December 07, 2007


Caption: Venus the goat, left, is all about Adlerian psychology.

Aside from news and links about current events, this week Goat Rope is looking at one of psychology's lesser known Old Guys, Alfred Adler. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

As a psychologist as well as a Social Democrat, one of Adler's main ideas was about the importance of social interest or community feeling, so it's not surprising that he was also concerned about the need for social reform. He basically had a public health approach to psychology.

Living as he did during the rise of Nazism, he was aware of the dangers of prejudice:

Those who have travelled have found that people everywhere are approximately the same in that they are always inclined to find something by which to degrade others. Everyone seeks a means which permits him to elevate himself at little cost.

Economic hardships could make social hostilities increase:

Difficulties in earning a livelihood, bad working conditions, inadequate educational and cultural facilities, a joyless existence, and continuous irritation, all these factors increase the feeling of inferiority, produce oversensitivity, and drive the individual to seek "solutions." To an individual in this state of mind any outside interference appears as a threat to his security and rouses him to active or passive self-defense. Motives of hatred appear most clearly in the economic disturbances of our time.

War and group idolatry (my term, not his) were examples of how our natural tendency to social interest could be abused:

...the psychologist must work against nationalism when it is so poorly understood that it harms mankind as a whole; against wars of conquest, revenge, and prestige; against unemployment which plunges people into hopelessness; and against all other obstacles which interfere with the spreading of social interest in the family, the school, and society at large.

He also had an acute understanding of the pitfalls of power that echoes the ancient wisdom of Lao Tzu:

The struggle for power has a psychological aspect, the description of which appears to us today as an urgent duty. Even where the welfare of the subjugated is obviously intended, the use of even moderate power stimulates opposition everywhere, as far as we can see. Human nature generally answers external coercion with countercoercion. It seeks its satisfaction not in rewards for obedience and docility, but aims to prove that its own means of power are stronger.

The results of the application of power are apt to be disappointing to both parties. No blessing comes of the use of power. In power politics the man in power wins followers who are actually his opponents and who are only attracted by the intoxication of power. And he finds opponents among those who might be his followers if they had not automatically become oppositional. Those who are excluded from power line in wait for the revolt and are reception to any argument.

Adler probably isn't read or studied much these days--but maybe he should be.

RACIAL DISPARITIES persist in the criminal justice system.

THE MESSAGE. Here's an interview about communicating social issues with Thom Hartmann, author of Cracking the Code: The Art and Science of Political Persuasion.

DON'T WAIT FOR THE MOVIE. The CIA apparently destroyed videotapes of some "severe interrogation" sessions.

THEM BELLY FULL BUT WE HUNGRY. I almost missed this one. The USDA recently reported that 35.5 million Americans, including 12.6 million children, are having trouble meeting their basic need for food.

FULL COURT PRESS. The Manchin administration has joined Massey Energy in opposing federal court rulings about mountaintop removal mining that may limit the ability of coal companies to do whatever they want to.



The Film Geek said...

I'm enjoying this series.

Adler was all about hope, and ensuring that kids, especially, had it. We should be talking a lot more about his ideas.

El Cabrero said...

Thanks! He was really into child guidance. I want to study him some more.