us. Just like in church. A theater audience is almost a community.

If people think of church as theater they can assume the speech is a role, a lie even. It doesn’t matter if the pastor is spouting bullshit if you think of them as an actor. Daniel Dennett shows keen insight here. Atheists wonder why we are told to lie when it is a sin to lie. This dissonance is suspended by many when they consider church theater. Atheists use conferences as a kind of revival and community building with well known and “visiting” speakers adding to the mix. It is still a theater as we never agree with everything a speaker says but we support them anyway as close enough.

The main ingredient distinguishing church ceremonies from dramatic ceremonies in theaters is the presumption that the performers actually believe the speech acts they utter so eloquently, actually adhere to the creeds their performances symbolize. Imagine a new kind of theater, which, instead of presenting revivals of beloved musical comedies or yet another version of Hamlet or MacBeth, performed carefully researched, respectfully mounted replicas of Latin masses, Quaker meetings, Congregational Easter Sundays, Southern Baptist baptisms, Oxford College evensongs, revivalist prayer meetings, and any and all variations and combinations of these — whatever the people wanted to experience — without the slightest pretense that the celebrants were anything other than professional actors.

Then add a program of good works, community service, outreach, and a collection plate, and you’d have gatherings that were all but indistinguishable from “real” church services.

Sounds a lot like the new and positive call for community outreach, leadership, and public good works as an expression of the social justice within the movement. A mixture of followers such as skeptics, skepchicks, freethinkers, or whatever interests a group allows an intermingling of attendance that would vitalize the community. But he is also talking about real religions acknowledging their narratives of belief as fictional plays.

The coexistence of both kinds of celebration, believing churches and theater churches, in the same towns and cities might make for some useful confusion. People might begin to wonder if it mattered which one they attended. Since many churchgoers are already in the position of non-believing supporters of their traditional churches, they would be hardly upset to contemplate the possibility that their own minister might be one of them, but just playing a more official role.

It is pleasant to imagine a “real” Baptist minister moonlighting on occasion and playing the role of a Baptist minister in the local theater-church — a role he knows so well — and telling a congregant that it didn’t matter which event she attended. They both serve the same ends.

Another nice transitional step would be for the pastor of a church to announce that next Sunday, “Ecumenical Sunday” perhaps, instead of leading the church’s regular ceremonies, she would be introducing to her congregation the rites and creeds of another religion, so that they could see firsthand what it is like to be an adherent of that religion. Nobody would expect her to believe the creed she declared, and nobody would expect her, or the congregation, to believe the words of the unfamiliar hymns they sang together. But they might well decide that they liked one of the hymns well enough to request it be added to their “real” services in the future, with or without the alien words.

If as an atheist one acts like an anthropologist one attends churches as if studying a forreign culture it is much more easy to suspend judgement to personal investment. I find this really difficult unless it is in other countries, or Native American ceremonies, or other religions in which I know little.

It would be a means of allowing the traditions, changing the moral imperatives, and transitioning to less hurtful interactions. I’m not sure how this would work at all but it is thought provoking. It does help explain how religious people can live with lies and avoid dissonance.

Here’s an interview on the book with Linda LaScola.

Jim Newman, bright and well www.frontiersofreason.com

Related articles.

“Happy” Video Protest by Young Iranians

happy iranianSix, seven, eight, ?  Iranians were arrested for positing a video to Pharrell Williams “Happy.” At this point there are 250 million hits and coutnless covers. If I were Pharrell this would be the proudest moment of my life. Plato did not approve of music (his and civilization’s loss). Like other arts music is an ecstatic and uncontrolled celebration. Yet very serious because it can change the minds of others in profound ways.

Three men and three women danced unveiled to Pharrell Williams’ smash hit in a video that was widely shared on social media, garnering over 30,000 views before it was taken down. Copies have been quickly re-uploaded as news of the arrest has broken, sparking the hashtag #FreeHappyIranians.

Many Iranians praised their joyful video, but it was met with censure by the conservative religious forces which have ruled Iran since the Revolution in 1979.

“After a vulgar clip which hurt public chastity was released in cyberspace, police decided to identify those involved in making that clip,” Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia told the ISNA News Agency, according to ABC.

“Public chastity?” Am feeling nauseous.

free happy iranians

Art can hide yet express political dissent (subvert authority) without resorting to reason or science directly. Art is the the front wing of revolution. You don’t even have to express anger or political content.

In Islam music is supposed to be arabesque and nothing more, if that. Both dance and melodic, lyrical music are forbidden.

Here are the lyrics.

“Happy”

[Verse 1:]
It might seem crazy what I’m about to say
Sunshine she’s here, you can take a break
I’m a hot air balloon that could go to space
With the air, like I don’t care baby by the way

[Chorus:]
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

[Verse 2:]
Here come bad news talking this and that, yeah,
Well, give me all you got, and don’t hold it back, yeah,
Well, I should probably warn you I’ll be just fine, yeah,
No offense to you, don’t waste your time
Here’s why

[Chorus]

Hey, come on

[Bridge:]
(happy)
Bring me down
Can’t nothing bring me down
My level’s too high
Bring me down
Can’t nothing bring me down
I said (let me tell you now)
Bring me down
Can’t nothing bring me down
My level’s too high
Bring me down
Can’t nothing bring me down
I said

[Chorus 2x]

Hey, come on

(happy)
Bring me down… can’t nothing…
Bring me down… my level’s too high…
Bring me down… can’t nothing…
Bring me down, I said (let me tell you now)

[Chorus 2x]

Come on

Damn I love music. I made a familial foopah the other day when in the car talking about some current songs that the reason I loved having kids so much is that they exposed me to popular music which I have sort of shunned and dissed to much against my own benefit. My partner looked at me incredulously and had a few words. I replied that music fills my life. I listen to it every day for much of the day. I try to play instruments though I can’t carry a tune in a paper bag. Music is the philosophy of today. It’s hard to care about dry old philosopher farts, publishing crazed psychologists, and well meaning sociologists when there is a song filling your head giving the message straight to your body.

Jim Newman, bright and well www.frontiersofreason.com


Religion and Learned Helplessness

learned helplessnessToo many anthropologists, psychologists, and sociologists have excused the bibles as being reasonable exhortations for impulse control and moral cohesion. Considering the bibles have 600-800 laws one should obey, controlling your every breath and action, impossible to obey all, the real message is to keep people in a constant state of shame, guilt, and control. To immobilize them so they may be further controlled at will in any direction. It gets worse when they demand you have absolute free will to change what you cannot.

This tongue in cheek table of moral evaluations for acceptance to exchange in a business, hundreds short of a full list, shows no one gets out alive.

survey

Learned helplessness is a torture method where you immobilize your captive by invalidating any personal choices they make until they drool and wait for commands of what to do.

The theory of learned helplessness was conceptualized and developed by American psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1960s and ’70s. While conducting experimental research on classical conditioning, Seligman inadvertently discovered that dogs that had received unavoidable electric shocks failed to take action in subsequent situations—even those in which escape or avoidance was in fact possible—whereas dogs that had not received the unavoidable shocks immediately took action in subsequent situations. The experiment was replicated with human subjects (using loud noise as opposed to electric shocks), yielding similar results. Seligman coined the term learned helplessness to describe the expectation that outcomes are uncontrollable.

Learned helplessness has since become a basic principle of behavioral theory, demonstrating that prior learning can result in a drastic change in behaviour and seeking to explain why individuals may accept and remain passive in negative situations despite their clear ability to change them. In his book Helplessness (1975), Seligman argued that, as a result of these negative expectations, other consequences may accompany the inability or unwillingness to act, including low self-esteem, chronic failure, sadness, and physical illness. The theory of learned helplessness also has been applied to many conditions and behaviours, including clinical depression, aging, domestic violence, poverty, discrimination, parenting, academic achievement, drug abuse, and alcoholism. Critics, however, have argued that a variety of different conclusions can be drawn from Seligman’s experiments and therefore broad generalizations, most frequently found in the areas of clinical depression and academic achievement, are unwarranted. For example, the application of the theory to clinical depression is viewed as an oversimplification of the illness that fails to account for the complex cognitive processes involved in its etiology, severity, and manifestation.

Seligman is also the founder of the positive psychology movement which resulted in the practical onus on being happy onto the individual and insists that what you need to do is act happy to be happy. Since this is impossible individuals never recover and feel worse.

Just like religion which purports its greatest, softest result is comfort. But the vicious feedback of lack of results ensures greater frustration and yet greater seeking of what causes more of the discomfort, lack of joy.

There is so much popular support of positive psychology it is difficult to find any coherent discussion as everyone wants to say they are making people better and personal choice is prime. Who can argue that adding joy to life isn’t good or there is free will? Near everyone misunderstands Epicureanism as wanton hedonism not getting that he was quite restrained, moderate, and ascetic to counter the stoics that demanded to enjoy suffering for the sake of duty.

The real-life issue becomes not the virtue of the study of it but its application. When is happiness important and when is it suspended and how much of it is related to personal will versus situation?

In her detailed critique of positive psychology, Barbara Ehrenreich carefully outlined the history of its precursor, “positive thinking”, which developed as a counterweight to Calvinism and was built on the New Thought movement of the nineteenth century.[25]:pp.72–96 The New Thought movement originated in the United States as a challenge to Hobbes’ fatalistic philosophy of life as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”.[26] Calvinism held that a brutal Hobbsian reality could only be coped with by immersing oneself in hard work. Proponents of New Thought countered the world was more benign, and individuals had the agency to improve their lives and health through positive thoughts. Ehrenreich noted Phineas Parkhurst Quimby is “usually considered the founder of the New Thought movement and hence grandfather of ‘positive thinking’”.[25]:p.85 Quimby promoted a “talking cure”[25]:p.85 by means of which individuals would discuss their anxieties and guilt and envision an alternatively benevolent universe by contrast to Calvinism’s malevolently antagonistic and competitive social world. The New Thought movement’s focus on curing ills, such as neurasthenia, through positive thinking, was soon adopted by Mary Baker Eddy who incorporated this philosophy into her new religion, Christian Science[25]:p.86. New Thought was further developed by William James and Henry David Thoreau who questioned the science behind Quimby and Eddy’s theories, but agreed with New Thought’s focus on agency and reason, as methods to perceive and experience a more fulfilling life. Ehrenreich further explained how “positive thinking” was spread to a mainstream audience by Norman Vincent Peale’s extremely popular The Power of Positive Thinking[27] with its simple self-help rules for overcoming self-defeating inferiority complexes and negativity.

The problem is if it’s all in your mind and you’re not succeeding you’re the problem. Especially for women and other minorities where chronic depression is rampant, oppression is constant, and self confidence is low. Positive-thinkiing-action panaceas make the situation worse. Religion predates on  this not with positive thinking but with the learned helplessness of self action always being frustrated. Adding more admonitions to do more to be happy just adds to the frustrations that creates helplessness. It’s socialized torture disguised as being positive, exercising free will for that grand palace in the sky.

To relate it to other difficult to assess solutions it’s like back pain caused by a herniated disk where bending over seems to relieve the pain but continues the problem. The solution is to extend the back forcing the disks apart taking pressure off the nerve.

Personalities play into this as well since some don’t mind being uncomfortable while others do. Self selection in more fluid societies confounds the good by balkanizing solutions and ghettoizing deviants.

There needs to be far more individualized prosthesis for social ills than one law fits all. This makes it difficult for socialization without separation since we can’t just talk it out as we’re not all the same by any stretch.

Jim Newman, bright and well www.frontiersofreason.com