The Cruelty of Indulgence

I wish I had more time to pontificate on the following quote, but since my thesis is due in two days and I have to plan a class to teach, I don’t. But I found this quote, and I love it. It’s from an article called “What We Are,” by C. Terry Warner, published in BYU Studies. I believe what he says 100%:

Part of the intellectual fashion of our era is to think it charitable to excuse people for their behavior on the grounds that it can be completely explained by reference to their biological make-up or their early life experiences. ‘To understand all is to forgive all.’ …

But contrary [to this], there is no charity in this idea, only indulgence. People who believe it can extend no hope to those of us who are emotionally troubled; in their view we are stuck with our emotional deficiencies and will simply have to cope as best we can. … Not only that, people who believe this doctrine will tend … to collude with disturbed individuals in their pity for themselves. A collusive indulgence is just as condemnatory and, if accepted, just as debilitating as a collusive accusation.

On the other hand, treating people as responsible for their emotional lives is not condemnatory: it is a form of believing in them. It holds out hope.

In this quote, Warner is talking specifically about emotionally troubled, abusive, or anger-prone individuals. However, I believe that the same principle applies much more broadly. Holding people morally accountable for their moral conduct and for the way they treat others is not condemnatory—rather, it is the only position that holds out hope for them. To say that others “just can’t help themselves” is to resign ourselves to the fact that we are all simply products of forces beyond our control. That’s not a liberating philosophy—that feels to me quite constrained, and consigns others (in our view) to a position of helplessness against the vicissitudes of life.

Are there exceptions? Sure. I try not to make sweeping, universal, categorical generalizations. I’m speaking only of trends in society that try to exonerate individuals by claiming that they are helpless to control their thoughts, emotions, and behavior towards others. It feels like freedom, because the individuals are now free (so they think) of moral culpability. It feels like charity, since there is no moral condemnation. But truthfully, it is neither freedom nor charity. It’s captivity, because it keeps people from believing they can behave differently than they do. And it’s not love, because true love is willing to chasten, willing to correct, when correction is needed.

I’d say more, but that’s all I have time for now.

Aren’t We ALL Sinners, and Could that Be Why It Bugs Us so Much?

Recently, a “scandal” at BYU has topped several prominent news sources. Most of you have probably heard about it. If not, here’s a link where you can read about it. I’ve seen stories posted all over Facebook about it, and the near universal reaction has been ridicule, chastisement, anger, and shock towards the guy who wrote the note.

Here’s what I think: Continue reading

Romney, the NDAA, War, and Rumors of War

I just discovered 3 videos that explain in crystal clear terms why I cannot in any way support Mitt Romney’s candidacy. What I like about these videos is that they are not emotionally charged and don’t contain any name calling. They are simply a straightforward presentation of the facts of the matter and the principles behind them. They are short, informative, and rather pleasant (at least, I think so).

I am going to ask that no one comment on this article unless and until they have watched all three of these videos. I ask this because I do not want to engage in arguments or discussions until we’re all on the same page (not that we agree, but that we’ve at least arrived at the same page in the metaphorical book). Continue reading

George Albert Smith, Depression, and the Pathologization of Compassion

Recently, there was a post on By Common Consent which explored the potential mental illnesses George Albert Smith. My thesis chair penned a response to the post, drawing on some of his experience in psychology. He has consented to having his response posted here. Be aware: this is not a polished essay. Dr. Gantt is, so to speak, “shooting from the hip,” and as such, his arguments have not been revised, poured over, etc. Truthfully, this reads much more like a transcript of one of his classroom lectures (where he simply speaks his mind) than any of his published works. Without further ado, I turn the time over to Ed Gantt:

Recently, a dear friend of mine posted a link here on facebook to a blog post by Jonathan Stapley at By Common Consent, a popular Mormon blog. The brief post was on Mental Illness and the life and struggles of President George Albert Smith. Before reading further, it would be a good idea for you to check out the post. It’s pretty short and so won’t take much of your time.

Well, perhaps needless to say, at least to those who know me, I was much less than impressed by Shapley’s post, finding it misleading (though perhaps not intentionally so) in a number of ways.  I was originally just going to let the whole thing pass.   As a professor of psychology, I encounter things like this constantly and so long ago learned that I can’t respond to everything that is misleading and annoys me, I just don’t have the time or energy. I also wasn’t terribly keen on taking a controversial stand on a topic of deep significance and which hits close to home for a dear friend for fear of maybe giving some offense. However, when some other friends asked me what I thought about the post, and when I noted the overall adulatory response to the post in the comments section of the blog, I decided I had to put some thoughts down and at least be on record as quite strenuously objecting to the claims Stapley makes. Continue reading

Why I’m Studying Psychology

I just read an article published in USA Today that clearly expresses why I’m studying psychology. The link is here.

Simply put: I’m studying psychology because psychologists are getting it wrong. They’re getting it wrong because (1) they are asking the wrong questions, (2) they are starting from the wrong premises and assumptions, (3) they are using the wrong methods to find the answers, and (4) they are using the methods they do use poorly.

I know it’s presumptuous to think that somehow I know better than the rest of the academic world about psychology. I don’t. But I know falsehoods when I see them. As Ezra Taft Benson said, “The precepts of man have gone so far in subverting our educational system that in many cases a higher degree today, in the so-called social sciences, can be tantamount to a major investment in error.” Make no mistake folks. The psychologists you trust to tell you about human nature are getting it wrong, often in very drastic, and often in very subtle ways.