I’ve been (with the course) at the Centre for Alternative Technology last Monday. The centre is situated in a quite nice spot in mid Wales and has been founded in 1973 to promote alternative ways of living. They literally started from the ground up, discovering and re-discovering ways of how to insulate and build housing in a sustainable way, create energy etc. The centre can be accessed via a water balanced funicular (the upper cabin’s weight is increased by adding water [no not IN the cabin :p]. It then, as it travels down, pulls the lower cabin up). I liked the centre both for their exhibition and as a place of peacefulness. It was also a confrontation with how much is natural for me, but apparently needs to be taught toward the English public (and sadly even people on my course).
Things like toilets that provide facilities to only half-flush, recycling systems, composting, reducing carbon footprint by bicycling/using train, etc.. I won’t say these are givens in Germany or Sweden but it is more of a normality to simply do them, without having to think about it, then it is the case here. Particularly the notion that “cars are still the best way to get around” and that the suggested alternatives are “ridiculous” coming from some of the other course members annoy me. I’d really hoped that a course on “Outdoor and Environmental Education” would draw a more environmentally aware crowd.
They also have a bookshop and given their orientation I just couldn’t walk past it. I picked up David Edwards’ Free to be Human: Intellectual Self-Defence in an Age of Illusions, E.F. Schumacher’s small is beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered and James Lovelock’s Gaia: The practical science of planetary medicine (which was on sale). That means I am dipping into my savings this month, again … or rather I exchanged some of the Euros I still have for pounds to allow me to go through the rest of the month.
On the way back I started reading some in Free to be Human and sadly one of the criticisms offered in one of the reviews on amazon seems to be quite descriptive:
“Too often the book proceeds by personal declaration rather than from the basis of concrete examples, facts or research. This is compounded by a rather polarised viewpoint in which the affairs of the world are seen as either good or evil, black or white.”
The introduction of the third edition I have starts out with comparing our societies and political realities with The Truman Show: A make-believe world and construct that is artificially created, where the only real person is the one born into the movie set, not knowing any other reality. From there on the first Chapter begins by summing up Chomsky and Herman’s Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media – which I read years ago while living in Sweden.
Chomsky and Herman’s book uses a relatively neutral language and highlights what, why and how this unbalanced picture of news comes into existence without commenting much outside their factual observations. In contrast Edwards employs a moralising and aggressive manner of speech that weakens his argument and doesn’t do a lot of justice to the careful language of the original argument.
What got me though are his attacks against Psychotherapy:
“Most psychotherapists (apart from isolated radicals like Erich Fromm, R.D. Laing and James Hillman) have approached this modern problem by attempting to alleviate symptoms of dis-ease on the basis of the Freudian hypothesis, suggesting that neurosis is primarily (if not always) a result of sexual repression. More recently, therapists have emphasised the need to re-live repressed childhood trauma, so relieving the symptoms of the repression that is their cause. Rarely have psychotherapists sought the cause of neurosis in the economic and political system within which we live.” (page 45)
“[C]learly any system concerned with alteration of the personality that assumes as its premise that the requirements of society define the norm of sanity into which the personality should be fitted, is little more than a system of brainwashing.” (pages 45-46)
“The irrationality of trying to make a human being sane by emphasising his or her childhood and sexual experiences while largely excluding the impact of the requirements of the economic and political system has, apparently, only recently begun to strike a minority of psychotherapists.” (page 46)
What irks me is that he criticises something without really seeming to have an experience or knowledge about current practise. That is – I feel he’s attacking some form of urban myth about what happens in psychotherapy. Freud stopped being a model quite a while ago from all I know. But also – the way he puts things to me feels like downplaying how crippling mental health distress is. If I am not able to function in a way that makes me able to engage with society – critically or not – at all, then yes, the only positive consequence is to assist in helping to move toward less anxious and more “normal” behaviour. That is not saying that the current promoted lifestyle has problems and that yes, there might be a link to mental health – but counselling/therapy can not change the political landscape to accommodate people with a mental health problem. It can work with people and assist them to be more able to have a functioning life though.
I guess the point is – I am disappointed because the aim of the book “Intellectual Self-Defence in an Age of Illusion” suggests to me an attempt to move toward something positive – how his aggressive and attacking tone will help is beyond me. The sad part is – a good number of the topics he raises are important and important to discuss, look and point at. Only that he’s standing in his own way. On the other hand, I haven’t even finished the first chapter and will at least try to give him a chance.
In one of those funny coincidences I also happened to read an article by Paul Stolz (The Power to Change Through the Change to Power: Narrative Therapy, Power and the Wilderness enhanced Model, published in the Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, Volume Four, 2000) on the way to the centre. Stolz uses The Truman Show (!) as an example for “power and knowledge that serves to construct the reality in which one lives”. That is, he is pointing to exactly the problem that Edwards attacks (see above). However, Stolz, as a therapist, approaches a constructive not destructive perspective as a base of Narrative Therapy:
“As a therapist my discourses will be often completely different to those of the adolescent. My values and beliefs about family, gender, race, education, drug use etc. are coloured by the discourses that I have engaged in and have acted on me over a long period of time. […] In understanding this within myself it opens up the possibility of acknowledging multiple realities, multiple perceptions and multiple constructions which opens the space for new and different possibilities.”
I’ve had my last counselling session this Friday. As said earlier and elsewhere things are good. My “CORE” score dropped massively since last October and while I am not at the level of what is considered “normal” I am not far off, either. Met next year’s house-mate B. whom I’ll be hunting for houses with as soon as possible (Ehlo!). We’d still need a third one to catch somewhat cheaper house prices (and have more choice as to where to live) but let’s see. Also taken some pictures at CAT … some behind the cutoff below. Finished the registration forms for Headspace. Next thing to manage: 5 exams and a seminar in a row (and then another exam a bit further down the road). Oh and … if “Cellar Door” is the most beautiful word in English then “Mushroom” must be in the top ten.
I just love the Welsh word for Microwave! I still hope to pick up another language sometime … Esperanto, at least on the basic level, still seems a fair bet.
My attempt at doing a Kinga Freespirit (one of my idols) like self-portrait from memory. It’s nowhere close, but hey, features the green water bottle I always carry (it’s the third one, actually, the rest having been lost somewhere)!
A public phone booth at CAT.
One of the exhibitions at the centre. This one explaining issues around public transport (on signs along the path).
Random motive saying winter is over (#234123450123).