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.

The Legitimizing Power of the Royal “We”

The Species of Unrighteous Dominion, Part 1.5

This is not the part 2 that I promised in the series I am currently writing. Rather, this is a follow-up to part 1, based on something I was reading this morning. Let’s call this part 1.5.

This morning I was a reading a book (called Inclined to Liberty: The Futile Attempt to Suppress the Human Spirit) in which the author described precisely one some the points I was trying to make in my previous post (albeit in different words). The author’s name is Louis E. Carabini, and he starts the book by describing a dinner party, in which a number of individuals were talking about what should be done about the perceived inequalities of life:

Some of the propositions offered during that lively evening were:

“No one should be allowed to own a yacht.”

“The salaries of company executives are too high.”

“No one should be allowed to inherit wealth.”

But the statement that I found most intriguing, and the one that initially drove me to write, was:

“It is not fair that companies can terminate their workers just to increase profits.”

However, as I thought of a suitable response, I realized that this proposition was no different in principle from the others. While some statements were more radical than others, each basically contains a notion that something is unfair and that we ought to do something to right that unfairness by instituting prohibitions. Continue reading

Legitimizing Unrighteous Dominion

This post should probably broken into a several different posts and published as a lengthy series, which was my original intent. However, I decided that I didn’t want to engage in any discussion of the content until the most of the series was available, and that is best achieved by just posting in two segments.

Part 1 of The Species of Unrighteous Dominion


A year ago, I was sitting in the periodicals section of the HBLL library reading my social psychology textbook. It was the beginning of the semester, and I had just opened my book for the first time. The author started the book with this compelling argument for the power of social context:

To illustrate social psychology at work, try this exercise. Take a clean piece of paper, and fold it in half the long way. Now open it up,  and fold one top corner down to meet the center crease. Then fold the other top corner down the same way. Now fold the paper in half again along the center crease. Fold one of the long sides backward to the outside of the crease, making another fold parallel to the center one. Flip the paper over and repeat this last step on the other side. What is this shape? What does it look like?

If you are like most readers, you have probably read this far and not done what I just asked you to do, you are reading on ahead to see if it is really necessary to put the book down, find a piece of paper, think through each instruction, fold the paper, and so on. No one will know whether you do it or not, so why bother until you find out if you really have to? You are especially unlikely to have followed these instructions if you are sitting someplace where other people can see you.

Now, try a thought experiment: compare your reactions to those of students in my social psychology classes. In large and small classes alike, to a person, they all obediently take their pristine course syllabus, fold it in half, fold down the top corners, and construct … what? A paper airplane.

I never quite have the nerve to ask my students to take off their shoes and put them on their desks, or to stand up and face the back of the classroom and wave at the projection booth, but I suspect they would probably comply. Why? Would they normally take off their shoes and put them on the desk in front of them? Would they normally fold their syllabus into a paper airplane? Then, why do they do it, semester after semester, year after year? … And why did you not fold the paper airplane when I asked you to?

The author of this textbook, Susan Fiske, didn’t need to know anything about my personality, my history, or my goals and ambitions to be able to precisely predict my reaction to the text. All she needed to do was correctly guess my social context. She uses this example to illustrate the power of social context in unlocking the key to predicting (and, perhaps, manipulating) human behavior. Continue reading

Approaching Christ with Reverential Awe

Thomas Jefferson, the classical liberal thinker who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States of America, had a problem with the Bible. He liked many of the things that Jesus taught in the New Testament, but he just couldn’t believe in miracles. He couldn’t believe that a man, by a humble command, could calm a stormy sea or change water into wine. He couldn’t believe that a man could come back to life after he died. And he couldn’t stand the fact that the Bible’s excellent moral teachings were interspersed among tales of such preposterous nonsense.

Jefferson concluded that all the miracles recorded in the New Testament were added after the fact. So Jefferson came up a simple solution: he took a razor blade to his Bible and cut out the parts he didn’t like. He wrote to John Adams that what Jesus actually said (as opposed and what was added there later) was “as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill,” and constitute “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” That is, so long as you leave out anything that Jesus said about being the embodied son of the Living God, or about His power to heal the sick and raise the dead, or about His resurrection and His conversations with His followers after His death.

Continue reading