Justman (Seeds of Mortality, not reviewed) takes a hammer to the feckless bunkum of pop psychology and self-help literature.
Pop psychology, the hell spawn of prosecutorial animus and positive thinking, has become as invasive as kudzu, as institutionalized as the institutions it derides. Justman patiently goes about dissecting the craze, neatly slicing out its corrosive narcissism, its flattering assurances, its certification of its own importance, its disparaging of judgments as it freely and venomously dishes them out. When it comes to content, even its governing trope—that we have the right to become the person we were destined to become—is meaningless. It has selectively purloined the works of Carl Jung and John Stuart Mill, Kahlil Gibran and Seneca, Buckminster Fuller and Ben Franklin, for starters. Justman is particularly galled that “most threatening of all, in the eyes of pop psychology, are the very institutions associated with responsibility—conscience, morality, blame.” These are simply jettisoned as you seek your inner you. Fact is, Justman notes, we do things worthy of condemnation; to pretend otherwise is a flight from our humanity. When it comes to guilt, another pop psych bugbear, the same applies: people do things for which they should feel abidingly guilty. Iris Murdoch makes more sense to Justman when she says our very consciousness is morally animated, and to eliminate moral judgment from our thought would expurgate and impoverish our own nature. Justman occasionally offers a disputable notion of his own—“I would argue that existing institutions and received traditions are not, generally, shackles on potential but the enabling conditions of human life”—but his own sense of humanity and responsibility is far more savory than the liberally quoted spoutings of Wayne Dyer, Melody Beattie, John Gray, et al.
Justman is stern and smart: Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor will you be, and if you ignore or invent your past, it will be to your own folly.