“Self Help Gibberish” and “It’s natural to be insane.”

Both my mom and dad love self help books.

As I grew up, they both had libraries inundated with them – for different sorts of reasons, though.

My mom was a psychology student; her SH (self-help) books were strewn sparingly amidst books by Skinner, Freud and the other “icons” of the day. 20150829_085741

My dad only had self help books on his shelf. Everything ranging from Carnegie to random audio tapes of a Chinese man explaining how to live forever eating specific plants you could purchase through the mail – moving to the mountains, breathing clean air and water you could buy from him.

My dad has slowed down quite a bit, though. He rarely buys a new one. My mom loves them just as much as ever … for all the wrong reasons, though (or all the right ones?). She loves sharing vignettes from Wayne Dwyer, explaining how artistically gifted he was at saying “absolutely nothing” and making it sound good. She’ll always quip that she wishes she could have lied so effectively – talk to circularly.

Regardless, I find that most of these books are focused on the cultural obsession with self-confidence, or the aversion to anxiety (two sides to the same therapeutic ego-coin).

The shelves are absolutely inundated with outrageous titles promising unattainable (and biologically unreasonable) results.

Scanning Amazon.com’s top self-help categories, you could break them down into four sub-genres:

  1. Overcoming Anxiety (super-confidence!)
  2. Spiritual Growth (super-confidence!)
  3. Positive Thinking/Confidence Arousal Books (super-confidence-confidence!)
  4. Last ditch help books (books by the scammers who claim to talk to your dead relatives, etc.

My dad worked his way through all of these genres before he quit. He began with Overcoming Anxiety, moved to Positive Thinking, then Spiritual Growth, then Last Ditch … before he realised group meetings were free. The only thing that moved was his money into their wallets.

The last genre here, “last ditch”, is basically “begging to God” books. After that, the jokes on you and you can just go to Church instead.

Interesting is the staggering dichotomy between “YOU MUST ACHIEVE” books (Art of the Sale, etc.), and “IT’S TIME TO GIVE UP!” books (books advocating quitting). In case you don’t know – these are the latest trend. They advocate this odd emotional reaction that’s sort of like “emotionally unplugging” or, as Dante said, abandoning all hope for a better future.

Still, though, the vast majority are devoted on some level to the great malignant malady of the ages: Anxiety.
Here’s the thing, though: You SHOULD be anxious. 20150829_085701You’re hardwired to be anxious. Nothing around us as “modern” humans resembles even vaguely our original environment. It’s a sick, super-charged, 24/7 – cortisol emitting roller coaster of capitalist consumption and constant visual exposure gone mad.

I guess I’ll sum up this blog with two points:

  1. If you’re going to spend years reading – read worthwhile books; this way, at the end, you’re cultured instead of even more neurotic (or cultured AND neurotic, but that’s chic).
  2. Quit spending so much time engaged in the goals, visuals, attitudes and conclusions of a society that long ago took on a sentient life of its own and jumped our grasp.

To quote George Carlin: “Whatever happened to looking out a fucking window for a while?”

-M

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