Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality
Encounter Books, New York 2015
Why I’m reading it:
I’m reading because I’ve gotten through Dalrymple’s Life at the Bottom, and along the way I decided that this guy is a clear thinker and writes really well.
What I think of it:
Dalrymple’s thesis can be expressed very simply as: ‘ignore the experts and take responsibility for your own behavior, if you want to be free from what’s making you miserable’. Hard words, but important.
I feel the impulse to justify myself like anyone does, and it can be hard to hold to an ideal like being responsible, when so many people don’t. It is the narrow way that leads to life. Dalrymple has not written a religious defense of morality, rather he assumes morality exists as a starting point, and goes on to explain how psychology has tried to evade, deride, and ignore that reality in pursuit of Love of the Self.
Will I finish it?
Yes, it’s not a long book, and Dalrymple’s writing style makes for fast reading.
Would I recommend it?
Absolutely, for the thesis given above alone. It also bears recommending for Dalrymple’s dissection of multiple psychological tropes that have been used to justify immoral and self-destructive behavior.
Gimme a quote:
“The notion of self-love or self-esteem is in itself either ridiculous or repellent. No one ascribes his good character or successes in life to an adequate fund of self-esteem. No one says of any human achievement that it was the fruit of self-esteem. Indeed, a dose of self-doubt is, if anything, more likely than self-esteem to lead to the effort necessary (but not sufficient) for such achievement.” Page 56, paragraph 2.
“But as habits become character, so the habit of superficiality eventually becomes . . . deeply ingrained. Perhaps this explains the increasing need of extravagant expression and gestures that seem to accompany thinness of content. Only thus can one obtain notice in the torrent, the ocean of verbiage, though such extravagance of expression and gesture is ultimately futile, since it leads to a competition for attention that no one can win.” Page 70, paragraph 1.
I have discussed this problem before on this blog. Perhaps I was on to something after all.