There’s something about growing up with a library in your home. Even though, till as late as A-level, I was still decidedly a non-reader (with the exception of my childhood love of Choose Your Own Adventure), in less than a decade I somehow developed an appetite for the written word - fiction, non-fiction and academic paper alike – so voracious that I sometimes have to struggle with others to not have it deemed irrational. The handy familiarity later on, of the images sporting the covers of those books in my home library, their almost musical titles e.g. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and not the least the ambience of the room (with the library’s patented depth of possibilities to it) were all almost certainly instrumental in effecting the aforementioned change.
My parents were living in the US in the late 80s. When they came back, they brought along some of the most telling relics of their time. These relics - by celebrity psychiatrists such as Eric Berne and Thomas A. Harris - were the artifacts of what scholars such as Tom Butler-Bowdon today refer to as the ‘Pop Psychology Boom’ of the mid-late 20th century. The relics were to inhabit the aforementioned library, where little Mr. R first encountered them.
The Pop Psychology Boom was characterized by qualified psychiatrists joining in on the self-help vogue, which had taken off in the mid-20th century with books such as Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Working on an exquisitely calibrated means between mere self-help and academic psychology, ideal for the palate of the masses, the Pop Psychology Boom brought Freud, Jung and other critical institutions of the discipline and made them household names in the West. The Boom was made undeniable, as Butler-Bowdon would argue, most resolutely by the fact that even sitcoms started featuring these best sellers – as evidenced in an episode of Seinfeld where the lead character enters his apartment to find his hopeless roommate reading I’m Ok, You’re Ok.
Today, the entry on the lighter side of my reading agenda that features this chapter is approaching. However, there’s a hesitance with me. Some introspection reveals that I continue to hang on to the hope that I will not be making this nostalgic trip down memory lane on my own, and that I continue to wish that it will become the building block for new social connections with those rare gems of people who also grew up having inherited this motif from their very cool parents (and secretly: maybe even with the parents themselves!)
Today in urban Pakistan, amongst men and women alike, development and political journalism is the rage in the college-educated current and immediately preceding generations. With the institutionalization of the internet, people in general don’t read books much anymore, but playing psychologist in their youth (once fashionable amongst women in particular) has been hit especially hard. I’ll let it stay unnamed, but there’s a new vogue in town; and I think there’s evidence to indicate that when your own daily routine is best described as ‘cortisol-mania’ (cortisol is the stress hormone), empathizing with and contributing to your friends’ petty concerns of having poor People Skills is just not something you can prioritize. Enter what I hereby entitle ‘The Pop Psychology Holocaust.’
I would, then, like to make a public appeal. To the few last remnants of our kind out there, who would like to join me as I fight to keep ‘50 Psychology Classics’ alive. Let’s make a small niche for ourselves. For those of us, and by those of us, who understand that without psychology - even pop psychology - in our lives we may be more articulate in our writing, more eloquent in our speaking - but we are undeniably inferior renditions of the previous generation as social beings. As human beings.
Eric Berne’s Games People Play, anyone?
Let me leave you with a sample:
“Adults need physical contact as much as children, but it is not always available, so we compromise, instead seeking symbolic emotional ‘strokes’ from others.
Why we play games
Given the need to receive strokes, Berne observes that in biological terms any social intercourse – even if negative – is considered by human beings to be better than none at all.. Many people feel the need to get into fights with those closest to them or intrigues with their friends in order to stay interested.” (Butler-Bowdon, 2007, p.28)
Let me make this all more familiar: if someone is drawn to you, but finds one or the other reason that they can’t express their desire to have your company in the conventional way, they will, rather than letting you go, actually pick a fight with you. They will give you scolding advice. They will tease or harass you. In extreme cases, they may even go as far as humiliating you publicly. Such games are often predicated on psychological complexes or even a simple lack of self-confidence and/or fear of rejection. Children play such games all the time, while adults communicate, but with the virtue of introspection and good communication becoming exceedingly rare in today’s world, adults can be found playing games more and more frequently too.
“It is safe to say we are shocked by what we do not understand.” (as quoted in The Scholar at the Newspaper)
How unfortunate are the ones who have all the earning power and social connections in the world, but profess ‘shock’ at the peculiar behavior of those who secretly long to be with them. As for us, the survivors of the Pop Psychology Holocaust, how lucky we are.
n The author runs Scholars by Profession,
a local research-initiative.