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Blind Boy Apollo
and the All-White Astronauts

New Age "Asiatic" thought ... is establishing itself as the
hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. (Zizek)

Tuesday, August 23

the social construction of preferred realities

tell me that you'll never leave
and I'll just try to make believe
that everything you're telling me is true
come on baby won't you just...

lie to me
~ johnny lang ~

That mp3 quits a bit abruptly, doesn't it? Yeah, well that's the way it goes. No early warning. First you see it, then you don't.

And why is this relevant, you ask? Some of you have been asking that about this blog. Well, honey, you just play that clip again, then take your best wild guess. Unless you been livin under a rock, unless you somehow escaped the comedie humaine unscathed, I'm gonna bet you can connect these digital dots all by yourself.

What'd you think? That this time it wasn't personal? Got this big ol' worldwide web and what? Gonna talk about the fuckin weather?

No. That's not what's going on here. Don't be fooled by the vocabulary and pseudo-academic jive. It all comes down to bricolage in the rag and bone shop of the heart, where -- as Jackson Browne once said -- the junkman pounds his Fender. If I could play it for you, lay it down in tracks of molten fire, crank the gain and run it through a bank of Marshall amps, I would. Blow you away with a wall of unrelenting unrepenting solid blue rocked-out howling noise! Wake you shake you, bring your ass down from this sorry broken way too scary dream.

So where were we? Oh yeah: lies. Interesting -- isn't it? -- that it's easier to tell what's false than what's true. Sometimes, anyway.

lewis & clark wave hiya to the friendly natives

Whoa, huh? Do you get cognitive whiplash when I change gears like that? First we're talking about love and loss and lies, then suddenly we're talking about... redskins! Yup, there's that postmodern thing again. Things just won't hold still. The falcon cannot hear the falconer. Mere anarchy &cetera. I shed a tear.

Well, hold onto your seat, Valued Reader, because here comes another gear shift. Our theme for today is neither de blues (Aerosmith, 1994) nor the Louisiana Purchase (Fresonke and Spence, eds., 2004).

"I took a course in Hallelujah.
I went to night school for de blues..."

Rather, our focus will be on that grand old standby: psychotherapy. Of a sort.

OK, we can let the academics back in now. I guess it's safe as long as you lay off the soundtrack for a while. You have to be careful with these people. Wouldn't want to give anyone a heart attack.

Let's start with this clip from Narrative Therapy: The Social Construction of Preferred Realities...

Different selves come forth in different contexts, and no one self is truer than any other. We think that people are continually constituting each other's "selves," and that there are many possible stories about my-self, your-self, and other people's selves.

That was just to give you a second to process the subtitle. Preferred? If that didn't raise an eyebrow, you weren't tracking. As a dear friend once said to me: do try to keep up.
While no self is "truer" than any other, it is true that particular presentations of self are preferred by particular people within particular cultures . But a "preferred self" is different from an essential or "true" self. Instead of looking for an essential self, we work with people to bring forth various experiences of self and to distinguish which of those selves they prefer in which contexts. We then work to assist them in living out narratives that support the growth and development of these "preferred selves."
So let me see if I've got the gist of this... If I'd prefer to be a fairy princess, say, instead of someone whose life has been derailed by a personality disorder arising from childhood trauma -- some combination of physical, emotional, sexual and/or psychological abuse -- then I could rework my "narrative" to where I was really born with a magic wand and a tiara? Or let's say I was spooked by all this postmodern confusion of optional selves and shifting histories. I could what? Morph myself into some arcane magus from the 15th century?


But the authors continue with the obvious next question, even if they don't really frame it as one...


When we say there are many possible stories about self (or about other aspects of reality), we do not mean to say that "anything goes." Rather, we are motivated to examine our constructions and stories -- how they have come to be and what their effects are on ourselves and others.

Translation 1: Please don't even notice that the reason we're mentioning this little "anything goes" problem is that it... well, does seem to crop up in the context of this brand new construction uh... theory we've constructed uh... developed. And moreover, don't pay any attention to the use of "preferred realities" in our book's subtitle as BAIT -- or that the intrinsic allure of this bait is what a) sells our book, and b) sells our book to people who read that subtitle and think: "Cool! Why, that means that... anything goes!"

Translation 2: We'll teach you how to lie your ass off -- first to yourself, then to everyone you want to snow with your preferred wonderfulness. Plus, we'll give you a bunch of fancy psychological jargon to lie in so that you'll come off sounding, if not entirely numinous, at least reasonably profound.

Oh wait... I guess I interrupted again. Bad habit of mine. Excuse me. Our authors weren't finished protesting too much.

Even if we wanted to foster a value-neutral, "anything goes" reality, we couldn't. One cannot make up and inhabit a completely new social reality overnight.
But that's the thing, isn't it? We've had a lot longer than overnight. We've had at least since Emerson pulled the "Oversoul" out of his hat and told us that if we just rely on our Self -- some transcendental transform of manifest destiny masquerading as a crypto-gnostic Inner God -- we can be what we want to be. Yeah, right...

Except the Temptations were talking about smack and these guys are talking about "therapy" -- which once upon a time was about facing up to some sort of socially shared notion of reality. True, such "sharings" are hard to come by these days, what with the billion and one brands of harebrained opinion floating around the Internet and all. But be wary of buying into that "moral relativism" trope. That's there as a red herring to make you think that if you don't buy in, you're some kind of right-wing fundamentalist whackjob with repressive notions about what does go -- and what's self-serving bullshit.

You want to "find your own story," "create your own reality"? Sure, I'll bite. I'll make believe. I can see your tiara now. Yeah, that's it. And your magic wand. Oh, isn't love wonderful when we're both completely honest?

come on baby won't you just...