Friday, March 31, 2006

Moving Day and Failed Isms

When one is 70 or so, he or she should be free from the need to move from one house to another. That freedom ought to be up there with four freedoms that President Roosevelt named in 1941: freedom from fear, hunger, and so on.

As I was deciding what to take with me a couple years ago for my move to Fullerton from Arcadia, California, I had to choose from among many books. Even worse, I had to decide where to throw out many books. It is getting hard to find places that will take them, ecologically sound places.

Now that I look back on the ordeal, I am impressed by the subject matter of books that I did not take. Not feeling an affinity for those topics indicates a certain freedom from the past.

Failed “isms” need not always be part of one’s psyche or one’s library.

For instance, many books on Communism are gone. I am not a Communist but an economist by education. I had to study Communism in college. Communism has proven itself to be a failure and is found only on college campuses these days (in the United States).

Likewise, books on existentialism are gone from my shelves. Existentialism was a “cute” philosophy of the past. My, how we longed for cuteness and novelty. Novels and philosophic writings used to be crammed full of existential thought. Histories were re-written to reveal existential roots of leaders. And in days when I was young, God was really, really dead—and for the last time, too. RIP.

My books on psychotherapy and its originator, Siggy Freud, are all gone. At one time I was a true believer. And why not? I was brought up with it. Contemporary literature was chock-full of the language of Freud. Movies of the 1930’s and 1940’s were full of deeply significant psychological talk. Actually, our movies were rather heavy-handed in their propaganda sieges. They would be embarrassingly obvious now. Psychologists became priests and even today are consulted by judges in criminal cases. They are asked to predict human behavior, but are not held accountable when they are proven wrong.

Biographers felt they had to psychoanalyze their subjects. They took a rough cut even though they did not live in the times of their subjects and even though they were totally unqualified as psychologists and even though many psychologists they knew were equally unqualified to practice. (Among my souvenirs is a cancelled check written to a psychologist who talked to my son. This practitioner had his license pulled, for his unethical work with a member of the Beach Boys musical group.)

Few words about Freud are heard these days. Psychologists are trying all kinds of other treatment techniques for obvious reasons. A study reported on in Scientific American showed that the three main therapy methods recorded some kind of improvement about one third of the time. It did not matter which method was used. Movie makers and novelists have given up on Freud. So have I. Perhaps, by this time Freud, is really, really, dead. RIP.

When I write about people I try to avoid psychological terms and any form of psychological analysis. I am happy to admit that I am not qualified to dabble in the black art of psychology.

What else is gone from my library? Not the really fine literature of our culture. I still have that. And I still have the essays of early economists. They were political thinkers as well as economists.

I threw out all the old computer books. But I kept bird books and well-written histories. Bartlett and Roget are still on my shelves. Many astronomy books have been surpassed by new discoveries and all my atlases also have been made obsolete. Dictionaries have changed, but I still have a few computer programming books. I occasionally write a program just to see if I can still do it.

And I have an old bible or two. An occasional death of the Creator has not discouraged me.

At the last count, two thirds of my personal library is gone. Dusty, faithful old friends are being reprocessed somewhere into, I hope, new books so they can spread a better truth than I have known—truth that can last more than a few years. And I hope they can avoid cuteness.

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