Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man
a book by Sam Keen
(our site's book review)
Keen starts out by foolishly putting Freud above Maslow, although admitting Freud was a man of a thousand mistakes—even going to the extreme of saying Maslow will end up as a footnote of history while Freud will reside in the Hall of Exemplars. This is grossly incorrect. Freud’s great discoveries about dreams, the unconscious, the ego, the id, and the superego will surely give him a secure place in history as a brilliant thinker who contributed a lot to psychology. But one must not forget the tragedy of how far he missed the boat with his reductionistic, sexist, misogynist, over-sexualized theories and practices, the folly of his universal Oedipal complex (which can now be seen as a function of who, where, when and how—hardly universal), and his drastic errors in disbelieving many of his women patients reporting abuse.
Advising analysts to consider such reports unreal was one of the most ill-advised and harmful actions in all of psychology, as it colluded with and even encouraged incest to occur in the lives of thousands of women. Maslow, on the other hand, made no serious errors, and his book, Toward a Psychology of Being, is a classic of wisdom.
Freud’s obsession with sex was matched by his obsession with cigars, which led to jaw cancer and death, by itself, and cigar dreams, when combined with the former obsession. The “great master” of psychology was also a master bungler in various ways that we dare not forget. His analysis methods were far from the most efficient or effective ways of giving people psychological help with their lives. Analysis was more of a plaything for the well-off than a serious, socially relevant psychological tool. It was way too expensive and time consuming to be practical.
These days there are lots of decent alternatives that can help people with relatively efficient and inexpensive methods, like cognitive therapy—see Feeling Good. But, more importantly, we now have the knowledge to be proactive and nip neurosis and character disorder in the bud before it has a chance to warp psyches and lives. We know how to raise kids, how people can relate successfully with other people, how communication works best, what patterns and habits of nurturance are best, how to parent, how to discipline and what kinds of lifestyle will be the most successful in encouraging growth, self-actualization, autonomy, independence, self-esteem and good character. We no longer need to mess up our kids out of ignorance and then look around for heroic shrinks to fix the messes we have created. We have the knowledge to do it right the first time. And that’s a scientific fact—as you can tell from reading our website.
Now, Abe Maslow is a totally different story than Freud. He did not make any serious mistakes—he was willing to be responsible enough to do actual research and figure out what was what for sure before he sat down to write about it. His theories are based upon intense study of a significant number of well, healthy people. (Freud never even bothered to study well people as a control group so he could determine the relative significance of what he was learning from the warped psyches he perpetually encountered. Hence he concluded that we’re all potential mother-humping father murderers who think with our genitals.)
But, more importantly, Maslow’s theories have turned out to be correct, AND INCREDIBLY USEFUL. Many experts in self-help, psychology, parenting and self-actualization have used Maslow’s, not Freud’s, foundation upon which to build. His gift to mankind—the science of the psychology of healthy growth towards human fulfillment (the psychology of being)—will be remembered and utilized for as long as humans remain human, while Freudian methods and much of his thought will end up as footnotes in history books in the long run. As we said, only his few, basic (and demonstrable) psychological discoveries will persist into the future.
Authors like Keen need to take a weekend with some of Maslow’s books (especially Toward a Psychology of Being) and some of his 100 articles, and try to absorb the monolithic significance of what this man’s work meant to humanity, especially when supplemented with Riesman’s, Fromm’s, Putney and Putney’s, Hart’s, Dyer’s, Gordon’s, Slater’s, Helmstetter’s, Dychtwald’s and Capra’s works. It’s entertaining to take journeys into the minds of Jung and Campbell, as Keen does, but this doesn’t give us the knowledge needed to design our lifestyles so that they work. But Maslow and the others just mentioned do give us much of this needed information. They are the trees in the forest. Our website is the forest which could not exist without the contribution of each tree. They did the hard work. We had only to stand back and look.
The Forest Through the Trees
Keen rightly supports the new, ecological-holistic paradigm, and argues persuasively that growth is the holy grail of economics and progress, and yet too much growth in the biological arena is called cancer, which should lead us to understand that too much materialistically based economic growth will end up causing biospherical cancer. If we don’t learn about balance, then we will learn about suffering and catastrophe. Gaia is alive. But Gaia is delicate and can be made sick. Gaia can even die. Our new vocation, as Keen terms it, is to heal the earth, love the earth, know the earth and touch the earth. He wants men to let go of their anachronistic machismo mindset and adopt a gentle, compassionate, aware, ecological, healing, sensitive new-paradigm mindset instead.
The U.S.'s psychotic quest to con all the money and resources from all countries and people of our delicate world, while wrecking the environment, needs to be stopped before WWIII breaks out
If we don’t learn about balance, then we will learn about suffering and catastrophe
He supports autonomy and self-actualization, but not New Age self-obsession and pretentious, self-conscious personal growth trips. He supports kicking all the authoritarian presences out of our psyches and “. . . seizing the authority for our own lives.” This means becoming someone who is at cause, not at effect. This means self-control, not control by superego (inner-directed) or peer pressure (other-directed), nor lack of control due to lack of identity or values (anomie).
To pretend that a man standing tall and alone is virile is to base our view of manhood on a metaphysic of separation that has been shown to be an illusion by almost every advance of the physical and social sciences of our era
He says “In devoting ourselves to getting, spending, and being entertained, we simply forget that we inevitably feel alienated when we do not live within a circle of friends, within the arms of the family, within the conversation of a community.…To pretend that a man standing tall and alone is virile is to base our view of manhood on a metaphysic of separation that has been shown to be an illusion by almost every advance of the physical and social sciences of our era.” This is vintage Sam Keen, and it is well said. Men are in severe psychological danger because of their failure to deal with their need to belong, say our social scientists. “We need to break through the conspiracy of silence that surrounded our fathers and condemned them to loneliness, and create a new subculture composed of a million minicommunities of men who talk about what matters to them.” (And women.)
Father as nurturer
He says men try in vain to settle for pseudocommunities in gangs, armies and corporations. He applauds the women’s movement’s insights about Western culture being dominated by patriarchy too long; that patriarchy is rooted in hierarchy, obsession with power and control and government by violence; that war, rape, and conquering nature are rooted in negative patriarchal habits of thought and social organization; and that we need the new, ecological-holistic paradigm as well as sexual equality ASAP, with men participating in housekeeping and child rearing more. He also warns women that resentment, blame, and victim mindsets are counterproductive.
It is pretentious for any woman to pretend she doesn’t also pollute, harm nature, support unjust wars (if only by inaction), and live like a queen while millions starve and suffer. He doesn’t buy the argument that thousands of years ago goddess cultures were peaceful, and that all god-based cultures since then have been only about destruction and violence and that the only cure is to return to the goddess culture way of life. He looks at the goddesses that have been hateful and negative and bloody (e.g., Kali) and dismisses the pastoral innocence of such times as wishful thinking. He’d like us to get beyond putting either gender on our gods.
There've been goddesses that've been hateful and inspired bloodshed and goddesses that've been peaceful, but for the last 5000 years the god-based cultures have been violent (although Keen disagrees—a comprehensive study of history bears this out, which suggests that a return to goddesses would be wise)
Keen says that: “Perhaps the greatest single advance in psychological and social theory in the last fifty years has been the emergence of systems thinking. Group therapy, family therapy, the Alcoholics Anonymous movement are all based upon the discovery that power, responsibility, action, blame are all shared by all participants within a system.” He chastises the victimhood trend because people are responsible for their actions regardless of the politically correct or incorrect excuses they give. He says that: “. . . the social system we have all conspired to create is victimizing us all.”
He says it’s time we changed our society so that it empowers, enables, inspires and enlightens, not victimizes, divides, alienates and confuses us. He doesn’t say how, but one would doubt that he would sanction social engineering and political salvationism after reading his book!
Quit looking to social engineering superheroes and rely on local community efforts
He mentions something very important and very insightful that few people have ever mentioned (although most of us have thought about it): “At the present moment in history, friendship [nonsexual] between men and women is one of the great untapped resources for renewing the world.” (Think MC—of course the same-sex friendships will be just as important. See Why Register for an MC?.)
Registering for MC search and match
He also says that: “To gain that sense of worth that comes only when our name and story are known, we require a small group of people, perhaps no more than a hundred, that greets us and takes an ongoing interest in our lives. Something larger than a nuclear family but less constricting than a tribe. . . . it becomes important to create new types of networks and nonbiological kinfolk—persons who choose to create some kind of hearth with one another . . .”
What remained when most social tasks were exteriorized in the 1950s was the isolated ‘nuclear family,’ held together less by the functions its members performed as a unit than by fragile psychological bonds that are all too easily snapped
Finally, Keen advocates that people create an alone space, a sanctuary in which they can nurture their relationship to themselves. Keep a record of conversations with yourself, he advises. This would dovetail with the self-nurturing practices of self-parenting (Pollard), self-talk and self-esteem (Helmstetter, Dyer, and Hart).
Alone space, a sanctuary in which people can nurture their relationship to themselves