Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Friday, September 14, 2012

What's Wrong With Self-Help Books? - The Daily Beast

Megan McArdle has some interesting observations in What's Wrong With Self-Help Books? - The Daily Beast. If I can fairly summarize her thesis this attitude towards self-help books stems from intellectuals’ elitism: they are so intelligent and above it all that they don’t need to heed the pedestrian advice offered in these books. She could be right.

I also think there is a strain of anti-individualism and determinism behind this sentiment too. If I could put this attitude in words it would be: How dare you think that you can help yourself in this crazy, complicated world? It’s too complicated for you to grasp and you’re fighting a futile battle against over-powering forces. You need the advice of your superior intellectual elite and the solace of the collective. It takes a village to raise a child, doesn’t it? I believe we can affect the wisdom of the decisions we make and the path we chart by reading the advice of some authors then making our own well-informed choices. My goal isn’t to defend that position here. It would take a book (or books) to do that.

Do some (or many) self-help books over simplify? Sure! Are some based on anecdotal as opposed to scientific studies? Yep. Are some just plain wrong? Of course. I’m not saying you blindly accept anyone who manages to get published. There are good self-help and bad self-help books, just as there are good or bad books in philosophy, history, politics, economics, and so on. And we naturally tend to pick authors who share our basic beliefs. A Christian will tend to read books written by a Christian self-help author and avoid an atheist’s screed. And vice versa.

I’d love to be able to spell out criteria for choosing the wheat out of the chaff but I’d say if it can be done it’s a job for someone far smarter than me. Maybe it’s a job for one of our intellectual elite! Just kidding. My goal is here is to simply note this bias against self-help books and offer an observation on the reason behind it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What's wrong and right about self help books? Would probably be more objective an approach? :)