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The Big Answer


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We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy—And the World's Getting Worse

a book by James Hillman and Michael Ventura

(our site's book review)

The two authors engage in an unusual conversation throughout the book. They deal with lots of areas. They promote a flat gradient of nurturance in families, advocate that people have friends to lessen the load on marriages and families, pine for community, ridicule the way that people often consider anything but the Norman Rockwell ideal family as dysfunctional, bemoan most relationships as falling apart and most marriages as leading to divorce, criticize therapy as trying to get people to adjust to environments that are as uninspiring as white bread.

guy and uninspiring white bread
Guy and uninspiring white bread

They say that people need their anxieties to spur them toward growth and learning and wisdom and they don’t need some expert coming along and numbing it with prescription drugs or talking it away in therapy. They put down therapy’s reductionistic tendencies which place the problem in the individual rather than in the system that raised the individual, encourage more systems thought not just about dealing with families rather than merely individuals but also looking at the entire social system from which all the dysfunctional relationships evolve, and question the idea of helping people cope in therapy with bad scenes which they ought to be rebelling against. This latter depletes the political energy in a community because when people should protest but instead are helped to cope, the natural evolutionary processes of society get constipated.

People pair off in a zero-sum context where they no longer participate in community because they’re 'in love'
People pair off in a zero-sum context where they no longer participate in community because they’re 'in love'

Exclusive intimacy focus means anticommunity, to Ventura and Hillman. People pair off in a zero-sum context where they no longer participate in community because they’re “in love.” The best case scenario is that they’ll want more out of life and develop a close-knit community existence rather than wrecking their relationship by putting all their emotional eggs in one basket, but what often happens is that they’re either working so much they don’t have time for anyone else, or they do so much together that no one else is allowed in, and couples overwhelm each other with their needs and things go sour—whether or not the couple marries first. The two men put down the omnipresent sentiment that: “If I could only find that one guy or girl, everything would then be great.” A person who doesn’t like himself and tries to fill himself up with his new lover or friend is in big trouble, since the problem is merely avoided or postponed.

People need to develop a close-knit community existence rather than wrecking their relationship by putting all their emotional eggs in one basket
People need to develop a close-knit community existence rather than wrecking their relationship by putting all their emotional eggs in one basket

The authors sound like a couple of people on the front lines, experiencing the craziness of people who manifest the breakdown of a culture. “The culture is dying,” they brood. A rather left-wing activist perspective is in evidence as they look at a sick culture and Ventura says: “. . . as Laing [R. D.] said, who are we to decide that it is hopeless? And I said to my son, if you wanted to volunteer for fascinating, dangerous, necessary work—this would be a great job to volunteer for, trying to be a wide-awake human during a Dark Age and keeping alive what you think is beautiful and important.”

A wide-awake human during the Dark Age of our dying culture keeping alive what he thinks is beautiful and important
A wide-awake human during the Dark Age of our dying culture keeping alive what he thinks is beautiful and important

For all their enthusiastic hyperbole about dying cultures, they’re generally right in what they’re saying, and deserve credit for pointing these things out and defining the Left end of the therapy continuum as they do so. What’s happening here is that the therapeutic community is experiencing the death throes of its naïve dependence on the mechanistic-reductionistic paradigm and the birth pains of the ecological-holistic paradigm, and it’s rightfully making these guys uncomfortable. And as their book says, sometimes you shouldn’t learn to cope with such feelings, but instead should define them as a call to action.

You shouldn’t learn to cope with the discomfort of the birth pains of the ecological-holistic paradigm, but instead should define them as a call to action
You shouldn’t learn to cope with the discomfort of the birth pains of the ecological-holistic paradigm, but instead should define them as a call to action

(All of this thinking—however excessive in its Left leanings—leads right to the door of the MC movement, if carried through to its logical conclusion. What’s ironic, of course, is that the moaning from the Right—about selfishness and people obsessed with rights and avoiding responsibility for self and community—leads to the exact same place if it’s carried to its logical endpoint. Somehow both sides end up in the same place—it’s rather circular, don’t you think? Or one could simply revert back to that philosophical favorite, dialectical synthesis, with the Left and Right defining the two ends of the Gripes continuum and the MC movement as the synthesis transcending gripes by wise action. See Why Register for an MC?.)

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match