Run-on Sentence Summary
In this short, stuffy intellectual book, Psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple argues that modern psychology teaches people to think of themselves as victims and undermines accountability and morality.
I almost put this book down when I started it because I found the tone to be so off-puttingly intellectual and pretentious. He loves using five dollar words and peppering his writing with random Latin and French phrases, and the whole books reads like this:
“Behind the self-obsession of the analysand and the portentous banality of the analyst’s interjections lies the idea, self-exculpatory, that we are victims of our past, about which we can do nothing (unless, that is, we pay an analyst for four thousand sessions).”
I powered through and didn’t regret it. The core idea is fairly straightforward. He goes through and talks about several schools of psychological thought that have come up, such as Freud and behaviorism, and trounces them. He takes it for granted that they are discredited ideas now, but reminds us how they were embraced at the time. Freud had some good ideas, but ultimately became a cult of personality. It is obvious now how little of his work was grounded in science, but people at the time embraced it as a dogma.
This warning was reminiscent of what I read in Sapiens about how much modern “scientific" thinking is actually just another form of religion, and is no more valid in helping us understand who we are. Dalrymple is a Shakespeare buff of course, and argues that literature is a better window into human nature than psychology has ever been.
He makes some other interesting points, such as how insane it is that one in six modern adults takes antidepressants, and how the word “unhappy” has essentially dropped out of the modern vocabulary. You can’t possibly be unhappy, then you’d have to be responsible for it. No, you are depressed, you are sick! Its not your fault, here take these pills.
At the end of the day, he treats modern psychiatry as a monolith and so it is difficult to dispute anything he’s saying.
Who the hell chooses "Theodore Dalrymple” as their pen name?
“As for analysands, you meet some who claim that their lives were much improved by their analysis, but this is as little evidence of the truth or value of psychoanalysis as is the recent convert to Islam’s opinion of the Koran as proof of the prophethood of Mohammed. A little bit of what you fancy may do you good, but it doesn’t make it true.”