Don’t Worry… Be Happy!

The dark underside of positive psychology

Over the last decade the field of positive psychology has become a burgeoning area of research within academic psychology. Well known figures in positive psychology include Martin Seligman (developer of the well known learned helplessness model of depression and past president of the American Psychological Association), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (creator of the construct of flow), and Daniel Gilbert (author of the widely acclaimed Stumbling on Happiness). The field of positive psychology focuses on developing a scientific understanding of positive human experiences and virtues. Important research areas include happiness, optimism, fulfillment, compassion, and gratitude. The field positions itself in contrast to traditional approaches to mental health, which focus on psychopathology and treating mental illness. The roots of positive psychology can be traced to the field of humanistic psychology, which peaked in popularity during the 1960s. Well known pioneers of humanistic psychology included Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Fritz Perls. …

EssaysMedia/PublicsTheory & Practice

On Media Monstration and the Politics of Small Things

An ongoing discussion with Jeffrey Goldfarb

This post is the first of two making a series of points: Here I answer Jeff Goldfarb’s points in the post he devoted to our common classes. In the second, I will stress a couple of issues that have to do with my central concern: the role of media as “showing.”

On media power and resistance:

Goldfarb writes, “Dayan thinks the media set the agenda more thoroughly than I think actually happens. I see not only the possibility, but also the reality of resistance, even when it doesn’t prevail… The power of big media is great, but it is something else completely if it faces persistent resistance.”

In answer to these two points, let me answer that I am less interested in quantifying power than qualifying power.

In my view, the power of the media lies not only in the consequences of what they show, but in the very fact of showing it. …


When the Pope “Drops the F-Bomb”

Meditations on media, society, and the philosophy of language

On March 3, 2014, a stream of troubling, breaking news about Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine was interrupted by another event, this time originating in the Vatican, which similarly reached prominence in journalistic organs. This event, however, was not a child abuse scandal, papal resignation, or other such event that typically brings the ancient Church into the headlines. It was, instead, no more than the fact that the Pope — the most visible scion of holiness in the West — swore.

Immediately, this must be qualified. As Bill Chappell of NPR clarifies, Pope Francis, whose native language is not Italian, made a pronunciation error in his address that led him to verbalize “caso” (“case,” “example”) as “cazzo,” a colloquial equivalent to the English “F-word.” And yet the gaffe was reported in such a manner that made it seem as if the Pope intentionally introduced vulgarity into his speech. …

Arts & DesignEssays

The Book of Job as Community Theater

Readings after Superstorm Sandy and other disasters

The only American member of the original General Seminar after which this website is named was the philosopher Horace Kallen. Kallen is mainly remembered now for his theory of “cultural pluralism,” but among scholars of the Book of Job he is known for the quixotic idea that the biblical book was a work of Euripidean emulation. Kallen made a historical case and offered a speculative reconstruction in The Book of Job as a Greek Tragedy (1918). The historical claim is far-fetched, but Kallen’s sense that the Book of Job may work as drama is right on the mark. Robert Lowth, the founder of modern literary studies of the Bible, argued that Job’s genre was drama. Archibald MacLeish’s existentialist updating of Job’s story, “J. B.” (1958), confirms it. More recently, Carol Newsom’s brilliant Bakhtinian reading of the Book of Job concludes with an imagined production in which different traditions of theater, elocution and dress uneasily share a stage. …

EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Solidarity with Ukraine against Putin’s Reality

We should not be surprised by differences about how to respond to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Understanding reasons for those differences is one critical step toward formulating an effective response. Recognizing both real policy options and the equal importance of political signals is the second. Moving too fast is dangerous in the short run, but not moving at all is the most dangerous in the long run. And that’s what Germany’s leadership promises.

We should not be surprised that the authorities of Germany, the Netherlands, France, Italy and Spain explicitly resist calls for trade sanctions. Leaderships in Austria and Hungary are likely with them. London seems more concerned with its financial prospects than European well-being. Putin has been pursuing a policy of diplomatic divide and conquer within the EU, sweetened with economic deals powered by the energy business. …


Between Ideals and Realities

An overview of the General Seminar on the legacies of the University in Exile

Last Wednesday, on February 26th, there was a special meeting of The New School for Social Research’s General Seminar, commemorating the 80th anniversary of the University in Exile. Three faculty members and three graduate students were asked to address a foundational question: “What is the meaning of The University in Exile for New School for Social Research of the future?” The answers they presented and the discussion that followed, it seems to me, present a unique opportunity to reflect upon not only the history and future of our specific institution of higher education and research. It also sets the stage for thinking about how universities, and specifically The New School with its special traditions, should address broad and pressing political, economic and social challenges of our times. As the University in Exile was an elegant response to the dark clouds over Europe in the 1933, thinking about its meaning for the future challenges us to respond in kind. …

EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Preaching to the Choir: The Crimea and Putin’s Domestic Audience

On February 28th, the Federal Council, Russia’s upper house, granted Vladimir Putin’s request to use military force in Ukraine. By that time, Russian troops stationed at the Black Sea Naval Base in Crimea had already left their garrisons and secured the area. Russian forces now effectively occupy the Crimea, which is a semi-autonomous and self-governing region of Ukraine with a majority ethnically Russian population.

In response, the U.K., France, the U.S. and Canada have announced that they are suspending their preparatory meetings for the G8 summit due to take place in Sochi this summer. On March 1st, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on the crisis in Ukraine. President Barack Obama has warned that Russia’s actions will have “costs.” As several academic and media sources have noted, Russia is potentially in violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, which guaranteed the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine in exchange the country’s denuclearization. …

EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Have Europeans Learned from the 20th Century for the 21st?

This is a lightly abridged version of the keynote address to the conference of the Europe for Citizens Forum in Brussels on January 28th, 2014. Goldfarb was asked to address the question of the title. Siobhan Kattago, Irit Dekel, and Anna Lisa Tota also contributed to the Forum. The latter two are forthcoming.

Open up the newspaper, even in the U.S., and almost every day there is evidence that many Europeans have not learned from the horrors of the 20th century. Although there are powerful forces working against this, the politics of racial and religious hatred is still very much with Europe.

There are alarming manifestations of both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia on a regular basis in Europe, east and west, north and south. The latest include the antics of the anti-Semitic “humor” of Dieudonne M’bala M’bala and his popularization of the “quenelle,” and the attempts of the French authorities to control this latest fad. Thus, as I composed this lecture, I read in my morning New York Times that a French appeals court ruled to uphold bans on Dieudonne’s performances. …

EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionThe Left

Look Out Kids: On the New and Next Left

A reply to Eli Zaretsky

Bundled into Eli Zaretsky’s unmistakable claim that second wave feminism was substantially to blame for the undoing of the 60s-era Left is another curious charge: that no American Left exists today, or has for a long time [“Rethinking the Split Between Feminists and the Left”]. In their response, Ann Snitow and Vicky Hattam expose the flimsy basis and maladroit construction of the first charge [“The Women Did It?”]. While adding to their case, I address mostly the second. I do so not as one who “was there” in the 1960s but as both a scholar of the period and an activist since the 1980s in what I’ve always considered the Left. Zaretsky’s rebuttal of the Snitow/Hattam response further confuses his original argument while modestly improving its terms. I deal with it briefly at the end.

Uniting both of Zaretsky’s claims is a dismissive view of the experiences and perspectives of others. Second wave feminists might feel proud of their efforts to establish battered women’s shelters, health and day care collectives, rape crisis centers, alternative schools, peace camps, and more accepting versions of the family. …

Arts & DesignCapitalismEssays

Rebooting RoboCop

Comparing 2014 with 1987

As someone who grew up with Paul Verhoeven’s original 1987 RoboCop, I can’t help but feel the dystopic and critical social commentary of the movie was lost in its reboot. What was once a critical and distopic film exploring the dangers of unchecked corporate power has become a soft endorsement of corporate warfare. Yet, some elements of the remake do provide useful insights into our changing social politics that are worth considering. The evolution of RoboCop reveals how both capitalism and imperialism have changed and deepened their hold on our cultural imaginary in less than pleasant ways.

There are basically four key sets of players in the original story: Omni Consumer Products or OmniCorp (OCP), the mega corporation which builds RoboCop, runs the Detroit police force and plans to construct a corporate utopia called “Delta City” in the ruins of old Detroit; Alex Murphy, the Detroit cop who becomes RoboCop; the police department run by OCP; and crime boss Clarence Boddicker, who is in cahoots with OCP executive Dick Jones,  The connections among these players were central to the original story. …