When I decided to write some introductory posts that explained my personal interest in the subject matter of this blog, I didn’t anticipate that I would write 24 of them and not post them until I’d finished the last one. But once I started down that path, I decided to follow it to the end. This is the end.
So now I ask: What have I learned by writing these posts?
One thing I was a bit surprised to find was that, when I reread what I’d written over 30 years ago, I still identified strongly with that author. I still have the same questions, the same aspirations, the same intellectual and emotional responses to a certain set of ideas. Given that I lack a ‘motive force’ that tells me what to do next — which means I find myself moving on from one thing to the next without any obvious theme or reason — I would have expected more change in my life than continuity. It seems I’m still attracted to what the sociology of knowledge/social construction can tell me about everyday life and the taken-for-granted, which may mean I’m still trying to understand whay they can tell me about my own life.
Critical psychology and the social determinants of health
I also hadn’t anticipated that I would find a strong connection between the social determinants of health – which I’d been writing about at The Health Culture — and critical psychology. Why is it so difficult to get the medical profession and public policy makers to acknowledge the importance of the social determinants of health and take appropriate action? I know that fundamentally there’s an economic explanation, but I don’t find that sufficient to explain why we care so little about inequality and social disparities.
Psychology has had an enormous influence on individuals, government policy, and society, especially in the mid- to late twentieth century. Critical psychology asks: Why does mainstream psychology maintain and reinforce the status quo, that is, support and promote theories and actions that are in the interests of those who currently hold power? Again, some of this simply comes down to economics. If psychology failed to supply what governments and consumer markets needed, its contributions would be ignored and its practitioners unemployed.
When describing how twentieth century psychology created an ‘empty’ self (the ideal self for a consumer economy), Philip Cushman repeatedly uses the word ‘unknowingly’: Psychology acted unknowingly, not intentionally. Critical psychology holds psychology to a higher standard. Psychologists should be insightful enough to realize that their work is not – as they assume – apolitical. A parallel criticism from Cushman: Psychological theorists in the late 20th century have been consistently unwilling to consider the historical context in which they theorize.
Given how fundamental psychological theories are to contemporary Western societies, it strikes me that critical psychology’s explanation of what’s wrong with mainstream psychology would also contribute to an explanation of why there is insufficient interest in addressing the social determinants of health. Another basic connection between the two is that both critical psychologists and those interested in the social determinants of health advocate changes that would create a more equitable society. There’s also a parallel with social construction. My particular slant on social construction is that it can provide relief to individuals suffering from the normalization of society (that is, this is the way you should be, and if you’re not, you’re not only abnormal, but it’s your own fault). Critical psychology aspires to provide relief, not just for individuals, but for society itself.
My blog is my biome
Finally, I ask myself, did I really need to start a new blog or could I simply have continued posting at The Health Culture? While it’s true that I’m the same person I was 30 years ago, I’m also different from the person I was when I started that blog in 2008. By 2013 I felt a need to break out of what I saw as the limitations of what had become my subject matter; to write more in the first person and feel a bit looser about my subject matter; to post photos, artwork, fiction, poetry if I wanted to; to let my new subject matter take me in unknown and unforeseeable directions; to let my blog be the ecological equivalent of a biome of myself and my world.
Quick story: In the tenth grade I had a wonderful biology teacher (Mr. Whipple) who gave his students the assignment to make daily observations of a square foot of ground (which we called a biome) and to record any changes. Technically, a biome is an ecosystem. Given my high school experience, however, I associate the word biome more with the practice of observing something that appears relatively homogeneous and static, but that, on closer inspection, is rich with diversity and change.
In this blog I hope to observe myself, my life, the ideas I read about, my physical environment, and the triumphs and travails of contemporary global civilization as it is mediated to me. My blog is a place where I can notice and record all this. My blog is my biome.
Damaged goods, damaged life
And finally finally, a quotation for inspiration. It’s from Tod Sloan’s Damaged Life: The crisis of the modern psyche:
Faced with the world’s complexity, it is tempting to throw up one’s hands and claim that it is all beyond human comprehension, let alone human control. Cynicism about the possibility of social transformation is rampant today, especially in academia. Rather than despair, however, we can develop forms of understanding that orient individuals and communities as they work to reduce human suffering and reverse the processes that produce what Theodor Adorno (1951) called ‘damaged life’.
Image source: Walter Film Vintage original film posters
The Adorno reference in the quotation from Tod Sloan is to ‘Freudian theory and the pattern of Fascist propaganda’, in Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt (editors), The Essential Frankfurt School Reader