1. The Mind In The History Of Psychology: Contingency And Psychohistory
Josh Rothman of the Boston Globe‘s Brainiac blog considers (or rather ponders what two psychologists have considered on) the limitations and possibilities of theories of the mind contingent on whether psychology had developed outside of Western culture. Rothman’s piece focuses on the various terms for mind around the world: maum, kokoro, dusa, etc.
This pointer drags up a thought that has been hovering on the edges of my consciousness in relation to USIH historiography. Are intellectual historians afraid of psychology? Except for Lasch and Hofstadter, who among recent intellectual historians has embraced, or embraces, a philosophy of history that deeply engages psychology? Is psychohistory a cultish swamp of historiography, like cliometrics? Or has psychological theory been banished to biography? If so, then I would think that USIH folks, with their penchant for biography, would be embracing psychological theory in trying to capture the essence of their particular persons.
2. The Moral Psychology of Terrorism
Speaking of psychology in recent history, the East Carolina University plans to hold a conference on the “Moral Psychology of Terrorism: Implications for Security” in April 2012. Here are the first few paragraphs from the CFP:
The terrorism of the past decade has been driven by the interface of psychology, morality, faith, religion, and politics. This modern terrorism reflects terrorists’ pursuit of their beliefs and even aggressive promotion of the exclusivity of their world-views at the expense of the lives of those who do not share them. In this sense, the act of terrorism is fueled by arguments of morality and views that are rooted in the psyches and beliefs of terrorists.
Recent terrorism, wherever it spreads, under the banner of major monotheistic religious traditions or Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, brings into the forefront the need to better understand the moral psychology of terrorism. This need is more critical in the areas where youths might be recruited and socialized or ‘brain-washed’ by terrorist leaders. The heinous events committed by terrorists and sympathizers against the citizens of New York, London, Madrid, Bombay, and various cities of Pakistan and Afghanistan further emphasize the need to understand terrorists’ moral psychology.
3. Intellectuals And–Or In—Politics
The NYT’s Stone weblog, which covers philosophy, recently featured a post by Gary Cutting, a philosophy professor at the University of Notre Dame, titled “Intellectuals and Politics.” Cutting says he’s going to discuss “the role of intellectuals in American politics,” but I think he’s really discussing the politics of real or purported intellectual lives among practicing, active politicians. Historians will typically wish, as I did, that the post had a few more concrete examples from a usable past—of traits, situations, and politicians whose work has gone wrong, or well, due to intellectual associations. Some of us appreciate the nuggets of truth in the maxim uttered by Henry St. John, Lord Viscount Bolingbroke: “History is philosophy teaching by examples.” [In his Letters on the Study and Use of History, 1770, p. 14–or 15, depending on your version.]
4. The 1992 Affect
Writing for Vanity Fair, Kurt Andersen argues that the cultural landscape of 2011 is really just a sorry echo of the affections of 1992. We’re consuming and recycling the past rather than creating anew (a consequence of hip-hop sampling?*). You might say that we’re more Kurt Cobain than Kurt Vile, Kurt Busch, or Kurt Angle. …Yes, these are my lame attempts at present-day pop culture obscurity. Anyway, here are the first two paragraphs of Andersen’s intriguing analysis:
The past is a foreign country. Only 20 years ago the World Wide Web was an obscure academic thingamajig. All personal computers were fancy stand-alone typewriters and calculators that showed only text (but no newspapers or magazines), played no video or music, offered no products to buy. E-mail (a new coinage) and cell phones were still novelties. Personal music players required cassettes or CDs. Nobody had seen a computer-animated feature film or computer-generated scenes with live actors, and DVDs didn’t exist. The human genome hadn’t been decoded, genetically modified food didn’t exist, and functional M.R.I. was a brand-new experimental research technique. Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden had never been mentioned in The New York Times. China’s economy was less than one-eighth of its current size. CNN was the only general-interest cable news channel. Moderate Republicans occupied the White House and ran the Senate’s G.O.P. caucus.
Since 1992, as the technological miracles and wonders have propagated and the political economy has transformed, the world has become radically and profoundly new. (And then there’s the miraculous drop in violent crime in the United States, by half.) Here is what’s odd: during these same 20 years, the appearance of the world (computers, TVs, telephones, and music players aside) has changed hardly at all, less than it did during any 20-year period for at least a century. The past is a foreign country, but the recent past—the 00s, the 90s, even a lot of the 80s—looks almost identical to the present. This is the First Great Paradox of Contemporary Cultural History.
And here’s Andersen’s explanation behind the phenomenon:
Why is this happening? In some large measure, I think, it’s an unconscious collective reaction to all the profound nonstop newness we’re experiencing on the tech and geopolitical and economic fronts. People have a limited capacity to embrace flux and strangeness and dissatisfaction, and right now we’re maxed out. So as the Web and artificially intelligent smartphones and the rise of China and 9/11 and the winners-take-all American economy and the Great Recession disrupt and transform our lives and hopes and dreams, we are clinging as never before to the familiar in matters of style and culture.
Fun. Let me know what you think. – TL
* Andersen covers this: “And in pop music, thanks to sampling, even the last genuinely new form, hip-hop, made an explicit and unapologetic point of recycling earlier songs.” …Yes, indeed, I posted this article for your consumption before having read every word of it—I liked it that much.