With Visions of Sugar-Plums Dancing in My Head

I’m feeling pretty darn good about 2013.  Economic crash be damned.

Just had a barely awake chat with KMO over at the C-Realm Podcast’s special programming called “The Vault.”  I was sleepy, as it was the day after Christmas, and DH and I did a crazy stint of driving, after we put our dino-dog-puppies to bed, then shot over to see my sister and extended family.

It was a great holiday.

The Shopping Gene?

My sister, who has an incredible talent for picking out clothes for me, chose a fantastic hat as my gift.  For those of you who know hats, it is impossible to pick out a hat for someone.  Not for my sister, though.  It looks smashing, if I do say so myself.

Biology did not evenly distribute the shopping gene in my family.  DH was proud of me, as I made my yearly sociological research into the wild mall during the holiday season a week ago.  I didn’t freak out, as I normally do, after an hour and say, panicked “I gutta get out of here.”  Instead, I walked diligently up and down, on both levels, people watching, store merchandise examining, and taking in the mood of the sales clerks.  Ya, folks, we’re in collapse.  At least where I live.

My sister, on the other hand, is an avid shopper, and really could make her living as a professional shopper, if she didn’t have this pesky nursing degree she uses quite well.  She loves the stores, the lights, the colors, the merchandise.  And she can pick out clothes for me I couldn’t imagine wearing.  She leaves me in the dressing room, and brings things into me where I can’t refuse to try it on.  The results always surprise me.  I never would have chosen that.  My daughter, by the way, inherited her shopping gene…

The MS Scare

And shortly before we went to my families for the holidays, I weighed myself for poops and giggles.  I’m not one for “dieting,” but I am invested in my health, and had a scare this past summer that my doctor thought could be MS (it wasn’t).  So thanks to this website, a dear-reader-friend send me this video, and something in me clicked.  I had been researching nutrition a lot this past 6 months anyway, and learning just how hard it is to get all of your nourishment without a lot of careful focus on what you eat.   The biggest problem is the volume you have to eat to get all of the nutrients.  And the variety of foods you have to eat.  And the cooking.

George Mateljan

This guy is a friggin genius.  His website is really fabulous.  I know quite a bit about nutrition, having studied it, and read Nutrition Action Newsletter by the Center for Science in the Public Interests magazine for decades, so I know that Mr. Mateljan has really combined practicality with rigid scientific standards…and of course I just agree with his food philosophy, which helps.  Another nutritionally knowledgeable gal I love to read is Nicole Foss from the Automatic Earth, in her private writings on Facebook.

What’s you ‘food philosophy’?

Do you know what I mean about ‘food philosophy?’

Take eggs.  There was a time when everyone said “Eggs are bad for you.”  I never bought that crappola.  Eggs?  You mean those things that cave people picked up and ate walking along in the springtime?  Those eggs?  Rubbish.  And, of course, after consolidating the egg industry into a few players, the word went out that eggs are excellent for you, now.  A great food.  And all the good stuff is in the yolk.  So to have a deep and complete understanding of food is very complex.  Knowing a little bit can make you dangerous to yourself.

But then, I took Mr. Mateljan’s website, and the simple idea of 9 cups of fruits/veggies a day, kefir grains and raw milk, and a LOT of a secret ingredient I’ll wait to reveal at the end of this post, and, well, I’m a new person.  After a month, the clothes just fit better, so I weighed myself.  I lost 20 lbs.  Now, being a big gal, you may not say “Holy Mackerel  Peak Shrink, you are THIN!” (unless you are delusional), but that’s not the point, or even the best news.

Not only did I lose that weight without trying, I just stopped the meds I take for S.A.D., because, heck, I just felt great.

Not good.  Not okay.  Not “well, it is winter and I have “Seasonal Affective Disorder,”  kind of “okay.” No.


I still do.

So okay, I’ve read how you should eat well.  Who on this green Earth hasn’t?  And I ate pretty well, considering the stuff the average American consumes.  But 9 cups of veggies/fruit?  Nah, I didn’t eat that good.  Or at least, not until now.

And I just cut out the only sugar I had straight up daily, which was in my coffee or tea, and put cinnamon in it instead.  It tastes sweet.

But I’ve noticed a lot of other differences too, like what I’m craving.  I’m doing all the cooking in the house, because while DH is a great cook, he can’t imagine how to cram in 9 cups of veggies a day.  And what I’m craving are the veggies.  I’m really craving them.  You might think I’d get sick of them, but maybe I’m missing some basic nutrient that veggies are meeting.  I could care less about the meat, but give me the extra greens.

But as I said before, you can’t really eat all that food and still have a ton of meat, or grains, or sweets for that matter.  There is literally no room in one’s stomach for it.

Farewell to Wet Cats and Hello to Song and Dance Numbers12344073_s

Now, DH will also tell  you that S.A.D. is a sucky thing for a spouse to have. Imagine  an angry wet cat that you half towel-dried, and you have me most winters.  The meds were the towel.  You could tell when S.A.D. was settling in, because I stopped singing.  No made-up songs, sung passionately to the dogs, no spontaneous lyric- switching tunes.  No quick fast ‘song and dance number,’ while calling the dogs in from outside.  Only, perhaps, an occasional Johnny Cash song that would bring me to tears, that even I knew was silly to cry about.

Now the song and dance numbers are part of my everyday life again.  And the dogs love it.  (DH loves it, too.)

Belly Laughs

But what is really striking is to hear myself on the radio belly-laughing with KMO.  Nothing fake about it.  I was really laughing, having a great time with KMO, and  you can hear it on that show.  And we started a “pre-interview” conversation about sex and sexually explicit videos, which was also interesting, and ended up talking about nutrition and my new diet.  Turns out KMO has a new diet too.  That talk he and I had was BEFORE the interview, but he obviously liked it enough to use it as is, and put the “real” interview on at a later time.

Now how this all relates to Peak Oil, is this:  There is no way I’m going to put up enough kale and spinach and broccoli and cauliflower, never mind strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc to keep even one person in 9 cups a day.  Not where I live, and not with my farming skills.  I take a giant bag of kale or spinach and DH and I eat half of it in one sitting.  Half!  Ya, I could eat the frozen stuff, and will, but could I put up enough for an entire winter?  Perhaps veggie glama-gals Sharon Astyk or Kathy Harrison can, but not me.  And there is talk of a winter CSA in my town, but I don’t know that it’s happening yet.


In San Francisco, when I lived there, we pronounced  it “Kee-fur,” but that is so not hip now.  You pronounce it like this. (Can you get over a Youtube video to pronounce a word?)

However you say it, I hate buying yogurt because I resent the plastic it comes in.  So I discovered the Kefir Lady, and she sent me out this huge grain of kefir.  Making kefir is so, OMIGOD…simple.  I can’t believe they have so much literature on it, but, after all, people like to do things “right.”

Here are the Directions:

(1) Put kefir in a glass jar with milk and cover it with cloth to keep the bugs out.  Leave it on your counter.

(2) Taste it the next day and see if you like it.  If you do, drain out the grain, put fruit in it, or just drink it plain. (I happen to know for a fact that DH sneaks Odo’s Oil in my smoothies, to keep the Omega-3’s up…)  If you don’t like the taste, leave it on the counter another 6 hours then taste it again.  OR make a second batch and taste it earlier.

(3) Put the grain in milk and repeat the process.

Okay, you can’t put it in dead milk, which is “ultra-pasteurized.” But it still will grow in pretty crappy milk, just not so fast.  My kefir is fed the best milk, and soon we’ll have people bragging about the milk they feed their kefir, like they do about what they feed their dog.

Real milk, when it “turns,” still is good for you.  Dead milk is putrid and should be tossed.  So kefir is alive, and according to Wiki  is “bacteria and yeasts in a matrix of proteinslipids, and sugars, and this symbiotic matrix forms “grains” that resemble cauliflower.”  If you can’t drink cows milk, it grows in sheep or goats milk, and if you can’t drink milk, you can probably still drink kefir, because the grain eats all the stuff that probably gives you cramps.  (I’m not a medical doctor, so read up on it…)  But if you don’t want to drink milk there is water kefir too.  Or soy milkrice milk, or coconut milk.  And when you just can’t stand the thought of kefir anymore, put it in the refrigerator or freezer, and it will stop growing, or slow down dramatically.

Homemade Kefir is Best (of course)

As I have learned, after falling pretty far down the Rabbit Hole, is that almost anything you make yourself is better for you than the stuff you buy, and “homemade” kefir is no exception.  I can’t give you the numbers, but the homemade stuff has a ton more bacterial and yeast than the store bought stuff, which is, by the way, very expensive considering the three steps to making it I detailed above, and the fact that the kefir grain keeps growing, so you can give it to your friends.  Or sell it back to the Kefir Lady.  Apparently the store kefir has to count how many critters they put in there to be sure there is a respectable amount.  While on your kitchen counter, the critters just grow, not caring whether you measure them or not.

Are they GOOD Critters?

Now for the squeamish reader, these are GOOD critters, that once they hit your intestines, actually work to drive the BAD critters out of your intestines.  I’ve also read they are helpful to those who have ADHD, because apparently leaky gut is common in those with ADHD.  Kefir slows the digestion, so you are actually digesting more of your food.  Again, don’t quote me.

Dystopian Visions Brought on by Happiness

But all of this leads me to horrible visions of a nation or world who has turned to psychotropic drugs when our kids–who are eating school pizza, soda and hot pockets and calling it food– can’t concentrate, are allergic to everything, are sick constantly, and can’t pay attention.  And are grouchy and irritable, like wet cats.  So we throw a towel on them and call it “science.”  Believe me, in that state, I was grateful for the towel.

But to me, my friends, this is the dystopian world we live in, more frightening than zombies.  And instead of family meals, prepared with real food, 67% of us don’t eat together, and half of the rest have the TV on when we do.  That leaves 17% of a nation eating together in conversation.  I’m ranting now, so I’ll stop.

Final Secret

So, count me happy.  A happy, kefir eating, 9 cups a day-er, with one more secret to share:


Okay, I probably pushed you too far, but ya, herring.  It is that little fish that is really plentiful, because all the big fish stocks that used to eat it are depleted. Herring is very high in the long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, and if you ask me, it also induces a hypomanic high, which is psychologist talk for it makes you really happy.

Of course you also want to eat small herring and kippers, to keep your level of toxins to a minimum.  But even if you take 3-4 times the recreational dose of herring, rest assured you’ll have the Omega 3’s fighting the cancerous processes you’ll be digesting.  Some think, like breast milk, the benefits outweigh the risks.  So I eat it almost every day.  For breakfast.

So if you are wondering whether a change in diet might do you some good, as you slug away at your larder all winter, my vote is YES!  Hit the sauerkraut hard,  harvest the kale and Brussels sprouts as late as possible, and freeze those berries.  And if all else fails, go to the market and stock up.

You might be happier you did.

Saying Goodbye to Tomorrow.



Today is the last day on Earth, according to some New Age interpretation of the Mayan calendar.

This belief has caused endless suffering and useless expensive purchases by people trying to “beat the clock” and find somewhere safe to spend their last few hours.  Cheap places have suddenly become outrageously expensive, because someone said “Hang out there!” during your final hours.

This story caused one young woman to take her life.

However, saying “Goodbye to Tomorrow” has a long history that goes beyond this moment in time.  Humans are famous for planning the end of not only their own anticipated deaths, but because that is just too commonplace, they have to anticipate the death of everyone and everything around them.

The End of the World.  Or more modestly put, The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI).

One psychologist got interested in one “Say Goodbye to Tomorrow” group, and actually hung out with them during their “final moments.”  He wanted to know how they cognitively justified it, when the end of the world failed to materialize.

He reported that great anticipation happened during the moments ticking up to “the end.”  Five minutes “after doomsday,” the euphoria of the group changed to anxiety.  After several hours, when the followers began to look doubtfully at their leader, he enthusiastically announced “We’ve done it!

In a twist of mental gymnastics, he proclaimed that given his followers’ prayers and preparations, they had successfully “stopped” the end!  But now he was in a bit of a dilemma:  If the whole raison d’etre of the group was the “end,” he needed another “end,” or what’s the point?

What I’m noticing is a disturbing trend that mimics this same pattern.  Saying “We’re screwed!” is a good start when you are trying to build enthusiasm, but not quite as good as “We’re screwed next Tuesday!”  When next Tuesday comes, and the “screwing” didn’t happen on cue, what do you do to maintain your credibility?

Again and again over the years, I’ve noticed that people have taken dramatic actions in anticipation of this or that “end.”  For some, it is the end of civilization.  For others, it is “goodbye to the global economic system.”  For still others, it is the end of the Earth as a livable planet.  For these intelligent, sincere individuals, their goal, despite their critics, isn’t making a fast buck.  Most of them make no or little money on their predictions.  They really believe in what they are predicting.  So, to live in congruency, they pack up, sell off, and move to some more “sustainable” or “safe” location, and try in earnest to live in keeping with their anticipated tomorrow.  They “do it anyway” as a friend of Sharon Astyk says.

But it causes some of them tremendous social hardship.

Nostalgia for the Present

For some, they start to miss their “old life,” that “yesterday” that they abandoned with conviction.  For most living in this “yesterday,” they weren’t nearly as wastefully as others.  They were already living lean, using a fraction of resources compared to the average person in Western Civilization.  And they, themselves, are products of this Civilization they’ve come to critique.  They are writers, intellectuals, scientists, and professionals. They often leave culturally rich environs to move to remote locations known for, well, known for nothing in particular that most people care very much about.  Let’s call that location “Rural Nowhere.”

Then they wait.  And wait.  And wait.

Rural Nowhere is not noted for great employment opportunities. They’ve often given up their jobs and their incomes as a matter of conviction and necessity.  No matter how long they anticipated their resources to last, as the months and years tick on, they see the bank accounts dwindling.  Some have sold their homes, bought an RV, and drove around believing the “end of oil” is upon us.  (Yes, I know…)

Plus, if they left an intellectually alive place for Rural Nowhere, they get lonely.  They get resentful.  They start to look back at all of their colleagues and neighbors, the “Sheeple,” that continue to rake in decent salaries and take in decent cinema, without driving a few hours.  They feel increasing disdain  and then increasing hostility.

If they confidently provided a timeline, their families begin to stare at them with their own impatient brand of “Sooooo?”  Few of us would move on the promise that “the end of tomorrow” will happen in 50 years.  Most of us drag our feet at dramatic lifestyle change if doom is expected in over 5 years.  So many are stuck with an accelerating Doomline, and a stubbornly “Todaylike” tomorrow.

What happens to your marriage, when you took her out to Rural Nowhere, and you have day after day of Todaylike tomorrows?  What happens when Tomorrow stubbornly refuses to leave?

The pressure is enormous.

As the clock continues to build, not only must Tomorrow be something that is going, it starts to mutate.  Despite the hardship, Today has got to go.

Evil Believers

It is one thing to be a Panglossian, who believes that nothing in the world could possibly go wrong.  Now, however, what about those who continue to believe in Tomorrow?  They are viewed in the worst possible light.  You want children? You’re pregnant?  Those bearing children become “breeders” who should be shunned.  You bought a new car, or iphone?  You are killing off the ecosystem.

3-E Hair Shirts

But caution is in order, because it is really very difficult to live purely, even in Rural Nowhere.  To resolve the hypocrisy, some proclaim “I won’t change, it is the corporations that need to change!” They say their contribution to Demise is hardly significant. So they go on living like they did yesterday, while predicting the end of tomorrow. The rest of us us still secretly driving to buy take-out, and are ashamed of ourselves or embarrassed when we’re “caught.”

We find ourselves lusting for that “really cool” gadget, then hating ourselves.  In an attempt to purify ourselves, no different than the saints who wore hair shirts or whipped themselves into trances to rid themselves of impure thoughts, these modern day Doomers also look for relief.

As if I haven’t created enough enemies in our community at this point, allow me to push forward.

 You either support our movement, or you take your place of shame with the Sheeple and be shunned…

Nudging Along the End of Today

If civilization is going to fall, and isn’t falling fast enough, it should now be nudged along.

The solution is also an old one.

A movement is gaining popularity whereby this nudging has taken on violent overtones.  The narrative is outlined in the starkest terms:  If you love the planet, there is only one recourse to those who are killing it.  You are either with us, or against us.  You either support our movement, or you take your place of shame with the Sheeple and be shunned.

Most often, of course, history has taught us that within these movements, there appears to be two classes of people:  The Leaders and the Followers.  The Leaders are often most valuable for continuing to do what they have been doing all along:  Thinking.  Writing.  Lecturing.  Pontificating.  They are justified in any eco-transgressions because, after all, they are the Leaders, and are attempting to gather more Followers to speed up The End of Tomorrow.

The Followers

The Followers also appear to be remarkably similar over the years.  They are usually much younger than the Leaders.  They have far fewer resources and often live lives much closer to “The End of Tomorrow” than the Leaders do.  They are often directly impacted by the worst parts of today, whether this is the crappy jobs during the rise of the industrial empire, or crippling student loans today.  But whether we are talking about the turn of the century or today, the role of the Followers are the same:  they are the handmaidens, the expendables.   They read the call to action and are ready to act.  They will engage in behaviors that cause them to either die or be put in cages for a very, very long time.


Sometimes we’ve learned, decades later, that the provocateurs were actually agents of the government who were seeking to discredit a popular movement that was gaining power.  They were “plants” who said: “We have to do this!” and yet, when everyone was imprisoned or dead, these “Leaders” safely vanished.  Popular movements become “unpopular” when associated with “senseless” acts violence.

Anyone who carefully studies human history will notice this trend.  And they will notice another mantra:  “Things have never been as bad as they are today.”  And usually they are right.  And dramatic actions are called for when we are talking about the End of the World.

They will also notice how slow the progress of change is, and how unpopular ideas seem to almost overnight, become popular ideas.  And despite how dire things are, no matter how bad today is, compared to all the badness of yesterday, remarkably, “today” continued to seamlessly flow into “tomorrow,” against all the odds.  And those who wrote the Doomline re-write the predictions, and no one seems particularly interested in the miscalculation.

Now I hate to have to be the one to write any of this.  What I’m saying is hardly revolutionary or new.  In fact, what I’m saying is easily what the most conservative endorsers of Today would say in response to social critics.  I’ve hardly been a cheerleader of Today, and don’t imagine Tomorrow will be swell, either.

But I care about young people, and I care about their passion and their enthusiasm.  And while I’m terrified of the future, too, I can’t imagine how violence that will mostly impact the poor and working classes will lead to a healthier planet.  I don’t see how spending decades of your life behind bars (“in a cage”) will somehow make the world a safer place for dying species.

And while most of these Thought Leaders proclaim how delighted they’d be to give their own lives for the future of a healthy planet, they live on.

They prep on.

They pontificate on.

And they tell us over and over that if we don’t “do something,” something increasingly dramatic as their Doomlines creep forward, we won’t have Tomorrow.

So for those who believe that Today is the last day on Earth I say:

”So long, it’s been good to know you.”

For the rest of us, let’s continue to work for change, with the utmost of care, and always anticipate that Tomorrow MIGHT come.

Psychological Self-Defense for the Newly Unemployed

Got a pink-slip?  Are you one of the unlucky ones who had to face the chopping block?  Here are a psychologist’s ten best suggestions for managing emotionally when economic bad times hit your family.

(1) Make a pact that hard times come and go, but your relationship, your family, is here to stay.
Financial pressures destroy bonds between people, if you let them.  When the wolf is at the door, it’s no time to argue about who invited him.  Regularly sit down together for the sole purpose of sharing feelings-frustration, hopelessness, anger, sadness, shame, futility, irritation-without ‘blaming’ another family member.  And don’t forget to look at the moments of happiness and positive feelings, too.  Pull together to fight the circumstances, or you might pull apart.  Say “I love you,” more often and “We’ll pull through this,” even though you have your doubts at the moment.
(2) Find alternatives that can be used to vent frustrations.
Then take a walk or do some other form of exercise.  Keep a daily journal.  Start a blog. Recognize that there are better ways to express your anger than targeting your family members.  Conduct a personal inventory to identify character traits that make undisciplined spending possible, including low self-esteem, need to impress others, loneliness, or depression.
(3) Look squarely at gender roles.
You may say “I’m fine with my wife earning the money,” but take a closer look. Quite often when both people are working, there is a balance of power.  When men become unemployed, it is important to look at not only how the shift in domestic duties may (and should) shift, but also the impact of doing so. The couple’s idea of what “clean” is or what constitutes a “dinner,” or what is a productive way for the unemployed person to spend his/her day, (and whether the other partner should have a say,) can all bring about increased tensions in the relationship.
(4) Don’t dodge the emotional issue of spending cuts.
The loss of a needed job means spending less money or going into (or deeper into) debt. Those are your two options. Getting another job soon may be a goal, a desirable wish, but right now these are your options.  Too often the blow of losing a job is so damaging to one’s sense of self, that trying to maintain the rest of your life “like normal” is tempting. But it is a mistake. Sit down with all of the bills in front of you, and make a list of the ones you are going to pay, the ones you will pay later, and the monthly expenses you are going to stop spending money on.  Each of you take a turn adding a bills to the “spend” column until your income stops. This is a “values clarification” exercise.
(5) This is no time to rehash “perpetual problems”
You may notice that a conversation about cutting expenses can easily turn into an argument about who leaves the lights on, who never used the gym membership, or whether you really need a smart phone with those many minutes to talk to your Aunt Helen.  Put those issues on a separate piece of paper to discuss later. For now, if one thing has to be paid first, which is it?  The rent/mortgage?  Weekly food bill? Heat for the winter? Health Insurance? Yes, I know, they all have to be paid, but what is the most essential right now?  Draw a line where the “buck stops” in terms of steady available income. Then ask yourself if anything below that line is really worth going into debt for.Elizabeth Warren did a fantastic job explaining why families today, living on two incomes and losing one, are more vulnerable than families in the 70’s who had one- earner families. It’s not because they’ve been spending all of their money on clothing, electronics, or gadgets.  They’ve been spending it on fixed costs like mortgage and health insurance.  And while income has gone up 75% over the last 30 years, fixed costs have gone up 400-600%.
(6) Explore what it “means” to your partner that he or she is unemployed.
I was shocked when my husband told me, once things had stabilized for us, that as he was losing his business, he was certain I would leave him.  Had I explored with him what it meant to him to have the business fold, I might have saved him months of fear and insecurity.  What does it emotionally “mean” to you when you lose your job?  What does it mean to your family to not be able to (a) spend on the things you used to; (b) have to rethink the ‘typical’ holiday season; (c) eat differently to cut costs; (d) reduce the amount you spend on your children. Who are you, now that you aren’t working?  What dreams, expectations of what tomorrow will bring, have been violated?  When you are able to explore these questions in a safe environment, they are often accompanied by a lot of deep emotion.  Let it out.  Talk it out.  Then move on.
(7) Find different ways to spend your time.
Everyone in the family may have to find alternative ways to enjoy themselves or relate as a family together.  A teenager might be able to find a job, and he or she could contribute some income to the household budget, or help pay for essential expenses.  The stimulation of a shopping mall or movie theatre is sometimes a tough thing to go without for many people.  What can substitute, that will bring that same level stimulation or one that is equally satisfying?  A hike in the woods?  A pot luck with friends?
(8) Give Back.
Studies show that helping others is more rewarding than being helped.  Now that you are unemployed, use some of that time to volunteer.  A soup kitchen, food pantry, animal shelter, or your child’s school, gets active in community projects are all suggestions.  Work with other unemployed people to set up community labor exchanges.  Damage to self-esteem and depression are common side-effect of being unemployed.  Social engagement is an effective way to combat it.
(9) Talk directly about damaging behaviors
Suicide is a serious risk to the long-term unemployed. So is depression, which isn’t the same as being sad. So are increases in drug and alcohol use.  Talking about suicidal intention doesn’t give someone the thought, if they don’t already have it.  Be direct, and proactive if you hear from a loved one that they want to hurt themselves, or are doing behaviors that are self-destructive.  Get professional help, call a suicide hotline, or talk to a trusted friend or religious leader.  Don’t ignore these feelings.
(10) Be proactive in seeing alternatives
So much of the problem in losing a job for the middle class is their reluctance to be proactive about seeking alternative sources of income or assistance.  Talk to a tax accountant or financial planner.  Speak pro-actively to a bankruptcy attorney while you still have options. Investigate social services that can help you, including your religious institutions.  Accept these actions as potentially humbling experiences, and allow yourself to see the positive side of becoming humbled. You may be out of money, but you are not poor.  You can use your wits to figure out how to find every stop-gap measure to keep your family “boat” afloat.Your period of unemployment will make you more sensitive to others who experience the same thing.  If it has happened to you, and you know of someone else it is currently happening to, reach out. Go out with them and have a heart-to-heart. Share your own experience, and invite them to do the same.  You’ll deepen your friendship with that person, in all likelihood, and lessen their pain.

“Brother, Can You Spare the Time?”: Psychotherapists Don’t Reach out to the Unemployed

Our families, friends, and true companionship are thus among consumerism’s principal casualties…We are hollowing out whole areas of life, of individual and social autonomy, of community, and of nature, and, if we don’t soon wake up, we will lose the chance to return, to reclaim ourselves, our neglected society, our battered world, because there will be nothing left to reclaim, nothing left to return to.   -Gus Speth – America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).

Psychotherapists of all disciplines have long thought of themselves as social advocates.  We’ve been taught that individuals are embedded in families, and in extended families.  These families are embedded in neighborhoods, cities, regions and countries.  Ultimately, climate decimation is teaching us that countries are embedded in a shrinking planet that is seriously hurting.

So I began a research project to answer the questions “How responsive are psychotherapists today to the needs of their local communities?” “How do they reach out to those who are in economic as well as psychological pain?” “To what extent does their advertising suggest that they are well aware that the western world is in the worst economic crisis since the last Great Depression?

I made the task easy for myself.  I chose seven cities that have the worst rates of unemployment and related social problems, then did a Google search.  I had written previously about how unresponsive psychologists were during the last Great Depression, actually appearing to find the topic of world economic hardship  unworthy of study.  Surely in an age of global networking, instantaneous news, and easy mobility, we would see psychotherapists announcing their willingness to help the unemployed, not just those still prosperous “worried well.”  At least acknowledge that these are hard times.

Alas, little has changed.

My research found scant evidence in advertising profiles that psychotherapists in private or group private practices are aware or responsive to the economic crisis that is overwhelming their cities. While they may identify specific stressors that are the result of joblessness, they virtually ignore acknowledging the social, economic, and environmental issues that are dominant worries for many urban Americans today.

Seven Worst-Hit Cities

Below are the seven cities having both high unemployment and related social issues. In the parenthesis are the “official” unemployment statistics for that population:

  • El Centro, CA   (30.3%)
  • Yuma, AZ (28.7%)
  • Rockford, IL (15.7%)
  • Riverside, CA  (15.2%)
  • Detroit, MI  (14.3%)
  • Los Angeles  (12.5%)
  • Cleveland, OH (9.3%)

Those of you who read John Williams’ “Shadow Statistics” knows that you have to add at least 9 points (he says 14 points based on governments own stats) on to those numbers, if you were to take into account discouraged workers, involuntarily part-time workers, and the like.  So counting the truly under- or unemployed we learn that El Centro, CA  as a city with 4-5 of every 10 people without a job, could have twice as many workers unemployed than during the last Great Depression.

In Search for a Listening Ear for the ‘Lost-My-Jobbers’

I put myself in the mindset of an average person who has been laid off.  I want to find someone to talk about it.

I go to the internet, and read through the descriptions found on the first two pages of a Google search – keyword:  “therapist” and then individually add each of the worst hit cities listed above—(e.g. “Therapist” and “Cleveland, OH”).

Here is what I found:

There were hundreds of listings. Most describe themselves as “compassionate and kind.”  Some offered koans like:  “Each person is different, and we are all alike; or nautical themes like “helping you navigate your way through life’s difficulties…” They promised to help me “reach [my] full potential.”  Some asked the reader probing questions like:  “Are you falling apart?”

None of them mentioned that the planet  is falling apart.

Most talk about “meaningful change” that will help me to discover my “true self.” Does this include economic change that has caused chaos in the lives of so many people?

And when I’m asked whether my “productivity at work”  is off, I imagine I might blame myself if I were unemployed, asking:  “Is that the reason I’m not working?  Was I unproductive?”  Why don’t they mention the massive lay-offs that are happening in their cities?  Why don’t they mention the emotional hardship unemployment brings?

Some agencies clearly state their preference for seeing only the remaining “high- functioning clients” “seeking more fulfillment…and joy in their lives.” They also consult with employers to “uncover ways to reduce cost, [and] enhance employee morale.”

“Employee Morale” is a big problems when you let go a significant portions of your work force.  Often larger corporations hire “motivational speakers” days after the layoffs are announced, to promote a “positive attitude” as the “key to success” for their remaining work staff.  I wrote about this phenomenon in 2010:

In 1994, the same day that AT&T announced it would lay off fifteen thousand workers, it sent its San Francisco staff to a big-tent motivational lecture by Zig Ziglar who told the crowd:

“It’s your own fault, don’t blame the system; don’t blame the boss—work harder and pray more” p. 115.

No one in Los Angeles, CA mentioned that residence live in one of the most expensive housing market in the country, with a sharp rise in the crime rate.  Nobody in Riverdale, CA mentioned increasing poverty rates or a rising level of pollution that is impacting the children.

In Cleveland, OH, a city with more robberies per 100,000, than any other city in the USA, a psychotherapist proclaims: “Clients deserve to get what they want.

Okay,” I mused, “I have a list for you: I want my job back; and a planet with half the population, a city that is safe and neighborly, and cheap gasoline.”

Sometimes the listing shocked me with the insensitivity shown–like the therapist who worked with parents who argued:  “The cost of services is less than the cost of a child’s funeral…

I Get It.  Times are Hard.”

I wasn’t looking for much.  I just wanted some acknowledgement that the person clients were going to open up to, to reveal their deepest fears to, actually recognized larger scary concerns.

In Detroit, it is great to “shine my light,” but I wanted some indication that the psychotherapist knew that the city’s lights were being shut off.

I found one:

Hello, we live in a very stressful time and things are becoming more difficult for couples, families and children every day. I have over 7 years of clinical experience and I understand many of the societal, family, and interpersonal factors that contribute to the challenges we face today.” Gerald Mc Gee, MSW, LICSW.

Thank you, Mr. Mc Gee.

In Rockford, Il, a city as hard hit as during the Great Depression, David Heuser, a minister, wrote:

Lack of insurance should not be an obstacle to receiving help. If you do not have insurance, if money is tight, I am willing to discuss with you how to deal with the financial arrangements of receiving counseling while dealing with the real issues that are important to you.”  Mr. David Heuser,  Counselor , LCPC , CADC , MSEd, MDiv

Bless you, Reverend.

Of perhaps hundreds of profiles I read in the seven worst cities in the US for unemployment, pollution, or crime, only these two profiles gave any hint that clinicians knew that bad things were happening to good people.

Many of the therapists claimed to be “practical” or “down to earth,” but none had anything to say about the deteriorating condition of  the Earth or the fact that you had to be “practically blind” to not see the obvious: the cities they practiced in were financial war zones.

A Significant Source of Stress

As professions, we know the impact of terrible economic times. Information is out there. Seventy-eight percent of Americans report money as a “significant source of stress” (APA, 2009).  Economists Daniel Sullivan and Till von Wachter estimated “a 50 to 100 percent increase in death rates for older male workers in the years immediately following a job loss, if they previously had been consistently employed,” as well as a higher risk of suicide, disease and divorce.

And yet, only two psychotherapists gave any indication of the impact of job loss or community degradation in their profiles?

Position Mergers not Work Sharing

Countries like Germany are well aware of the emotional damage caused by unemployment, and have instituted ‘workshares,’ to keeps workers from being laid off.  The German government helps companies keep employees on their payrolls by subsidizing their wages with the money saved on unemployment benefits.  All work fewer hours, but all still work.  In contrast, in the US, managers are merging  two jobs, and increasing  the unemployment rolls.

The Stress of Being Unemployed

food lines in El Centro, CA

Food lines in El Centro, CA.
Modern-Day “Bread Lines”

Not doing productive work does terrible things to a person. According to the APA, the chances of depression, anxiety, psychosomatic symptoms, low subjective well-being and poor self-esteem double with unemployment. And those still working often end up with a heavier work load and the constant fear and anxiety that they’ll be next. Parental job loss even increases the incidents of punitive and arbitrary punishment of children.

And unemployment doesn’t only impact individuals, it impacts entire communities.

More from the APA:

Widespread unemployment in neighborhoods reduces resources, which may result in inadequate and low-quality housing, underfunded schools, restricted access to services and public transportation, and limited opportunities for employment, making it more difficult for people to return to work (Brisson, Roll, & East, 2009). Unemployed persons also report less neighborhood belonging than their employed counterparts, a finding with implications for neighborhood safety and community well-being (Steward et al., 2009).

While APA does call for extending the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, it continues to advocate for more research on the psychological impacts of unemployment, and pushes job re-training.  I argue that we know plenty about these impacts, and retraining only works if there are actual jobs to train for.  Often these programs provide good jobs only for the workers who run them.  Those who entered the computer programming field after being “retrained” can attest to the impact of repeated job displacement.

A Call to Action:

In the worst-hit cities, and indeed all over the USA, grass root action is happening, and I would like to invite my colleagues to join it or initiate it in their own communities.  We need to radically transform the way we provide mental health in this country, one psychotherapist at a time.

Our profession has become so tethered to health insurance companies, that we’ve stopped considering those without insurance coverage as “client eligible.”  The unemployed fall into this category.

It is clear that economic and psychological insecurity due to employment displacement is a real psychological issue.  How do you ignore 40% unemployment or underemployment?  How does that not get mentioned as a “specialty” under “problems treated”?  It is not enough to call it a “loss” or “life transition.”

And the silence about the context of psychological suffering in these profiles sends another message implicit:  Silence says that economic hardship, rising crime, deteriorating environmental conditions, and sky-rocketing energy costs aren’t appropriate issues to discuss in psychotherapists’ “safe offices.”  The message is “your pain is not connected to your deteriorating world.”


Some will argue that those in financial need are served by public mental health clinics, and don’t belong in private psychotherapy offices.  This argument is spurious, at a time when funding to pay for public services are dwindling. The mental health clinic I worked at that served the poor exclusively had a six-month waiting list.

If psychotherapy is truly a ‘calling’ where empathy reigns, I urge my colleagues to find psychologically sound methods of providing these services to those in need, regardless of their financial situation.

And because productive work enhances mental health, “Sliding scales” and hand-outs aren’t the best solutions.

Community Exchange Systems

One way to provide mental health services to the un- or underemployed, a strategy used successfully during the first Great Depression, is Community Exchange Systems (CES).  To again quote my former article:

When the Great Depression fell upon the American public, Self-Help organizations sprang up as a “spontaneous mass movement” and became a part of daily life for many people. By the end of 1932, there were self-help organizations in over 37 states with 300,000 members (equivalent to 2.1 million people today). Their work involved direct exchanges of goods and services (partially in cash), cooperative production for sale or trade. The largest group, in Seattle, WA, the Unemployed Citizens League (UCL) had twenty-two local commissaries around the city where food and firewood was available for exchange for every type of service and commodity from home repairs to doctors’ bills. Local farmers gave unmarketable fruits and vegetables over to their members to pick and people gained the right to cut firewood on scrub timberland.


These systems are not direct bartering. “Bartering” poses ethical dilemmas for therapists and can, for example, muddy the therapeutic relationship.  Instead, trading system “clients” are in no way obligated to the therapist directly.  They instead are obligated to the community, “paying back” their psychotherapy by delivering/selling something to another trader in the community.  It is, in the true sense of the word, a “favor bank.”

Giving to the War Effort

Today, as during World War I, psychotherapists have rallied to help returning veterans and the US Military, and this effort demonstrates how effective Community Exchanges are as applied to psychotherapy. CES organizations like Give An Hour , ask clinical volunteer professionals to give an hour of their time to provide critical mental health services to U.S. troops and their families who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. This organization is proof that such a system can work well for our profession.

Surely the economic ‘War on Workers’ deserves our attention no less.

The Dangers of Psychological Terrorism

I’ve developed a deep respect for how powerfully psychology frames reality. Misuse this power, and we pathologize a person’s emotional reactions, attributing psychological symptoms, such as anxiety and depression to past traumas, when these reactions are perfectly appropriate given the current situation or potential threat that presents itself. The sorrow over the death of a parent, for example, is not a mental illness, it is an appropriate emotional response to what has happened to you.  Unemployment and the resulting social and economic damage is no different.

When we pathologize predictable responses to life’s difficulties, and disconnect  actual events from common emotion reactions to it, we inflict what I call “Psychological Terrorism.”

When, as a group, we psychotherapists don’t acknowledge economic hardship, energy depletion, or environmental degradation as legitimate concerns for exploration in therapy, we send a powerful message to people implying that these aren’t “real” concerns, or that these are “personal” as opposed to “collective” issues, that require only personal help.  Referring the un- or under employed to movements like UCubed allows them to see themselves as part of the 31 million Americans without work.  It contextualizes their pain.  It promotes collective action.  It enhances mental health.

While mentioning “I know these are hard times” or “I’m sensitive to environmental concerns’ in their advertising will hardly be a revolutionary act, it is an initial step in first and foremost labeling this severe economic depression as “real.”  Imagine if physicians, dentists…all health and allied mental health professionals included in their advertising the phrase “We know you are hurting from this bad economy.  Let us know how we can help you get the help you need.”

This type of advertising says “It’s real.  It is happening to all of us, not just you.” It labels these concerns as legitimate stressors that intensify the need for treatment, as well as being a legitimate topic for treatment.

Community Spirit Lives

Community Exchange Systems (CES), Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS), Mutual Credit trading systems or Time Banks are trading systems that are truly workable in communities decimated by a crumbling economy. When psychotherapists join them, participate in them, it tells our communities that we are aware of what is happening, and we are active participants in healing the suffering.  We put our own labor on par with that of other community workers and we are willing to exchange that labor to those who are willing to work for others.  Our very participation in such CES organizations are bolstering the care we provide, by providing the opportunity to work.

We Live in Historically Significant Times

My colleagues, let us not be judged harshly by history yet again. Eighty years ago, we responded, as a group, to the war effort, while ignoring the unemployed:

“When the United States entered the First World War, psychologists,

We are used to these pictures. Women and children weren’t allowed in these lines. They were taken around back, when they showed up for food.

as an associated group, volunteered their professional services. Their contribution was considerable, both to the conduct of the War and to psychology.

When the United States entered the big world depression, psychologists did nothing and, as a group, have so far done nothing.

For nearly 10 years we have suffered through a national social and economic crisis; yet, from an examination of our professional journals and the programs of our professional meetings, one might conclude that psychologists were oblivious of the fact that our social institutions are rattling about our ears.

In fact, the world at large is as ignorant of the possible contributions of psychologists as psychologists appear to be about the world.”

From:  The psychologist’s understanding of social issues. Gundlach, R. H.; Vol 37(8), Oct, 1940. pp. 613-620

Will history repeat itself?

Unemployment Line in Missouri

We can take action, as a profession, developing psychologically savvy and effective ways to empower those now ravaged by the second Greater Depression.  We can add our voices to the growing choirs that say “growth is a dead end on a finite planet” and that a “debt-based economy harms people.”  We can tell our clients “It isn’t you.  You are living in a time of great social upheaval. Don’t blame yourself.”

We can refuse to participate in Psychological Terrorism.

We know and teach that relationships, not material possessions bring us happiness.  Now we must model that conviction in our work, by interweaving our efforts into our wounded communities, giving and receiving services, not only money.

By our actions, we demonstrate our motivation to change our world for the better and earn the label “healers.”


Dr. Kathy McMahon, “The Peak Shrink,” is a clinical psychologist who chides herself, as well as her colleagues, for not pushing harder to find better ways to reach the un- and under-employed in her community.  She’s learned something about unemployment when her husband lost his business and was un- or under employed for 18 months. She’s learned about “job merging” when her “promotion” was withdrawn and “combined into” another existing higher-up position.  You can critique her own professional profile by entering in “Psychologist” and “Cummington, MA,” or just Google Kathy McMahon.

She welcomes your comments.





Say it isn’t so: Review of J. H. Kunstler’s “Too Much Magic”

James Howard Kunstler describes himself as an “all-purpose writer,” and boy can he write.  His latest book “Too Much Magic:  Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation,” has taken otherwise ‘hard to write clearly about’ subjects such as financial instruments, what’s happening to our environment and shale oil, and made them interesting and useful to the reader, without talking down to, or boring us.

How can we understand the difference between extracting oil from deepwater conventional oil wells and shale oil you ask?  “Think of it as like comparing a fire hose to wringing out a sponge.”

But essentially, the book looks at what prevents the ordinary person (he refuses to call us “consumers”) from recognizing the urgent need for us to “rearrange our manner of living.”

As a psychologist who’s written about these topics, it’s an area that fascinates me. He argues that two central beliefs (when combined) stop people from accepting the notion that there are limitations to growth, increasing economic hardship before us, and calamitous environmental change around us:  “[W]hen you wish upon a star…you’ll get something for nothing!”  He calls this a “toxic psychology…[that] has become baseline normal for the American public.” Kunstler argues that we can’t “sustain the unsustainable,” and we’re got to prepare for “intelligent responses” instead of “solutions.”

And, he adds, the hour is getting very late.

Kunstler calls the conditions of our times a “contraction.”  “The only big remaining questions,” he asks “are whether this sort of compressive contraction can be called collapse and what happens afterward.

Intelligent responses, he argues (in addition his more classic arguments for more rail and working ports), includes “put[ting] us back in touch with elements of human experience that we thoughtlessly discarded in our heedless rush toward a chimerical techno nirvana – working together with people we know, spending time with friends and loved ones, sharing food with people we love, and enacting the other ceremonies of daily and seasonal life in story and song.” Yet these very recommendations seem so banal as to be rejected as no proposal at all. Being human is so…ordinary, and ennui is the symptom of our time. Even airplane travel feels as “boring and tiresome as sitting in the dentist’s waiting room” despite being eight miles up and traveling at 550 miles an hour.  We’re lost an appreciation for the real magic all around us and in us.

Those attending his lectures, he reports, beg for “solutions,” wanting to be fed “rescue remedies” that promise a continuation of an easy life, endless driving, cheap fast food, NASCAR and Disney World.  “Ordinary people already felt hopeless about the things they were conditioned to believe they had control over, such as the idea that gainful employment would find those willing to work,” so when confronted with the harsh realities of Peak Everything and “what is among the gravest problems that the human race has ever faced” (like environmental catastrophe) they tune out.  These issues appear to be “best ignored, with the hope that it would go away, like a case of poison oak.

Climate Change

One thing that isn’t going away is a worsening planet. “[O]ver 40 percent of the entire United States was subject to drought” in 2011. Today, that figure is 56%.  Kunstler tells us that sixty percent of aquifers in India will be in critical condition in fifteen years, and groundwater is being pumped into irrigated farmland faster than rainfall can recharge it.  Yet we spend far less on international climate change financing than we do on “air-conditioning in the various theatres of war.”  Climate change deniers tend to also be Peak Oil deniers, according to Kunstler, movements both heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry.


Anyone who reads him knows how biting Kunstler can be critiquing – Disney Land guests who are “overfed Americans waddling so innocently about in their JC Penney casuals,” and in this book, he doesn’t disappoint. But he also shows us a more tender side. We can feel his outrage at the wasted opportunity, misdirected trillions, and the ticky-tacky bait and switch, that impacted those born at the turn of the last century.  They travel to Disney Land now to relive what they most loved about where they were born– a place of shops and shopkeepers, the safety of walking around and greeting other people, and feeling the neighborliness of small town America. In short, they now pay to see a fake version of “whatever had made their towns worth caring about.”  Even though he acknowledges that most of these same folks worked very hard to advocate for the very changes that eventually destroyed that way of life, he’s put it in context in this book. Like Kunstler, himself claims  “I feel that I am a hostage to this economy.

It is a sentiment that echoes with me as a clinical psychologist. I regularly work with couples who try to find meaning in a life that is filled with moving family members to and from school, work, the mall, and the soccer field.  Many nights, when they’re starving, they stop for a fast food dinner, although they know better.  Kunstler calls this a life devoid of “repose and tranquility, the necessary conditions for reflection.” We now pay people like me for the time to gain a ‘considered life.’ My clients know that something is wrong with this picture, but they blame themselves instead of cultural norms.  Many make a middle or upper-middle class income, and find themselves being too tired to make a decent dinner or to see friends, too exhausted or alienated from each other to have passionate sex or a meaningful conversation, or in too much chaos to create an organized and “homey” home life.  Designer pillows and drapery don’t make “homey.”  The act of tending to and living in a space actually makes it a home.

Kunstler argues that cities “were designed to serve all the most inhuman elements of industrial enterprise: the needs of machines, factories, transport infrastructures and the efficiencies demanded by capital finance…” The more industrial and urban the USA became, the more nostalgic people became for rural and village life.  But “rural” is not “suburban,” as suburbia, according to Kunstler, lacks its rich “associational nature,” and the inability to integrate activities like visiting, eating in a café, or children roaming in woodlands, to later meet friends at a central location.  It is the interweaving of businesses that create civic responsibility, from “Little League to libraries.”  This is something corporate America lacks.

In a paragraph, he beautifully sums up the trials in the migration of Southern agricultural peasants who were displaced by “mechanical cotton pickers” in the late 1940’s, only to be displaced again a few decades later from this same factory and heavy industrial work they came to do.

Psychologist Bruce Alexander traced the emotional impact of displaced Scottish Highlander sheep herders who immigrated to Vancouver, BC. Dr. Alexander argues that it creates deep despair and hopelessness not only for the former way of life, but also for the connectedness and context of their prior community.  Whisky, an integral part of Scottish culture, became an overused or abused “medicine” to treat the meaninglessness of rootlessness they encountered in the New World.  As true of the families of the South migrating North to cities like Detroit or Cleveland, alcohol and drug abuse brought with it family instability, mental illness, and violent crime.  Later in the book, Kunstler targets the “infantile and barbaric” clothing of young men with baggy shorts and oversized shirts giving the appearance of a “human body with very short legs and a large torso, which is exactly how little children are proportioned…designed to advertise that the wearer does not expect to do any physical labor.” Perhaps with linkages to prison dress, these youth represent two or more generations of parents and grandparents who have lived decades as social throw-aways, and part of the chronically unemployed. And tattoos might say “graphically that you have written off your economic future.”  Or it was written off for you before you were born.


Only Kunstler could toss around provocative terms describing Obama voters as “baby boomer intellectual romantics, race-and-gender special pleaders, public employees and transfer payment recipients…” and argue for a generation of “boomers yearning for the moral victory of electing a black president, a kind of coda to the romantic idealism of their youth in the old civil rights marching days.” Instead of idealism and desired “change,” Obama gave us more of the same handouts (“shovel ready public works projects, mostly building highways,” and rescuing General Motors and Chrysler) and more of the same people, put in positions of power to enforce the law, who didn’t.  Republican or Democrat, it used to matter.  Now Kunstler argues, it’s been sold “lock stock and barrel” to corporate interests.

Wall Street

The chapter that most impactful to me was “Going Broke the Hard Way: The End of Wall Street.” It explained the various financial instruments and the funny business that happened with them, in enough detail to be meaningful, while holding my interest.  I learned quite a lot about complicated financial swindling and was left feeling furious when I finished the chapter.  He ends with this paragraph:

The United States became the economic engine of the developed world in the past century not just because of its abundance of mineral wealth…but largely because the rule of law was so firmly established here that people knew where they stood with things they’d worked for all their lives…These rights and responsibilities were enforced with more than the usual rigor found in other parts of the world. They enabled business to be conducted freely and mostly fairly. The confidence that people all over the world felt for the rule of law in American financial matters was expressed in their respect for our money and the moneylike instruments issued by our companies and banks, the stocks and bonds, et cetera. We threw it all away: our honor, our faith in ourselves, our credibility with others, and the legitimacy of our institutions. (P.` 154.)

The Bumpy Ride Down

There are no ‘rescue remedies’ here, and no ubiquitous “happy chapter” that often accompanies a book of this type. We have, according to Kunstler, a “rendezvous with entropy” where “the truth is that circumstances will now determine what happens, not policies or personalities.”

It’s time to get real, and yet: “We can’t face it. We pretend it’s not happening. We’re doing everything possible to defy it as a practical matter.” We can’t go on pretending much longer.

Too Much Magic, like The Long Emergency, is destined to become a Peak Oil classic.

James Howard Kunstler, (2012).  Too Much Magic:  Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation,  Atlantic Monthly Press.

In the Garden of Your Mind…

Scientists have a particular kind of limitation that’s used when applying imagination.

The whole question of imagination in science is often misunderstood by people in other disciplines. They try to test our imagination in the following way. They say, “Here is a picture of some people in a situation. What do you imagine will happen next”. When we say, “I can’t imagine,” they may think we have a weak imagination. They overlook the fact that whatever we are allowed to imagine in science must be consistent with everything else we know; that the electric fields and the waves we talk about are not just some happy thoughts which we are free to make as we wish, but ideas which must be consistent with all the laws of physics we know.

“We can’t allow ourselves to seriously imagine things which are obviously in contradiction to the known laws of nature. And so our kind of imagination is quite a difficult game. One has to have the imagination to think of something that has never been seen before, never been heard of before. At the same time the thoughts are restricted in a straitjacket, so to speak, limited by the conditions that come from our knowledge of the way nature really is

The problem of creating something which is new, but which is consistent with everything which has been seen before, is one of extreme difficulty.”

The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. II, 1964, p. 20-10. (thanks to Michael   A. Gottlieb   from www.feynmanlectures.info for the original  citation)

Sometimes, however, the unconscious, as in sleep, can assist in this imaginative endeavor:

Elias Howe was one of many people who worked independently to invent a sewing machine. Exhausted, after working intensely on the invention, he fell asleep and had the following dream:

He dreamed that the natives, in a jungle, threw him into a large stew-pot. He was trying frantically to get out while the natives poked at him with their spears.

Later the next day, he recalled his dream, and with a start realized that the spears poking at him in the dream had holes at the point. This unconscious realization shook up his operating paradigm, which framed a needle as a hand-held instrument with the hole at the top. Through reflecting on his dream, he realized this needed to be reversed in the invention, the “sewing machine.”

Another story I’ve heard involves James Watson, one of two men who won the Nobel Prize for conceiving of the DNA double helix. According to the tale, Watson also fell asleep, this time napping, after being stymied about this problem, and dreamed of two snakes intertwining in an ascending helix, biting their tales.  He now had the visual design.

Good ideas, like the one my friend, Robert Beartsch has been working on, require creative imagination combined with scientific know-how. Watch this video and imagine a rail system that’s cheap, sleek, and solar powered:

With a little more imagination, we can remove the roadways and autos altogether, and envision bike paths instead.

When scientists dream, they also need the general public to dream along with them.  We need to be able to imagine putting ourselves in the dream.  These Skytran allow no more than one or two passengers, which enables them to float as they do.  Can you imagine no more traffic jams?  No more smog?

Learn More.

The Psychology of Scientists… Telling the Rest of Us about Our World

If science is going to fully serve its societal mission in the future, we need to both encourage and equip the next generation of scientists to effectively engage with the broader society in which we work and live.

– Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

You know “them” don’t you? “They” are the people who are going to “fix it.” The scientists, technology wizards, engineers, and mathematicians.

They’ve all highly intelligent.  They’ve studied trig, calculus, biology, genetics, physics, cosmology, geology, astronomy, and chemistry. They take courses in thermodynamic, quantum mechanic, biochemistry, bioengineering, nuclear and radio-chemistry. They were the kids, a generation ago, who were called “nerds” in high school, that turned from “ugly duckling” to “swan” in adulthood, at least in social status.

No more.

We’re eager for them to announce “groundbreaking discoveries.”

But  it turns out that biologists and physicists at top research universities, fear that we don’t have the language, the capacity, or the interest to hear them……… and they don’t have the work incentives, the capacity to “keep it simple stupid,” or the time to tell us [1].

Study on Elite Scientists Describes a Complex Social Role

Ten percent of scientific respondents in one study mentioned having technical language barriers in reaching out. The vocabulary that scientists are accustomed to using to describe their work is largely unfamiliar to the layperson.

Take  this course description for a class in micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS). While some of my scientific readers can translate, even the course description doesn’t help most of us understand it:

 It teaches fundamentals of micro- and nanofabrication techniques, including hard and soft lithography techniques, thin-film fabrication, and etching techniques. Other topics include methods and tools for imaging submicron structures and devices. Applications of MEMS technologies and related BioMEMS are discussed. Local students use research fabrication facilities to build simple MEMS structures and to image them.

The general public may have no idea how to build or  ‘image’ “simple MEMS structures,” but they might be confident that anyone who can do it, or  grasp The Planck constant,* ( also called Planck’s constant ), is likely to be able to help solve the mess we’re facing!

As a biology graduate student in this study explained, unfamiliar vocabulary is only part of the problem.  Scientists have to make sure that the way the concept is described is accessible to the audience: “This sounds mean, but you dumb it down a little bit. And I don’t mean to make that sound bad, but necessarily so.

One physicist thought the public’s attitude toward–and acceptance of–science would improve if more individuals in the public (starting in grade school) had the opportunity to simply interact with scientists, but how do you make it understandable, in order to keep a layperson’s interest?

Say you’re a theoretical physicist attempting explain your work to the public.

Part of your work involves String Theory, and to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity, in order to possibly have a contender for a theory of everything (TOE)–which is a self-contained mathematical model that describes all fundamental forces and forms of matter.  How long would it take you to simply spell it out so anyone could get it?  A day?  An hour?

Allan Adams, a theoretical physicist, describes what he does for a living in 30 seconds in the PBS Nova TV series (online):  The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers.  Watch it below:

His excitement, his enthusiasm, even his range of knowledge demonstrated in this his 90 second “10 Questions” section are equally infectious. No wonder people are counting on you, Allan, to help us out of this mess!  And to be able to explain what you’re doing, as well!

No Hope for the Rest of Us?

Yet, according to this important study, a quarter of these elite scientists themselves have little hope in being able to stir interest and excitement  in science. [1]  One quarter thought it would be an uphill battle to do outreach to the public. Seventy percent express a perception of public ignorance, while 30 percent blame a disinterest in science.   Others believed that the public views scientists as “snobby intellectuals making a judgment on high.”

Yet that perception might change  when you watch Microbiologist/Professional Wrestler Rachel Collins toss back her green locks and spit green “mist” at you shouting:

“I am your soul’s tormentor!!!!!

(Her work involves bacteria and antibiotics).

During  a Ring of Honor TV taping, she heard the chant ‘we love science!!’ from the crowd.”

Perhaps Rachel is a bit of a special case…

Scientists are  frustrated with a public that doesn’t appreciate “science broadly,” and is detached from academic science in particular.

They see the public as simply apathetic, or even opposed to learning about science and the scientific process. But Gen X’er like Katharine Hayhoe bridges both worlds as both an Evangelical Christian, and a climate change advocate.  She’s one of the “trustables,” that I’ll be talking about in an upcoming post: a person who is believed, because she is known and trusted.

The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers depicts scientists and engineers as real people the public can relate to; real people we or our children might want to grow up to be.  Why isn’t there more of this?

Why do only 5 % of the most active public scientists do half of all outreach to the public? [2]

The Dreaded “Sagan Effect” [3]

I think that people look down on the popularizer, and I think that’s a real big mistake personally. I think that popularizers are important, and being able to explain stuff to the public is really important. And so I don’t think we should, you know, denigrate those people at all [laughs].

The Sagan Effect is the attitude that scientists who spend time publicizing their research to the public, consequently have less time available for rigorous scientific research. Some scientists fear what their colleagues might say about them if they are seen to be mere “popularizers” like Sagan. They may also be concerned about the professional stigma attached to spending too much time translating one’s research to the broader public.

Some respondents view outreach as a misuse of their valuable time (they work 59 hours a week)– time that could be better spent on research. There is a widespread belief that “going public” would be detrimental to career advancement or prestige, so they limit the dissemination of research findings to peer-reviewed journals  They are worried that to “dumbed-down” science will reflect badly on them. They also feel little institutional assistance or approval for outreach programs, and don’t have the knowledge about how to do it, or the time to find out.

About 21 percent of respondents in this same study engage in science outreach efforts that target the general public– activities such as giving public lectures or writing science books for non-specialists. Another 6 percent aim their outreach at another specific group, for example, those in the private investment sector.

Others, want to see the emergence of a new, iconic figurehead, someone who wouldn’t be impacted by collegial criticism and who might lead nationwide scientific outreach efforts. “Someone like a Nobel laureate” as the study quoted one scientist, who is well respected by both the scientific community and the general public.

Tongue-Tied By Science!

Some researchers argue that scientists believe they lack personal communication skills, or confidence in their abilities to do outreach.  Some worry they might actually damage the public’s perception of science if they engage in outreach activities.

Twenty-nine percent of all respondents on one study say that scientists are poor interpersonal communicators (or that non-scientists see them as inept, regardless of their actual abilities.) The study quoted one male biologist as saying:

“I’m not sure you want most of the people that I know here to go out and try to talk to the public. They’re [the public] gonna say ‘stop spending my tax dollars on this person!’”

Yet only two respondents (2 percent of the sample) suggested training scientists how to be better communicators.

What do Scientists Say about Their Lives?

So this extensive study describes these elite scientists as somewhat reluctant and ambivalent communicators to the general public.  In future posts I’ll review the literature that attempts to answer the following questions:

  • What do scientists think about their careers and family lives?
  • What are the psychological burdens of being counted among the elite vanguard advancing scientific knowledge?
  • What do these scientists and engineers think about their work /personal life balance?
  • What are the spousal challenges particular to elite scientists and engineers?
  • And how does having children change the way they decide to engage with the rest of us?

Join me, as I discuss the implications of this fascinating and revealing research project .



* The  Planck constant is a physical constant reflecting the sizes of energy quanta in quantum mechanics.

[1] Ecklund EH, James SA, Lincoln AE (2012) How Academic Biologists and Physicists View Science Outreach. PLoS ONE 7(5):e36240. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036240

[2] Jensen P, Rouquier JB, Kreimers P, Croissant Y (2008) Scientists connected with society are more active academically. Science and Public Policy 35(7): 527–541.

[3] Shermer MB (2002) The view of science: Stephen Jay Gould as historian of science and scientific historian, popular scientist and scientific popularizer. Social Studies of Science 32: 489–524.

The Background Music Has Gone Silent


In the dark ages as a lad, I attended many of the “horror” or “monster” movies of the time. There were such notables as “The Thing”, “Them”, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”, “Godzilla”, “The Blob”, “The Tingler”, “Kronos”, “The Creature from Beneath the Sea”, and many others. Today’s audiences would consider those movies more comical than horrific because of the crude special effects of that day and time. Today’s audiences require several gallons of fake blood and body parts before the movie can be even remotely considered as a “horror” movie.

But one common ingredient between those movies of yesteryear and today is the same. That is the background music. It alerts our minds that something really sinister is about to happen. The background music is not itself notable, in fact it is notable in that it isn’t really noticed during the movie. Still it is there. As the tension builds in the plot, the music becomes louder and louder, causing us to sit on the edge of the seat, afraid to look, but afraid to turn away. The music tells us subconsciously to stay alert something horrible may happen. Our inner voice wants to yell “Don’t open that door!”, “Don’t get out of the car!”, “Don’t go see what made that noise”. Common sense tells us this is time for flight, not mere curiosity. In the movie world, an expendable actor or actress ventures forth to investigate the noise or phenomena that is just off screen( usually at night). The background music rises almost overwhelming the senses. Then the expendable character sees nothing and the background music goes silent, allowing us to let down our guard. As players begin to return to a place of safety, the monster strikes. Then the music begins to rise again as the previously unknown monster now goes after the stars, who miraculously escape to spread the alarm.

So what does that have to do with “Peak Oil Blues”? Last fall we were being treated to a lot of daily background music that kept rising in volume. The music accompanied some of the visuals we saw in the media. Some was anecdotal about a layoff here, a business closure or failure there, a neighbor whose house was foreclosed, or who lost a job. The music in our minds kept us on the edge of our seats. It seemed like we couldn’t open the newspaper or turn on the TV without some ominous image or story seeming to suggest that a horrible economic or energy monster was about to strike us in our prime. Suggestions of countries collapsing, whole economic systems evaporating right in front of our eyes, leaving us victims of this unfolding horror movie, were daily occurrences. These visions drove the background music to an even louder intensity. You could almost feel the tension in the air tapping you on the shoulder. Anxiety levels were rising along with the background music. The Occupy movement gave evidence that something was wrong.

Then in mid December it happened. What? Nothing! We looked around and the background music had gone silent. No longer was the music rising to the stories of diesel shortages in the northern plains and Canada. No longer did the music accompany the stories of Eurozone collapse, or Chinese economic problems. We breathed a sigh of relief and coasted through the holidays feeling free of worry over what might be out there in the night.

But did the economic and energy monsters really decide that our politicians, technology, and media were a force too formidable and slink off into the night? I don’t think so. Just within the last week noises have begun emanating from the bushes out in the darkness of the future. And the noises were not made by rabbits looking for food. First we heard the noise of the World Bank forecasting that 2012 would make 2008/2009 look like child’s play. Then another bush rustled and we heard the noise of the Nigerian oil industry on strike. And the bushes around the Middle East still continue to rustle. All we can hope for is the monster rustling in the bushes isn’t as large as the sounds it is making in the dark. Perhaps it is a really clumsy monster!

I don’t think the economic and energy monsters have gone back to hiding to plan a new strategy. I think they still remain in the bushes nearby, waiting to pounce at any moment. The old saying over the centuries has been “the calm before the storm”. I think we are now in that calm right before either or both monsters re-emerge to confront us. If you are preparing for this oncoming storm, that is great, you need to redouble your efforts. If you aren’t preparing, you need to start. You can’t effectively battle “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” (was the “Black Lagoon” an early reference to a lake of oil??) with a set of car keys and a bunch of nifty cell phone apps.

The silence of the background music during this brief calm should provide incentive sufficient for us to begin or continue to prepare ourselves for less energy, less money, less security, less food, less mobility, less comfort, less convenience, to name a few.

Those who fail to prepare themselves will be the expendable actors in this drama.


Blind Minds: How Psychology Ignored (the last) Great Depression

Science is built up of facts, as a house is built of stones.  But an accumulation of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house – Henri Poincare

I’ve been discouraged by the lack of careful thinking in my field about our current situation worldwide.

We’ve been in the New Reality for several years, now, but where are my colleagues who write and publish?  I’m not saying nobody is out there, writing, thinking, talking.  Of course they are…but not in the professional journals.  There’s a media black-out.  As a group, we’re MIA.  Looking through one publication, Psychological Bulletin,  I found very little that would lead me to believe that psychologists even notice the heartbreak going on around them.  Surely, during the Great Depression, psychologist heeded the call, and began to research how to help the mass suffering…

Alas, I was mistaken.  Here’s what one colleague wrote about his fellow psychologists:

When the United States entered the first World War, psychologists, as an associated group, volunteered their professional services. Their contribution was considerable, both to the conduct of the War and to psychology.

When the United States entered the big world depression, psychologists did nothing and, as a group, have so far done nothing.

For nearly 10 years we have suffered through a national social and economic crisis; yet, from an examination of our professional journals and the programs of our professional meetings, one might conclude that psychologists were oblivious of the fact that our social institutions are rattling about our ears.

In fact, the world at large is as ignorant of the possible contributions of psychologists as psychologists appear to be about the world.”  From:  The psychologist’s understanding of social issues. Gundlach, R. H.;  Vol 37(8), Oct, 1940. pp. 613-620

So what WERE Psychologists writing about, and thinking about, as the world was “rattling about our ears?”  Here is a sample of titles from Psychological Bulletin from 1930-1940.  I’ve added particularly interesting quotes.  Some are remarkably inane. For the therapists among us, I’ve included a few quotes by luminaries in the field.


Psychology of music. Mursell, J. L.;  Vol 29(3), Mar, 1932.

Well, were they just unaware that there WAS a world-wide depression?  This note in 1932 says not.

Notes: MILNEE PARK, JOHANNESBURG, 22nd February, 1932:

Unfortunately, the loss is only in small part covered by insurance; and it will be readily understood that, in the present world-wide depression, it is difficult to raise the sum required for the repurchase of all the books which have been lost.

In these circumstances, I venture to appeal to all American philosophers and psychologists, and especially to my old colleagues and friends, for the gift of author’s copies of their own writings or duplicates from their libraries, to help me build up again, as soon as possible, a working library for my students.

Every such gift—addressed to The Librarian, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa—will be gratefully acknowledged, and the names of the donors, together with the occasion of the gift, will be recorded in the volumes themselves.”

Habit formation and higher mental processes in the rat. Heron, W. T.; Vol 29(7), Jul, 1932.

Effects of castration on the behavior of mammals. Commins, W. D.; Stone, C. P.;  Vol 29(7), Jul, 1932

Notes Dec, 1933: “Dr. Ivan Pavlov, Professor of Physiology at Leningrad, who celebrates his eighty-third birthday on September 14, presented papers at the International Congress of Psychology recently held at Copenhagen and at the International Congress of Physiology recently held- at Rome  October 1932″


Three or four million heads of households don’t turn into tramps and cheats overnight, nor do they lose the habits and standards of a lifetime… They don’t drink any more than the rest of us, they don’t lie any more, they’re no lazier than the rest of us…. An eighth or a tenth of the earning population does not change its character which has been generations in the molding, or, if such a change actually occurs, we can scarcely charge it up to personal sin.”
– Federal relief administrator Harry Hopkins, 1933

The role of speed in intelligence. Beck, L. F.;  Vol 30(2), Feb, 1933

I don’t mean to imply that psychologists of the era could not be rallied to political action…here’s a sample of what mobilized them:

Notes:  Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 30 (2), February 1933. pp. 182-183:

Drs. C. P. Stone, E. G. Wever and C. J. Warden, Chairman, desires to call attention to the following bills which have been introduced since January first to limit experimental work on animals: (1) New York Assembly, A. 63, proposing to prohibit any experimental work upon a living dog; (2) New York Assembly, A. 181, proposing to make it a misdemeanor to experiment or operate on a live dog for any purpose other than to heal or cure the animal; (3) Massachusetts Senate, S. 113, proposing to penalize certain experiments and operations on live dogs, and (4) Maine House, H. 217, proposing a fine for the practice of vivisection in schools supported wholly or in part by the state. Dr. Warden writes:

“It is hoped that members of the American Psychological Association, residing in these states, will write letters of protest against the passage of these measures to the appropriate legislators. Bills of this kind are backed by powerful organizations whose efforts to obstruct scientific research must be met by active and determined resistance.”

Peak Shink’s Comment:  “We knew how to “screw the pooch” back then, and no laws were going to stop us!”

Conditioned responses in animals other than dogs. Razran, G. H. S.; Vol 30(4), Apr, 1933. pp. 261-324

Mental abilities related to learning to spell. Williamson, E. G.; Vol 30(10), Dec, 1933  pp. 743-751.

A review of experiments on humor. Perl, R. E.; Vol 30(10), Dec, 1933. pp. 752-763:

The first research to be reported in the field of humor is one by G. Stanley Hall and Arthur Allin (3) which was published in 1897. They received about 3,000 responses to a questionnaire sent out requesting a description of all situations which individuals considered humorous, and including questions on tickling and its effects at various ages, causes of laughter in children, laughter in animals, fun in the theater, spontaneous laughter, laughter at calamities, and the best joke in each class, including puns, repartee, practical jokes, etc. Then they classified laughs, gave a resume of theories of laughter, and concluded that all the current theories were inadequate and speculative, but that there are few more promising fields for psychological research than that of humor… A group of college girls were asked not only to tell the funniest thing they knew, but also to grade, on a 5 point scale, a list of 40 jokes ranging from good to bad and representative of various types of humor. Naive jokes ranked highest here. She found that a sense of humor among normal persons is unrelated to intelligence.”


“How many men ever went to a barbecue and would let one man take off the table what’s intended for nine-tenths of the people to eat? The only way you’ll ever be able to feed the balance of the people is to make that man come back and bring back some of that grub that he ain’t got no business with!”
– Louisiana Senator Huey P. Long, 1934


Conditioned withdrawal responses with shock as the conditioning stimulus in adult human subjects. Razran, G. H. S.;  Vol 31(2), Feb, 1934. pp. 111-143

The female sex rhythm. Seward, G. H.;  Vol 31(3), Mar, 1934. pp. 153-192:

Of the biological rhythms, none is more striking than the female sex rhythm. So striking  rhythm with its menstrual phenomena in women that it gripped the imagination of primitive peoples who lacked sufficient information to regard it as a natural event.

Interferences in reading. Jastak, J.; Vol 31(4), Apr, 1934. pp. 244-272.

Peak Shrink asks: “Did the researcher control for Starvation?”

Review of “The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization“. Kornhauser, Arthur W.;  Vol 31(4), Apr, 1934. pp. 275-278:

“Modern industrial life  as a whole, then, with its conflicts and constraint upon the individual, is responsible for the feelings of futility, the “personal disequilibrium,” the irrational conduct, the dearth of “effective collaboration” in daily work…. What it does do, however, is depict a range of challenging problems in the social psychology of industry.  The lesson it impresses is this:  To understand the industrial worker one must see him in relation to the whole social process. Toward the understanding of that relationship Professor Mayo offers rich and penetrating suggestions.”

Peak Shrink adds:  “Remember folks, this was 1934.  If employment was tough, try not having a job.”

And in this next one, Cantril suggests relevant questions for psychologists to explore…Nudists and KKK?  WTF?

The social psychology of everyday lifeCantril, H.;  Vol 31(5), May, 1934. pp. 297-330:

Fads and fashions. The literature on this subject is in general descriptive and non-analytical.

  • Why do fads like jig-saw puzzles, anagrams, short skirts, or women’s capes come in cycles?
  • Why are the dictates of Paris, New York, and Hollywood dress designers so readily accepted by women ?
  • Why do marathon dances, pole-sitting contests, and other endurance feats attract so much popular attention?
  • To what extent are popular attitudes toward the N.R.A., the gold standard, or free trade based on factual knowledge and to what extent on suggestion?
  • Why do cigarette manufacturers find that it pays to sponsor symphony broadcasts?
  • Examine the policies of Hitler’s “Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda.”
  • Why are revival meetings found chiefly in the United States?
  • How have legends of the Old Testament affected the habits and attitudes of the American negro?
  • How do avertive shibboleths such as “big business,” “corporation,” or “industry” encourage legislation which is inimical to the interests of individuals?
  • What feelings and emotions must a ” gentleman ” suppress?  Which may he express?
  • Why can political cartoons be more effective than editorials?
  • What is the psychology of parades?
  • Hitler has encouraged dueling among German students. Why?
  • What devices are used by governments, munition manufacturers, and chemical industries to build up “patriotic” attitudes in children?
  • What devices do jingoists employ to heighten suggestibility in war time?
  • Do children who play with toy guns, soldiers, and battleships tend to be more militaristic than children who do not have such toys?
  •  Why do social movements like the Ku Klux Klan or nudism always seek converts?
  • What are the differences in the functions of a leader like Franklin Roosevelt and a dominator like Mussolini?
  • Why are men with such entirely different personal characteristics as Marx and Stalin regarded as leaders by the same group?
  • Why is a pipe one of a man’s best friends?
  • Why do people sometimes feel lonesome if a clock stops its slow ticking?
Peak Shrink’s Comments:  Finally Cantril suggests that social psychologists look at the unemployed, who now numbered 1 out of every 4 workers:

Psychological effects of unemployment. Sociologists and social workers have reported the effects of unemployment on health, living conditions, and family life, while statisticians everywhere have been busy with quantitative surveys. There has been comparatively little direct investigation of the psychological effects of unemployment and many of the references cited below refer only incidentally to psychological problems.

  • How has unemployment affected the attitudes of parents and children toward each other?
  • How do unemployed use their leisure time?     …Polo ANYONE?
  • How has unemployment changed attitudes and plans for the future?
  • To what extent has unemployment affected the sense of time?
  • How have the wishes and ambitions of the children of unemployed parents been affected?
  • Has the unemployment of parents affected the play and fantasy of children?
  • What  are the differences between  the attitudes of employed and unemployed men toward employers, the N.R.A., socialism, war, suicide, birth control, crime, or education ?
  • Does unemployment increase or decrease suggestibility? Are the unemployed more susceptible to advertising, money schemes, fortune tellers, or leaders?
  • How has unemployment affected  the interest in personal appearance or the sense of rivalry and competition?
  • Do unemployed tend to evolve more imaginative schemes than employed ?
  • Has unemployment changed personal habits such as shaving, washing, sexual behavior, or regularity of hours ?
  • Is the type of fiction or non-fiction read by the unemployed different from that read by employed with the same cultural background?
  • Do unemployed have more desire than employed to go  to the movies, to travel, to own an automobile, a home, or a radio?

Review of “Psychological Racketeers”. Bender, Irving E.;Vol 31(5), May, 1934. pp. 372-373:

BOOK REVIEW: YATES, DOROTHY H. Psychological Racketeers. Boston: Gorham Press, 1932. Pp. 232:

“The title of this book expresses Dr. Yates’ carefully weighed opinion respecting “applied psychologists,” who are the itinerant inspirers of the sick, the gullible, and the discouraged. Inordinate powers of suggestion, smug self-confidence and an orotund voice seem to be the chief assets of the more affluent of these “racketeers.”   The author investigates fourteen “applied psychologists.” She discovers most of their claims concerning their qualifications and credentials to be extravagant, misleading, and absurd. High-powered emotional appeals are made in free introductory lectures advertising the pay classes which explain “how to get what you want,” whether it is “success, health, or happiness.”

Review of “Social Psychology”. Hurvich, L. M.;  Vol 31(5), May, 1934. pp. 374-375:

WARD, HARRY F. In Place of Profit. New York and London: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1933. Pp. xi+460.

“Each day we live happier.”

This book ought to be useful to the psychologist whose expert opinion is so frequently requested as an aid in answering this trite question: “But Communism is contrary to human nature, isn’t it ?”  Instead of making vague references to the plasticity of the nervous system, the student of human nature may now say:

Read In Place of Profit. Therein you will see how the Soviet Government is able to make people work and to support the state enthusiastically. The source of motivation is not completely different from the one which is used to make our system go: people still compete with one another and with other groups for increased wages and for social honors. And yet the competition is regulated, so that no one class of individuals can raise itself high by crushing others.

Other incentives have been either created or emphasized in this new society: work is considered a privilege, not a hardship; workers are proud of their products, for most of them do feel that they are producing for themselves and that they are self-governing; the hostile world which surrounds Russia makes her workers more anxious to develop their country; greater opportunities are being offered to everybody. Professor Ward, in rather dull fashion, it is true, quotes Soviet authorities, because he wants you to see that ‘ human nature’ is being ‘ changed ‘ in accordance with a unifying principle and a well developed plan. In short, after reading this book, you will be inclined to believe that people in Russia are motivated by a new system of social values.”  Harvard University. LEONARD W. DOOB  Yale.

Psychology in Germany and Austria. Watson, G.;  Vol 31(10), Dec, 1934. pp. 755-776:

It is probably characteristic of any congress of scientific specialists that most of the reports seem to deal with very limited, technical questions, the application of which in life is not immediately apparent. A count of the papers which dealt with some life-centered problem, which would arouse interest in the man or woman not concerned with psychology as a scientific system, showed 7 per cent of the papers from Germany, 5 per cent of those from the United States, and 7 per cent of those from other countries belonging in this ” obviously important ” category. The papers from the United States were more concerned than were the German papers with white rats, with motor reactions, abnormal psychology and the nervous system, with childhood and adolescence, and with individual differences.  In the light of later political developments it is amazing that scarcely a single study touched on the economic and political forces which were molding a new order in Central Europe. 

The successful psychologist in Germany becomes a philosopher; in America the successful psychologist becomes a college administrator “… It was educative to report the facts of an American study to a German seminar, only to be asked: “Yes, and what of it ? What does it mean?”

They [German Psychologists] are less concerned with what the subject can do on intelligence or achievement tests, but relatively more concerned with how these reflect his Weltanschauung.  Even in psychotechnics we find the question shifting from “What are his special abilities? ” to “What kind of a person is he?”

The writer was privileged to attend the Thirteenth Congress of the German Psychological Association which met at Leipzig in October, 1933. This was the first gathering after the Nazi revolution. Some 600 psychologists attended the meetings. The first change noted was the absence of some of the most distinguished  leaders: Wertheimer, Stern, Katz, Peters, Koffka, Kronfeld, Lewin, and many others. Indeed, the officers of the Association had been non-Aryan, and were replaced by lesser scholars of correct heritage. Personal investigation indicated that the great tragedies of National Socialism were less in the occasional atrocities played up by the press than in the silent suffering of men who had given a lifetime of worthy service, suddenly forced  to withdraw, to see their contributions scorned, their journals discontinued, their institutes dismantled or “reorganized”. Incidentally, psychoanalysis as a “Jewish doctrine” has been practically banished Equally striking was another  change: the “politicalization” of psychology.  Krueger expressed, in the opening presidential address, his faith in idealism, particularly the new German idealism. Poppelreuter was the most politically active of  the group.  He has been teaching ” political psychology ” using Hitler’s ” Mein Kampf ” as his text. Jaensch bent his typology to show that the enemy  (Jews and Parisians) were Stype: destructive, lytic, disintegrative, so adaptable as to lack all inner character structure.  Studies by Clauss and the Prince of Isenburg also emphasized racial character types.

Pfahler, in discussion, urged  that the psychologically undesirable type, rather than certain racial stock, be the subject of attack.  He was distressing to learn that Jaensch had recently stooped to political attacks upon Kohler because of the latter’s international contacts, recognized that there might be those of his own race, biologically, who could not enter with enthusiasm into the Nazi ideology, while some of non-Aryan ancestry might be psychologically harmonious with the new.

Although many brilliant psychologists have left voluntarily or been forced to leave, this cultural tradition is likely to continue for many years. No one has emphasized this more strongly than Spranger, the Berlin pedagog. ” Der objektiv Geist”* remains relatively constant while men and parties come and go.

PEAK SHRINK’S COMMENT:  *”Objective Spirit”  This wasn’t translated in the original.  The psychologists of the day had many articles they reviewed in German and French.


“Fifty men have run America, and that’s a high figure.”—George Dimitrov, Comintern General Secretary, Bulgarian Communist leader and “hero of the Reichstag Fire trial” speaking to the Seventh World Congress, August (1935)

 Physiological aspects of lethal shock.Lorge, I.; , Vol 32(3), Mar, 1935. pp. 197-202.

 “It is the aim of this paper to set forth the facts about lethal shock so as to indicate the surprisingly small quantities of current which  may be potentially dangerous…”

Experimental studies of learning in infants and preschool children. Wenger, M. A.; Williams, H. M.; Vol 32(4), Apr, 1935. pp. 276-305.

Review of “Introduction to applied psychology”.  Burtt, Harold E.; Vol 32(4), Apr, 1935. pp. 317-319.

Review of “Mental Training–A Practical Psychology”.  McKinney, Fred; Vol 32(5), May, 1935. pp. 373-374:

The final chapter discusses general problems of human fellowship and tries to make a case for applied psychology as one factor that will retard social decline. The discussion of special maladjustments and their treatment deals with fears, worries, compulsions, obsessions, and jealousy. One conjectures as to why other maladjustments, such as self-consciousness, negativism, timidity, lying, feelings of inferiority, guilt and futility, etc., are not also included.”FRED MCKINNEY.  University of Missouri.

Review of “Negro Intelligence and Selective Migration”. Lanier, Lyle H.;  Vol 32(6), Jun, 1935. pp. 443-445.

Review of “Environment and Growth”. Hollingworth, Leta S.;  Vol 32(6), Jun, 1935. pp. 445-447:

“The study does not dispute the fact that in all probability there are inherent differences between the various socio-economic classes.  It’s one and only contention is that the role of environment cannot be overlooked in view of the evidence that differences found in children of different socio-economic classes are of environmental origin and, if environmental differences are important enough to affect physical growth, it is most probable that they affect psycho-social adaptations and behavior as well.”  With this final statement no student of human development would quarrel, and no new book is needed to set it forth.  Concomitants varying together, such as intelligence and socioeconomic status, are thought to prove that good food produces or tends to produce intelligence of a high order; and this interpretation is further favored, in the mind of the author, by the accumulated studies which show stature and weight to vary concomitantly with intelligence. LETA S. HOLLINGWORTH.  Teachers College, Columbia University

Circuits now available for the measurement of electrodermal responses. Greenwald, D. U.; Vol 32(10), Dec, 1935. pp. 779-791.

Review of “Adult Interests”.  Irion, Theo. W. H.;  Vol 32(10), Dec, 1935. pp. 834-838:

“Probably even more significant is the principle (p. 45) that, “Except for a few eccentric individuals, persons will on the whole like most those activities in which they do best. The average degree of correlation will be substantial.”

Peak Shrink’s Comment:  “Duhh…”


The only difference between a derelict and a man is a job.—From the Movie: My Man Godfrey 1936


Psychological experiments with disordered persons. Hunt, J. Mcv.;  Vol 33(1), Jan, 1936. pp. 1-58.

Review of “A Mind Mislaid”.Morgan, John J. B.;, Vol 34(8), Oct, 1937. pp. 627-628:

“In essence Professor Morgan has written instructions to immature people on the methods they should use for developing a pleasing personality and a comfortable and happy life.  If in places the term “Christian” seems to have been omitted only by sheerest force of will, one can scarcely criticize the mildly inspirational attitude which was adopted. What is characterized in our culture as a “sound mind” or a “good character” is essentially that code of behavior which has developed around Christian ethics.” ROBERT R. SEARS.  University of Illinois.

Review of “Keeping a Sound Mind”. Sears, Robert R.; Vol 33(2), Feb, 1936. pp. 137-138.

Review of “How People Look at Pictures”. Tinker, Miles A.;  Vol 33(2), Feb, 1936. pp. 142-143.

Review of “The Content of Motion Pictures. Children’s Attendance at Motion Pictures”. Ehrenfest, F. H.;  Vol 33(2), Feb, 1936. pp. 143-144.

The psychology of language. McGranahan, D. V.; , Vol 33(3), Mar, 1936. pp. 178-216:

Many words have obviously strong emotional effects on the hearer, due to the contexts in which they have appeared in the past. This is especially true with words having to do with traumatic incidents, or with one’s family, race, nation, religion, or political creed. There is a still unsettled problem, however, as to whether words differ in emotional effects because of differences in the aesthetic value of their respective phonemes and auditory configurations. Is ” serene,” for example, intrinsically or only by association more beautiful than  “squawk ?”

Review of “Personality Maladjustments and Mental Hygiene”. Chant, S. N. F.;  Vol 33(4), Apr, 1936. pp. 294-296:

“There is the usual difficulty of telling people many things they should do without definitely indicating how they are to do them. This difficulty is general in the field of mental hygiene. However, it is true that a knowledge of what should be done, such as the author presents, is in itself essential, even though its practical usefulness is somewhat limited. The problem of getting the individual to think, feel and act as he may very well know he should think, feel and act is the greatest practical difficulty in the way of a broad and effective mental hygiene program. The only solution to this difficulty is research…” 

Peak Shrink’s Comment:  “Research.  It’s been amazingly helpful so far!”

Review of “Propaganda, its Psychology and Technique”. Farnsworth, Paul R.;  Vol 33(7), Jul, 1936. pp. 552-555:

“Intentional propaganda is a systematic attempt by an interested individual (or individuals) to control the attitudes of groups of individuals through the use of suggestion and, consequently, to control their actions; unintentional propaganda is the control of attitudes and, consequently, the actions of groups of individuals through the use of suggestion.” He suggests that the term “education” be employed whenever there is social pressure (“intentional” or “unintentional “) to conform to the behavior patterns of the majority of the group. Propaganda (as a sociological matter and not as a psychological process) then could refer to situations in which there is pressure to conform to the behavior norms of some minority. Even this distinction does violence to the lay notions and does not always offer a clean-cut dichotomy. PAUL R. FARNSWORTH. Stanford University

Peak Shrink’s Comment:  “Tell me again, what’s the difference between propaganda and education?  

JACOBSON,  EDMUND, You Must Relax. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1934.  Pp.  xv + 201 .

“The subtitle reads,  “A practical method of reducing the strains of modern living.” The author notices that many Americans find it hard to meet the demands of their occupations, families and associates, and therefore keep much of their musculature under high tension during much of the time. He believes that on the average, their muscular tension is higher than that of their predecessors (who need fear only Indians, crop-failures and famine, wars, pestilences, and possibly the hereafter.)

The author believes that unnecessary and persistent muscular tension makes for insomnia, habits of worry, habitual fears, spastic intestines, and the like; he also suspects that it at least contributes to the syndrome of high blood-pressure. He suggests a two-fold remedy: (1) “differential” relaxation, i.e. the non-use of muscles which do not contribute to the activity pattern which the person has chosen to execute; and (2) “general” relaxation if the external situation demands or permits no specific responses to it… H. M. JOHNSON. American University.”

Review of “Problems of Installation in Museums of Art”. Allport, Floyd H.;  Vol 33(8), Oct, 1936. pp. 654-659.

Review of “Sanity First, The Art of Sensible Living” Kelly, E. Lowell; , Vol 33(8), Oct, 1936. pp. 672.

The importance of hunger in the bodily activity of the neonate. Richards, T. W.; Vol 33(10), Dec, 1936. pp. 817-835.

Peak Shrink’s Comment:  “You see?  There really IS a benefit to hunger.  Infants under 4 weeks old have to have it!


“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have too much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little… I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clothed, ill-nourished.”          – Roosevelt’s second inaugural address, 1937

Review of “Sex and Personality.” Hartmann, George W.;  Vol 34(2), Feb, 1937. pp. 103-106:

Thus, the word-association section consists of a primary stimulus word plus multiple-response items like this:

train   engine   gown   travel   whistle.

“Underlining  engine” gives one a “masculine” (M)  score; underlining any of the other words, but particularly “gown,” gives a ” feminine ” (F) weight.  Fear of thunder is an F response; being a Bolshevik is more wicked to M than to F personalities. Liking chemistry is an M trait; liking spelling an F trait. F personalities like Herbert Hoover; M personalities like Lenin. 

Peak Shrink’s Comments:  “Still skeptical?  Here’s proof!:

The smallest difference found between two sex groups was that occurring between female prostitutes and male passive homosexual prostitutes, which fact alone is one of the best evidences of the test’s validity.”

Movements of thought in the nineteenth century. Mullett, Charles F.;  Vol 34(2), Feb, 1937. pp. 115-117.

Review of “Race, sex and environment: A study of mineral deficiency in human evolution”. Warden, C. J.;  Vol 34(3), Mar, 1937. pp. 169-170.

Review of  “An Objective Psychology of Grammar.” Wolfle, Dael L.; Vol 34(6), Jun, 1937. pp. 398-402.

Peak Shrink’s Comment:  “Thank GOODness this look at grammar is objective!”

Review of  “A Mind Mislaid”. Morgan, John J. B.; Vol 34(8), Oct, 1937. pp. 627-628:

“Henry Collins Brown tells the story of his three years’ residence at the Bloomingdale Hospital. He tries to “show the world that a nervous breakdown is not necessarily the end of all things, . . . that there is absolutely nothing mysterious or supernatural about a breakdown of this kind. . . . Furthermore—and this is the sad part of it, mates—you are where you are largely as the result of some damn foolishness on your own part.  As the author puts  it:  “I often think that a two weeks’ sojourn in a mental hospital, at an early period in life, would be one of the best things that could happen to all of us. He attributes his difficulty to disappointment in losing his job as manager of a museum he had dreamed about and planned for years. He believes his cure came when he realized that he still had something for which to live.”

Peak Shrink’s Comment:  “Next to keeping a job, a mental hospital stay is a great ‘pick me up!'”

Review of “Growing Superior Children”. Hollingworth, Leta S.; Vol 34(8), Oct, 1937. pp. 628-629.

I am a girl sixteen years old. Last May I beg my father to buy an electric refrigerator for mother on Mother’s day.  He agreed to pay monthly payments of seven dollars and twenty two cents.  [M[y father was layed off after working for the railroad fifteen years. Many a girl of my age is hoping that on Christmas morn they will find a wrist watch, a handbag, or even a fur coat. But my one and only wish is to have father and mother spend a happy Christmas. Mrs. Roosevelt I am asking of you a favor which can make this wish come true. I am asking you to keep up our payments until my father gets back to work as a Christmas gift to me. Though father worked part time for quite a while we never lost anything for the lack of payments. If the refrigerator was taken away from us father and mother would think it a disgrace.

I am respectfully yours
Springfield, Mass 1937

The psychological effects of unemployment. Eisenberg, P.; Lazarsfeld, P. F.; Vol 35(6), Jun, 1938. pp. 358-390.

“The general conclusion of practically all workers in the field is that unemployment tends to make people more emotionally unstable than they were previous to unemployment. Clinicians have suggested the following concepts from observations of some of the effects of unemployment: Unemployment represents a personal threat to an individual’s economic security; fear plays a large role; the sense of proportion is shattered, that is, the individual loses his common sense of values; the individual’s prestige is lost in his own eyes, and as he imagines, in the eyes of his fellow men. He develops feelings of inferiority, loses his self-confidence, and in general, loses his morale.   Israeli lends further support through a questionnaire of his own; he found that Lancashire and Scottish unemployed as compared with employed groups were more negative and more depressed in the sense that they expected greater failure in various situations in the future.

… it is necessary to consider what happens to the unemployed man when he gets a job. From common observation, at least, it seems that the effects are almost immediate; the individual brightens up, regains his status in society, and with it his emotional stability, provided, of course, he was not maladjusted before unemployment.  However, if the unemployment was too long-lasting he probably has suffered to such an extent that it is very difficult for him to regain his stability.”

Peak Shrink’s Comment:  “Favorite line:  “…when he gets a job, the individual brightens up…”  For this reason, I’d suggest employment for those who are looking for work…

Review of “Psychology and the Motorist”. Johnson, H. M.; PVol 35(8), Oct, 1938. pp. 561-564:”

“Among the facts which the authors thus discovered, independently of all earlier authorities, are the following: (1) that the safety movement is infested by racketeers, each having some special gadget or service to sell at a high profit, (2) that among the propagandists for safety are many evangelists… (6) that driver examinations as now conducted do not eliminate the incompetent; (7) that traffic courts and the licensing of administrators do not re-educate accident makers and traffic offenders as they should; (8) that the designers of automobile bodies could make the modern car a less dangerous weapon than it  is; (9) that certain “driver-clinicians” have misled the public as to the significance and importance of certain personal traits, especially reaction time; If we really wish to have traffic regulated, facts gathered and interpreted, and accidents reduced, we must wait until drivers have learned to govern themselves, to assume some responsibility for the safety of all whom they may pass or meet, and to analyze their own behavior truthfully and impersonally; otherwise, we must establish a heavy and well-trained police force. Although the higher estimate requires less than fifteen dollars per registered vehicle per annum, I question whether our American drivers are yet willing to spend it, and also to submit to the restrictions that are necessary to make our highways reasonably safe.”

The educational value of “drivers’ clinics.” Johnson, H. M.; Cobb, P. W.;  Vol 35(10), Dec, 1938. pp. 758-766.


Everyone is entitled to be stupid, but some abuse the privilege.  – Unknown

Studies of mental resemblance between husbands and wives and between friends. Richardson, H. M.;  Vol 36(2), Feb, 1939. pp. 104-120.

Review of “Interracial marriage in Hawaii”.Porteus, S. D.; Vol 36(2), Feb, 1939. pp. 135-137:

“Hawaii has been called many things: the Paradise of the Pacific, a racial laboratory, the crossroads of the Pacific, America’s listening post towards the Orient—all designations more or less deserved.

From the human standpoint, an interracial poker game in which the whites have assumed the perpetual right to shuffle and deal the cards and call the turn would be, in the reviewer’s opinion, as apt an analogy as any. That it is as  friendly a game, with the players  borrowing and lending among themselves—and occasionally taking a peek at their opponents’ hands—is rather extraordinary. Adams  remarks on  their superior social morale and attributes to this their good record in the Territory.” Relative to numbers,” he says, “there are fewer  arrests and convictions,  there are fewer juvenile delinquents,  fewer who receive charitable aid,  fewer insane, fewer who are mentally defective.” The psychologist would, of course, suggest that at least some of these advantages are due not  only to “superior social morale” but also to superior biological  inheritance. Even their lessened tendency to  crime and delinquency may also indicate superior temperamental qualities, and the incidence of mental defect certainly is not dependent on social morale.”

Peak Shrink’s Comment:  “What a difference a day makes…”

Review of “Adventures in self-discovery”. Conklin, Edmund S.; Vol 36(2), Feb, 1939. pp. 137.

Progress report of the Committee on Displaced Foreign Psychologists. Burks, B. S.; Vol 36(3), Mar, 1939. pp. 188-190:

“The present  status,  training, and qualifications of  foreign psychologists who have been displaced  from their positions through political developments of the past 5  years.  The possibilities of utilizing and  conserving the potential  contributions of these scholars to academic, social, industrial, and other institutions The Society for the Protection of Science and Learning  (British) estimates in its November, 1938, report that “the total  number of teachers and research workers displaced since May, 1933,  from German universities and institutions of university rank is now approximately 1400.”  An additional 400 have been displaced  from Austrian institutions of equivalent rank since “Anschluss” in March.”

Peak Shrink’s Comment:  “The Nazi exodus of psychologists in the 1930’s gave our profession one of the largest reserve of brain talent we’d ever had, before or since…”

Automobile drivers can be improved. DeSilva, Harry R.; Vol 36(4), Apr, 1939. pp. 284-285.

Review of “Marihuana: America’s new drug problem”. Fernberger, Samuel W.;  Vol 36(4), Apr, 1939. pp. 300-301:

“…the history of the hashish vice—which is very ancient, its present distribution throughout the world, and the present status of the marihuana vice in the United States.  The use of this drug in some  form is very widespread throughout the world and has increased rapidly in the United States and Canada during the last few years. One difficulty with the suppression of the vice is the ease with which the drug may be procured. The hemp plant is easily obtained inasmuch as its fibers are of such great economic value. The plant adapts itself easily to almost any habitat and can be successfully grown almost anywhere in the civilized world and in favorable habitats actually survives as a weed. Also, it is easily administered by ingestion or by smoking, and it is not necessary to prepare or purify those parts of the plant which are used. Subjectively, the subject experiences a euphoria and either a complete anesthesia or at least a hypoesthesia. Many of the effects are similar to those described for peyote (mescaline).

Peak Shrink’s Comment:  “Almost sounds like an advertisement, doesn’t it?”

Academic psychology as a career for women. Available Fernberger, S. W.;  Vol 36(5), May, 1939. pp. 390-394:

Mary Ainsworth, PhD. A Seminal Thinker in Psychology

“The following analysis was initiated by the decision of a woman graduate student to seek an academic career in psychology, inasmuch as she was not interested in a position in the applied fields. The author held out small hopes for success and told her that he suspected that there were much better opportunities for a woman in a career in applied psychology. The student, in order to answer this argument, discovered that more than 250 women, who were Members or Associates of the American Psychological Association, were in academic positions of one sort or another. This number was so much larger than the author had expected that a more detailed analysis of the situation seemed advisable.”

The Monster Study

The Monster Study is considered one of the most unethical psychological experiments of all time. It was the name given to a stuttering experiment conducted by Wendell Johnson at the University of Iowa in 1939. Johnson chose one of his graduate students, Mary Tudor, to conduct the experiment and he supervised her research. Twenty-two young orphans were recruited to participate in the experiment. They were divided into two groups. Tudor gave positive speech therapy to half of the children, praising the fluency of their speech, and negative speech therapy to the other half, belittling the children for every speech imperfection and telling them they were stutterers. Many of the normal speaking orphan children who received negative therapy in the experiment suffered negative psychological effects and some retained speech problems for the rest of their lives. Dubbed “The Monster Study” by some of Johnson’s peers, who were horrified that he would experiment on orphan children to prove a hypothesis, the experiment was kept hidden for fear Johnson’s reputation would be tarnished in the wake of human experiments conducted by the Nazis during World War II. The University of Iowa publicly apologized for the Monster Study in 2001.

Review of “Art and prudence”. Available Jenkins, John G.;  Vol 36(5), May, 1939. pp. 395-397.

Review of “Allied propaganda and the collapse of the German Empire in 1918″. Doob, Leonard W.;  Vol 36(8), Oct, 1939. pp. 700-701:

The question that excites everyone as Europe plunges forward toward another war in 1939 is the extent to which events of 1914 are about to be repeated. Will the same propaganda appeals be employed again to weaken the morale of the  enemy?”

Review of “Crime and the man”. Metfessel, Milton; , Vol 36(8), Oct, 1939. pp. 706-708.

Peak Shrink’s Comment: “In all fairness, this review mocked this book.  But didn’t he have anything better to read?  Apparently not:”

“This volume is a semipopular presentation of voluminous anthropometric measures of 17,680 individuals,… ” a declaration that the primary cause of crime is biological inferiority” he found that, with thirtythree measures of cranial, facial, metric, and morphological features.

In this study he counted only the “Old American criminals,” after Hrdlicka‘s definition of ” Old Americans.” He has illustrations of  front and side views of what he calls “mosaics,” depicting the heads of the various State criminals on the basis of their significantly different characters.  First-degree murderers, for instance, are significantly different  from other criminals in excesses of stature and jaw breadth, to mention two out of their ten divergences out of a possible thirty-nine. Second-degree murderers significantly exceed other criminals in five items, two of which are excess of chest depth and deficiency of head height.

Hooton relates his nine body-build types of Old Americans—all combinations of three degrees of weight and height—to types of crime. As examples, short-heavy men rank first in rape, tall-slender men are first in robbery and second-degree murder, tall-medium-weight men are first in forgery, fraud, and extractives, and tall-heavy men lead in first-degree murder.

Another sample of the kind of differences Hooton found is that robbers had significant excesses over other criminals in nine items, such as attached ear lobes and iris diffused in pigment.


Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.–Albert Einstein 1940

Review of “The psychology of physics”. Feigl, Herbert;  Vol 37(6), Jun, 1940. pp. 403.

Peak Shrink’s Comment:  “The review complained that it taught us nothing about either psychology nor physics.”

And finally I’ll end with an extended quote from Gordon Allport giving a speech as President of the American Psychological Association.  We, as psychologists would do well to heed his words, even today.

The psychologist’s frame of reference. Allport, G. W.; Vol 37(1), Jan, 1940. pp. 1-28:

“…a certain professional cleavage is developing. Psychologists using the fourteen journals studied are, in their writings, becoming more and more remote from living issues and more abstract in the presentation of their subject matter.  It also looks as if modern psychology were becoming appreciably unhistorical.

The psychological system-builders of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries were filled with the lingering spirit of the Enlightenment which hated mystery and incompleteness. They wanted a synoptic view of man’s mental life. If moral and metaphysical dogmatism were needed to round out their conception of the complete man, they became unblushing dogmatists. Subjective immediatism must give way to a public outdoor attitude toward our knowledge. It is said that the very claim made by some psychologists that their work remains true to life, close to untrammeled common sense, is the very thing that disqualifies this work from being scientific (26, p. 178).  

A colleague, a good friend of mine, recently challenged me to name a single psychological problem not referable to rats for its solution. Considerably startled, I murmured something, I think, about the psychology of reading disability. But to my mind came flooding the historic problems of the aesthetic, humorous, religious, and cultural behavior of men. I thought how men build clavichords and cathedrals, how they write books, and how they laugh uproariously at Mickey Mouse; how they plan their lives five, ten, or twenty years ahead; how, by an elaborate metaphysic of their own contrivance, they deny the utility of their own experience, including the utility of the metaphysic that led them to this denial. I thought of poetry and puns, of propaganda and revolution, of stock markets and suicide, and of man’s despairing hope for peace. I thought, too, of the elementary fact that human problem-solving, unlike that of the rat, is saturated through and through with verbal function, so that we have no way of knowing whether the delay, the volition, the symbolizing and categorizing typical of human learning are even faintly adumbrated by findings in animal learning. We need to ask ourselves point-blank whether the problems we frame with our rats are unquestionably of the same order as the problems we envisage for human kind; and further, if we succeed in solving a problem for rats, how we are to make sure the findings hold for man unless we repeat the whole investigation on man himself ; and if we are forced to verify our principles by a separate study of man, whether we have the right to inveigh against the psychologist who prefers to study human manners and morals, since it is upon his work that the validation of our own will ultimately rest.  By studying rats, not men, we gain status as scientists, for like the natural sciences we can, in this line of investigation, employ precision techniques and operational modes of communication.

Father Charles Coughlin

This desire for status on our part is understandable, but because of it we are in danger of losing sight of the true source of the eminence of the elder sciences. Their enviable glory does not consist in their fidelity to a set of conventional methods, but rather in the unexampled power they have given mankind in predicting, understanding, and controlling the course of nature for mankind’s own benefit. As a mature science psychology, too, will find its justification, not in performing a ritual of method, but in contributing to humanity the power to achieve these ends.

Is it not true that apart from a narrow range of segmental reactions in the laboratory we psychologists can predict very little concerning human conduct? It is argued, of course, that sophistication in methodology will improve matters. Yet there are two grounds for doubting this claim. The man of common sense approaching our treatises for help finds that a large portion of his daily conduct is not only left unexplained, but is not represented at all. From agencies of government, industry, education, and human welfare come daily appeals for assistance in their service to mankind. Psychology, as science—may I repeat?—can be justified only by giving mankind practical control over its destinies, not by squatting happily on a carpet of prayer.


Sustaining Our Better Angels

Walk with Angels by Amy White*

William E. Rees, FRSC is a man worthy of respect. He put forth the notion of an “Ecological Footprint” in 1992.  I had the pleasure of meeting him at a small dinner party when I spoke in Vancouver last year as part of my lecture tour. I read his latest piece: The Human Nature of Unsustainability, posted on Energy Bulletin with keen interest.

Planet Killers

In this article, Rees discusses how the scientific community has gone on record to tell us we are killing the planet.  He presents us with a dilemma:  If we know that what we are doing is bad for us, why do we keep doing it?  His emphasis in this article is to look at human nature, itself, to find an essential part of the answer.

According to Dr. Rees, humans are “K-strategists:”

“K” stands for the long-term carrying capacity of an ecosystem; K-strategists are species that tend to have relatively stable populations approaching that carrying capacity…Their individual survival and overall evolutionary success depend on competitive superiority at high population densities when resources are scarce.

Growth Memes

He points out the powerful impact that our collectively shared beliefs have on economic growth:

The entire world today is in the thrall of a particularly powerful “meme complex” whose effect is to reinforce humanity’s K-selected expansionist tendencies….This growth-oriented mythic construct has shaped the lives of more people than any other cultural narrative in all of history.

As an influential memetic construct, the growth imperative is actually just two generations old. Only in the 1950s did economic growth emerge from nowhere to become the “supreme overriding objective of policy” in many countries around the world.

In this discourse, the damage done to the planet by “Homo Economicus,” becomes a description of Homo Sapiens as a collective whole, and we humans are allegedly, a competitive, destructive bunch:

…we habituate to any level of consumption (once a given level is attained, satisfaction diminishes) so the tendency to accumulate ratchets up. This is particularly so if we perceive that another social group—or country—is “getting ahead” faster than we are.

In making his argument, Rees moves from genetics to evolutionary biology, neurobiology and cultural memes seamlessly, linking concepts of emotionality, competitiveness, irrationality and human selfishness as defining human traits we need to overcome.

From a systems perspective, we might say that our current “unsustainability” is a product of the natural system…

There are certain behavioral adaptations that helped our distant ancestors survive—and thus those predilections were passed on to us. But those same (now ingrained) behaviors today are decidedly not helpful in solving our sustainability crisis—they have become maladaptive.

According to Rees: We…cannot assume that global society will necessarily deal rationally with the data documenting accelerating global ecological change,” and, he reminds us, as we are all too familiar: “passion will trump reason in shaping one’s responses to emotionally charged or life-threatening encounters.”  Quoting neurobiologist Antonio Damasio, he argues that to survive as a species, we need to rise above our innate proclivities and employ:

…supra-instinctual survival strategies that have developed in society, are transmitted by culture, and require for their application consciousness, reasoned deliberation and willpower.

While he’s careful to add that “[T]his perspective is not rooted in genetic determinism;” and doesn’t deny that “other factors contribute to humanity’s sustainability dilemma,” he nonetheless argues that “unless we factor in the bioevolutionary contribution, our understanding of the modern human predicament will remain unintelligibly incomplete and any “solutions” hopelessly ineffective.”

He writes:

Humans like to think that we have arrived at the free-will end of this spectrum, but much of modern cognitive science suggests that this is largely illusion. Psychologist Robert Povine argues from the available evidence that the starting assumption in behavioral psychology should be “that consciousness doesn’t play a role in human behaviour. This is the conservative position that makes the fewest assumptions.”

…To reestablish cognitive consonance between ingrained perceptions and new environmental realities requires that affected parties engage in the willful restructuring of their belief systems and associated neural pathways. These efforts require conscious effort and will not always be successful: “There are indeed potions in our own bodies and brains capable of forcing on us behaviours that we may or may not be able to suppress by strong resolution.” Even when people accept that such a change in their beliefs and their thinking is necessary, the process can be lengthy, difficult, and unpredictable.

International Global Solution?

He ends the piece on quite a different note, arguing that while “[m]odern society has been paralyzed by cognitive dissonance, collective denial, and political inertia in dealing with the sustainability conundrum” his hope is that with “international agreement on the nature of the problem, a global solution is at least theoretically possible.”  His dreams are for a global centralized solution where by the force of “unprecedented political will,” and “creative engagement of modern communication technologies” the entire “world community” will develop a “commitment to a collective solution.”  The exclamation point at the end of this sentence implies that he, himself, sees little hope of that happening.  Yet, according to Rees,  “[t]hese are the minimal cultural tools needed to socially reengineer ourselves, and to educate the next generation from scratch, in a whole new sociocultural paradigm for survival. (emphasis added)

Will the Real Human Please Stand Up?

I suggest, however, that we must pause again to ask ourselves: “Which humans are we talking about?

For Rees, “Homo Economicus,” so involved as he is in world domination, is Homo Sapien. The hegemony of global capitalism is subsumed into “the expanding human enterprise itself.”  But does our understanding of the economic and sociopolitical dominance of “Homo Economicus,” inform all we need to know about human nature to motivate behavior change?

Consciousness Doesn’t Count?

In this argument, Rees puts front and center a quite powerful meme in its own right. The implication is that cognitive psychology is itself a “hard science” able to say anything as concretely as the absurd post-modern notion that human “consciousness doesn’t play a role in human behaviour.

As a clinical psychologist who maintains an interest in social, cognitive and evolutionary psychology, I’ve become increasingly hesitant to agree that rescuing the future survival of a livable planet rests so soundly on acknowledging the limits of free will.  While I often get a kick out of  the inventive conclusions my colleagues reach, based on the severely limited social science research they conduct, my amusement ends when these same conclusions are used to generalize these findings to all of humanity.

We Are the World, We are THE Humans…

As Steven J. HeineProfessor of Psychology, University of British Columbia points out, the field of psychology itself is a very narrow, ethnocentric place:

…both the people conducting the research and the people who are the targets of the research largely come from a select few cultural backgrounds. Here are some indicators of the narrowness of the field: A review of international scientific productivity found that American-based psychologists accounted for 70% of the citations in psychology, a proportion higher than any of the other sciences reviewed (and approximately twice the proportion of chemistry). The next biggest contributing nations are all English-speaking ones: the UK, Canada, and Australia, respectively.

Likewise, my colleagues, Joe Henrich, Ara Norenzayan, and I, have calculated that a randomly selected American college student is more than 4000 times more likely to end up as a participant in a psychology study than is a randomly selected person living outside of the West. These nonrepresentative samples wouldn’t be such a problem if people everywhere thought in the same ways, but the available evidence shows that in many key ways they do not.

Unlike chemistry, where the object of study is independent of the researcher’s political or cultural perspective, psychologists study people. They often get the inspiration for their ideas by their own introspections and by observing those around them. A narrow range of perspectives isn’t a problem if one hopes to explain just those people who share those perspectives. But often psychologists purport to be studying human nature, and when the field only attracts those with a limited range of political and cultural perspectives, they may produce an incomplete and misleading caricature of that nature. (emphasis added)

If we, then, recognize this cultural bias, what is the meme that goes along with First World culture?

Pragmatic Altruism vs. Violent Mindset

As Stuart Twemlow, M.D. points out, we in the US are exposed to an”endless deluge of unmitigated violence, in the media, on the Internet, and in print, which subtly and gradually helps to shape a defensive “violent mindset” that reflects in the way we treat each other.”  In this violent mindset, people attempt to “spend much time trying to win at any cost” and “gauge personal success by economic and material gain.”  Despite the overwhelming evidence of the harmful and shaping effects of exposure to violence and its cancerous effects on communities, a “debate” about the impact of violence on the psyche continues.  Dr. Twemlow compares the “debate” about these facts as similar to the lengthy antique “debate” about cigarette smoking and lung cancer.

The violent mindset vs. what he calls the “pragmatic altruistic” mindset impacts the collective community consciousness in areas of creativity, thought patterns, ruthlessness, economic prosperity, inner peace, outer peace, power struggles, greed, envy, contempt, materialism and narcissism.  This violent meme has so totally dominated the discourse in the USA, that inevitably, our habits and unconscious assumptions about what is “human nature” are debased.  Our children are taught through the media that “winning isn’t everything, its the only thing.”

For more than 30 million years, as Twemlow points out, we have another equally powerful and “evolutionarily based” nature:  altruism.  The notion of “pragmatic altruism” is ridiculed as soft-headed and idealistic, and hardly a shaping factor of human evolution.  It therefore seldom considered as  a viable pathway to resolve the problems we face.

Monkeys and apes engage in reconciliation and forgiveness.  And even our complete understanding of “dominance” as one that benefits reproduction among the great apes has to be questioned when females apes sneak away with less dominant males.  Alpha male apes are often under greater physical and psychological stress, and have much higher levels of glucocorticoid stress hormones in their blood, which can result in impaired immune systems.  Dominance has its costs.

This powerful meme too often misreads the “selfish gene” as the “selfish human.” As I have argued elsewhere, “[t]here is a political danger in who takes control of the narrative.”  Herbert Spenser altered Darwin’s biological theories to fit his own philosophical economic notions in 1864.  It turns out that this narrative of a nasty, competitive selfish world, is only based on partial recollections of the data, and not only doesn’t it tell the whole story,  it presents a political (power) explanation for oppression using biology as a justification: “Nature is selfish so I can be selfish.” It is a narrative of genetic classism. It is also a narrative of domination and imperialism.

In emphasizing, as he does in this article, the competitive, destructive, self-focused and unconscious, irrational elements of an elite group of wealthy humans, Rees not only duplicates this same error, but leaves the reader feeling hopeless as to any clear pathway out of this horror.

Hardly idealistic ramblings of social scientist dreamers, Twemlow, Sacco and their colleagues point to concrete ways to alter this dreary outlook on the future.  The solutions are local, not global.  According to these researchers, communities deteriorate in predictable ways, but they can also be healed systematically when the will to do so is present. “Comfort,” “belonging” and “protection” are features that all humans crave, and therefore there is no need for “supra-instinctual survival strategies.”

The values of Homo Economicus are deadly to the planet.  But it is dangerous to confuse the dysfunction of humans impacted by global free market capitalism, with the norms of human psychology or psycho-evolutionary biology.  Unipolar depressive disorders is the leading causes of disability worldwide.  Is this a normal human state?

Are Fragmented Communities Killing the Planet?

As Bruce Alexander, Ph.D. points out, we live in a civilization that has become psychologically fragmented. Free market capitalism, now the dominant ideological economic system, has systematically displaced people, fragmenting Third World attachment to the land, a sense of:

“..identity that comes from secure families, stable communities, and a predictable future; we lack the sense of meaning that comes from shared values and religious beliefs; and we lack the confidence that comes from being part of a nation, a civilization, or an economic system that warrants our deep respect. More and more people are finding that addiction and other destructive lifestyles the most effective ways they can find to fill the social void and control the anxiety. Addictions, whether they center a person’s life on drugs or anything else provide some kind of a substitute for real identity, meaning, and confidence. Having found a substitute for what they lack in their inner core, people cling to it for all they are worth – addictively.” link

Among these addictions are compulsive shopping and other forms of consumption.  When basic human needs for belonging are met, attachment happens not only between people, but to the land they live on, as well.

As Chief Seattle wrote of the invaders:

Your dead forget you and the country of their birth as soon as they go beyond the grave and walk among the stars. They are quickly forgotten and they never return. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth. It is their mother. They always remember and love her rivers, her great mountains, her valleys. They long for the living, who are lonely too and who long for the dead. And their spirits often return to visit and console us.”

Similar ecoes are expressed in Scottish singer/songwriter Dougie MacLean’s 1988 lyrics in Solid Ground:

It’s the Land. It is our wisdom
It’s the Land. It shines us through
It’s the Land. It feeds our children
It’s the Land. You cannot own the Land. The Land owns you.

Alexander points out that the highlands of Northwestern Scotland provide an Anglo example of the dislocating effects of free markets on traditional society.

Until the second half of the 18th century, highlands society was little touched by free markets. The local economy was a network of traditional obligations among people living in stable families and occupying well-defined social strata…. Although highland society suffered from famine in poor years, it offered psychosocial integration to even the very poorest, and emigration was uncommon.  After the last major armed uprising against British rule was defeated at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the British government began the systematic destruction of highland society.  The traditional bearing of arms was prohibited, as was traditional dress, including plaid, tartan, and kilt.

Group identity is maintained through “threads” of shared traditions and cultural characteristics of dress, celebrations, and customs.  Quoting songwriter Neil Young, I call this phenomenon becoming a “patch of ground people.”

Drs. Twemlow and Frank Sacco use of “pragmatic altruism” and “community stabilization systems” is transformative in a relatively brief period of time.  In a few years, a violent and degraded school in Jamaica, where truancy exceeded 70% and knife fights and rape were commonplace, became a peaceful place where former schoolyard bullies assumed a “non-bullying role, and even became “community helpers.” Montego Bay’s police force, once considered “animals” by the citizenry, were increasingly regarded as benevolent helpers and keepers of the peace.  These sorts of cultural shifts do not require neurological reprogramming, but instead, a consistent message of common purpose, community spirit, and what they call “mentalizing.”

With stunning examples of social change in dire communities drenched in violence, and with very little outside monetary input,  these people embraced and held onto their best selves.

We have a long history of attachment to each other, even in the “Me! Me!” USA, as I’ve outlined here.  This “hidden history of cooperatives and communialism,” is outlined in a riveting book by John Curl called “For All the People.”  But this long history didn’t simply disappear:

It was deliberately written out of history books, and now a powerful meme seeks to write it out of our conception of human “nature.”

While Dr. Rees maintains that the “influential memetic construct” of pursing  unrestrained economic growth as a matter of policy emerged in the 1950s “from nowhere,” I would argue that “nowhere” has never been a reliable source of ideas.**

As Alexander wrote:

“England successfully dominated the 19th century world, and English free market economics, with its intrinsic destruction of traditional culture, spread across the map of western Europe…Because free market society now dominates the world, the destruction of traditional culture has become ubiquitous. In an ultimate irony, tens of thousands of Latin American peasants, some of whom grew coca on their tiny farms, are currently being dislocated in the interest of preventing addiction through the War on Drugs.”

His point is that this very dislocation causes the very “addiction” the War on Drugs aims to eliminate.

The Better Angels of Human Nature

As Abraham Lincoln said in his first Inaugural Address, “the mystic cords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better Angels of our nature.”

We have no choice but to deal with these troubling times with either our best, or our worse selves.  I find it disturbing when brilliant thinkers suggest that our only hope lies with a dramatic change of heart among global elites who have, at this point, consistently demonstrated no interest in curbing their own rapacious appetites.  They have consistently used their influence in the media, government and the funding of social science research to not only shape the nature of the discourse, but to shape our collective values.

Our hope doesn’t lie with our leaders, Dr. Rees, or in looking to a few elites who can provide the needed “supra-instinctual survival strategies.”  As people living in the wealthiest of nations, we may have, as Dr. Rees suggests, sunk to our lowest selves, become lost and destructive, plundering the planet while drowning in our sea of “stuff.”  But this is simply a perverse and pervasive cultural meme promulgated by a powerful and influential oligarchy.

It is now time for careful thinkers to propose an alternative view of what it means to be fully human.  We may need to look outside The First World for new insights and broader understandings.

What we need are constant reminders in every media, school, and community throughout the world of another way of being.  Bullying and the acceptance of violence as a “natural human state” cannot be tolerated.  We have within us, the very innate altruistic qualities needed to work our way back to that simpler, communally-focused way of life– the 75% reduction that Dr. Rees said was possible–that will bring us back to our senses.  It is happening already.

Locally.  Methodically.  Little by little.  Step-by-step.


*Amy White’s artwork can be found at http://www.alandamy.com/Amy/artwork.htm#PhotoMontage

**Richard Heinberg has done an excellent job of charting the pathways of growth in his book: The End of Growth