Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Danger of Almost-Truth

I recently watched Brene Brown's TED talk entitled "the power of vulnerability". She details the pervasive feelings of shame, guilt, perfectionism and comfort-seeking that she has recognized through her research within society. Symptoms of these epidemics include the most indebted, obese, drug addicted and psychiatric drugged adult population in American history. I haven't yet been able to connect the teachings from the Archetypal Dream therapy that I engage in to any popular psychologist. Her talk was the closest thing I've gotten to that yet.

In it, she explains the connection between shame and perfectionism. She argues that people should 'lean in' to difficult feelings of shame, pain, and fear in order to really experience joy and gratitude. She talks about how the key to accessing these feelings is to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and to embrace ourselves as we are. In a lot of ways, these insights connect well to many of the conclusions I've drawn from the Dreamwork.

But there is also something about doing dreamwork that makes one skeptical. It is the ego that wants a quick fix, that wants to feel immediately enlightened by someone's words, immediately convinced to follow a certain life's path. It's something deeper that realizes we have been tricked by an 'easy' truth before.

It was all over for me and Brown when I got to her website and noticed that one of her pages included a "Favorites" page. Yes, the emotional guru herself, who recommends the book "Can't Buy Me Love: How Advertising Changes You" as a book that changed her life, has a whole page dedicated to some of her favorite things--mostly books, but also cameras, kitchen accessories, which she admits that she gets commission on. Don't worry--the commission she makes goes back to the reader in the form of 'giveaways' on the blog. Brown promotes her blog by promoting products and using that money to lure people into reading the blog.

Why does this matter? Well, for one thing, at this point, any product promotion whatsoever makes me suspicious of that person as a source of information, no matter what the circumstances. I know that sounds harsh and radical. But advertising, at this stage, is such a perversion of its originally intended purpose--(was SHOCKED today to see that one popular advertising company's slogan was "loyalty beyond reason", bragging about the fact that they manipulate people's desire to the point where they will buy the product even when it is not reasonable to do so)--and its success has contributed to so many terrible things--environmental catastrophe, human exploitation, wars, disease and mental illness within society---that I don't feel like treading lightly around it any longer.

In fact, I think it is precisely this type of advertising philosophy that has shown corporations how to transform individuals, creative, unique, and flawed individuals into a society of people who only know how to consume and chase after ways to make themselves more like everybody else.

Brown hints at this explanation from time to time, criticizing reality television, telling people not to watch it. But she doesn't take the necessary step to wake people up to the real problem. Brown never asks, as far as I can tell, where is all this shame coming from? Why are people so obsessed with success and recognition at the expense of their own joy?

These aren't easy questions. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say that they have societal answers, cultural answers, and thus political and economic answers. It's not enough for Brown to just tell us what the problem is, and recommend that we stop feeling that way. In fact, this is dangerous. Because it lures those with an intellectual interest in with an accurate diagnosis of the problem. But it does not go the necessary extra step of trying to analyze why things came to be this way. This allows intellectual interest to be pacified without that person having to go much deeper into the role they play in this society that makes people feel, a lot of the time, terrible.

This is also the problem I have with Jon Stewart. He so accurately pinpoints, hilariously, what is wrong with the media today. But he never so much as breathes a word of suggestion that the problems of this media have something to do with the fact that 6 multi billion dollar corporations own the vast majority of media outlets in the nation. This is dangerous. Because it makes people feel that by listening to Jon Stewart, they are doing something to combat the problems of corporate media. But Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! and the Prometheus Radio Project  are actual examples of what this fight looks like. Why won't Jon Stewart trumpet their causes, if he is so concerned with media corruption?

In the same way, Brene Brown is dangerous. Because she is diagnosing a very real problem in american society---that the adult population of America is shameful, addicted and self medicating. But she is not explaining how we got there. I believe it is because these explanations would be so uncomfortable to many well educated, upper middle class to upper class people whose livelihoods are deeply intertwined with the laws that make capitalism function---recognition by others is essential, winning feels good, having power makes you free, your value is dependent upon what you can produce. So uncomfortable, that people would not buy Brene Brown's books, they would not attend her lectures. And this would make her feel unrecognized, like a loser, powerless, pointless and all on down the chain. So she settles for the almost-truth, and nothing really changes.