Friday, August 31, 2007

I Like Mary Pipher

I’m enjoying a great book about writing: “Writing to Change the World” by Mary Pipher. She also wrote “Reviving Ophelia”, a book my wife read a few years ago about the maze of conflicting messages that poison adolescent girls against themselves in our modern society. I need to read that soon, now that my oldest daughter has just entered the jungle of junior high.

“Writing to Change the World” reminds me of things I should already know, but only spottily do. Like treat those who disagree with you with respect. Write what you alone can say. Write bad first drafts. Move the world just a little bit.

Here’s her take on success:

“Success means we have done our best. We have not squandered our gifts or ignored our responsibilities. We have given our time and talents to help others. We have used our freedom to free someone else. Success is not fame or awards; it is having our ideas discussed by other people.”

This sounded good, until I realized it is probably much harder to be responsible and use privilege for good than it is to get published somewhere. Defining success by quantity and fame would allow me to play guilt-free golf all day if I could just get someone to give me some kind of award.

I didn’t know much about Mary Pipher before picking up this book, but recently noticed a news item that she had returned an American Psychological Association Presidential Citation. The AMA shamefully continues to allow professional psychologists to take part in interrogation techniques that include torture, and she returned her award as a symbolic protest.

I must say I am duly impressed. She is an engaging writer, a social activist and someone to emulate. I hope she plays golf too.


snarkbutt said...

I read the link you provided, and I guess I'm not informed enough on this issue to decide whether 85% of the APA membership acted "shamefully", as you say.

They did vote for a position "against torture", but apparently it didn't go far enough for Pipher. According to Pifer's letter, the APA's position is in opposition to the Psychiatrists and the more generic AMA, so I wonder what it is that separates the psychologists from the others in the medical profession? (This is not a rhetorical question, I'm genuinely curious.)

Eighty-five percent seems like a pretty strong majority, and I'm willing to give psychologists the benefit of the doubt that they had professional reasons for voting that way. I know lots of psychologists, and in general, I don't think they're the type of people to support torture, or even right-wing politics, for that matter.

I fear this may be another example of your liberal echo chamber: American psychologists are "shamefully" allowing torture! You're starting to sound like a Scientologist. :)

Dan S said...

So you read the article and don't have enough info to know whether the APA is being shameful, but conclude this is an example of me living in an echo chamber anyway? As someone who usually values fairness and balance, you sure seem to be looking for ways to nitpick.

I trust Mary Pipher as knowing more about the APA statement than either of us. If what she says is true (the statement appeared to be anti-torture, while still allowing it), then yes, I believe it is shameful. This is exactly what the Bush administration says all the time. "We are against torture, and we are against legislation that prevents us from torturing people so we can continue doing it."

My position is that if you are overseeing or involved in any way with torture (even torture that is temporary, which is what the resolution allows), you should not be a credentialed psychologist. Apparently 85% of psychologists disagree with this. I guess this hardline position on torture is only shared by my fellow wackos in our liberal echo chamber, and possibly scientologists. That's pretty depressing.

snarkbutt said...

What's depressing you is that you draw no distinction between 85% of psychologists and the Bush administration. To use an example from the right, your attitude reminds me of fundamentalists who draw no distinction between homosexuals and child molesters.

The liberal echo chamber comment comes from the fact that you apply a blanket label ("shameful") to an entire organization based on an issue you don't know much about. I don't know much about it, either, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they had legitimate, humane reasons for voting the way they did.

Too often, it seems that you go out of your way to see the evil in people. Why did the APA pass this resolution? Because they're shameful. It's that same lack of nuance that drives me nuts from the political right.

Incidentally, I read the APA resolution and it seems to be quite anti-torture. It even criticizes the current administration specifically. But then again, we all have different definitions of torture. You may think I'm torturing you right now with my nitpicking.

Dan S said...

Ok, let's rewind.

85% of APA pscyhologists voted against a blanket resolution that prohibits psychologists from being involved in any torture interrogations.

They then passed a resolution that had a lot of anti-torture language in it, but which has loopholes that still allow psychologists to be involved in some kinds of torture. This is at odds with the positions of the Red Cross, Psychiatrics, AMA and United Nations.

You haven't really argued that any of this isn't true. But you think that my describing this policy as "shameful" is unfair or incorrect, because 85% of psychologists disagree. This isn't a very strong argument though - I seem to remember when 85% of people supported the war :)

You also say I am unable to draw distinctions between two things when what I am actually doing is comparing them (the APA and the Bush administration). I could claim you are not drawing any distinctions between me and fundamentalists or scientologists, but I recognize that that is unfair, so I won't do it :)

Also, you are confusing a shameful act with people who are generally shameful. What I said was that the APA "shamefully continues to allow professional psychologists to take part in interrogation techniques that include torture". I didn't say they did this because I generally believe they are shameful people, as you are implying. I am merely saying it is shameful for the organization to have a policy that continues to allow torture in any form. You are twisting my words to fit with your notion that I lack nuance and am unfair.

I don't mind fair criticism when I get my facts wrong or even for overstating a case when it is warranted. But I feel like your criticisms are not warranted here, because you have not challenged the facts of argument, nor my assertion that a policy that accepts any torture is a shameful policy.

snarkbutt said...

You haven't really argued that any of this isn't true.

Not really, but that's irrelevant. We could argue till we're blue in the face about definitions of "torture", "at odds with", and "is", but that's not really important to me.

I'm talking about my emotional reaction to your language.

I could claim you are not drawing any distinctions between me and fundamentalists...

Yes, that's exactly what I'm doing. When I hear you condemn the actions of psychologists as "shameful," without any thought or reflection as to why they acted as they did, it feels exactly like Bush using the words "evil-doers" to describe those he disagrees with. There's no difference to me between the left-wing spin you're using and Bush's right-wing spin.

But you think that my describing this policy as "shameful" is unfair or incorrect, because 85% of psychologists disagree.

No, I think it's simplistic and without nuance to not even be curious about such a high percentage.

This isn't a very strong argument though - I seem to remember when 85% of people supported the war.

Eighty-five percent of people might have supported the war, but I seriously doubt that 85% of psychologists supported it. (Hey, isn't your wife a psychologist?) So an overwhelming majority of professionals in a professional organization is irrelevant to you? Hmmm. Where else have I seen people disregard the majority opinion of experts because it didn't line up with their previous beliefs?

Dan S said...

Well, we are just talking past each other. I'm talking about a resolution that allows psychologists to be involved in torture interrogations, and you are talking about all the fine psychologists you know. I want to argue my case and you want to express your emotional reactions. I think the world would be a better place if this whole thread were simply deleted. :)

brownie said...

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."

-J.R.R. Tolkien, writing as Thorin in The Hobbit

Dan S said...

That's exactly what this blog needs - more food and cheer - Hear! Hear!

If only I could give up all the hoarded gold that this blog provides... :)