09/27/2013 10:55 am ET Updated Nov 27, 2013

Choice Theory

The Times ran the obit of William Glasser ("William Glasser, 88, Doctor Who Said One Could Choose Happiness, Is Dead," NYT, 9/4/13). Syntactically it's an odd headline when you think of it, placing the words "choose" and "dead" so oxymoronically close. One of Glasser's books Reality Therapy: A New Appraoch to Psychiatry, "sold 1.5 million copies" according to the Times. He also wrote a book called Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom. The obit went on to elaborate on some of Glasser's ideas. One of them is "That to meet the most profound human need--'to love and be loved,' as Dr. Glasser put it--people must repair strained relations with their family, friends and co-workers by adjusting the one variable within their control: their own behavior." Where Glasser went wrong was in the choice idea alluded to in the obit's headline. He seemed to believe in the notion of free will, ie that someone can desire to have better relationships and simply achieve such goals by realizing say another of the precepts iterated in the obit: "That the only person one controls in the world is oneself." What Glasser was proposing was actually a watered down existentialism based on the premise that existence precedes essence, with the ancillary notion that the importance of unconscious drives could be discounted. But what if a person profoundly doesn't wish to repair their relationships? What if his or her objective is to act in such a way that they push those around them away? What if the objective of the patient is to be a perpetual victim who can blame the world for all his or her problems? And what if he or she doesn't even realize that this is what they are trying to do when they complain bitterly about the deck of cards they've been dealt? Freud used the term Fehlliestung or "faulty achievement" to refer to slips of tongue and other mistakes that reveal intent. Freud's notion would seem to explain a good deal of the maladaptive behavior that characterizes human endeavor on both an individual and mass scale.

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}