Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Just as Bush is learning that it’s not enough to nail the evil part to count as an evil genius, I have to admit that I’m not a secular humanist because, though I’m certainly secular, I’m no humanist. It’s not that I think that very much of great interest is going on without human participation, but that’s a bit like admitting that phone calls wouldn’t amount to much without the switchboard. The attempt to imagine that the whole drama of reality is staged in the intimate theater of the private mind strikes me as the fundamental error of the last couple of centuries, and the materialist version of the mistake is no improvement. You can’t cram the cosmos in a cranium anymore than you shoehorn heaven and earth in a sensorium. The world is not in MAN (note the caps). Men and women are in the world, a rather elementary fact, you’d think; but people still persist in thinking that psychology is somehow the master science and that everything takes place two inches behind their right eye. Au contraire, as William Blake never said, where nature (and history) is not, man is barren.

It may be that the anthropological prejudice is changing. That the Dewey Decimal System shelves books on psychology in the same subdivision with philosophy already seems a little quaint and 19th Century. Why not lump philosophy in with mechanical engineering or taxidermy instead? What does the investigation of fundamental truths have to do with a ragged bundle of therapeutic cults and orphaned research traditions? People with Ph.D.s in psychology may do all sorts of worthwhile things; but to go on claiming that any of them are of great theoretical or strategic importance would be simply hobbyhorsical, a quirk comparable to that of the dentist in V who understood everything in terms of root canal. I also take it as a good sign that Psychology Today, which was a highly visible and influential magazine in the 60s and 70s, is utterly obscure these days—I was amazed to discover they still bother to print it.

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