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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)

Sunday, September 28

wyrd up

The word "worth" is related -- via its Indo-European root -- to "weird."
  • weird, from Old English wyrd, fate, destiny (< "that which befalls one")

I like that. It seems grounded in some unadorned baseline reality. But of course, unadorned baseline realities are rare as hen's teeth these latter days, and "worth" -- like just about everything else -- has morphed into a form of what Marx called exchange value. As in...

businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth.
none of them along the line know what any of it is worth.

Or, maybe more to whatever point may be emerging here, as in Worth magazine. Or as in, what's it worth to you? Or as in, it ain't worth a plug nickel, your while, their salt, a hill of beans, its weight in gold, two in the bush, or the paper it's printed on.

But beans and birds and salt aside, worth has come to mean monetary value. Nowadays it is generally people, not fish, that are weighed in terms of their net worth. And me, out here on Highway 61, all I got's a thousand telephones that don't ring. Do you know where I can get rid of these things?

Never mind that. Rhetorical question. But listen, every time I see this book cover...

...I'm reminded of a slogan once popular in Germany...

Literally, it means "life unworthy of life," a phrase that was popularized by Nazi "eugenics theorists" to characterize the physically weak, the mentally ill -- and of course, the Jews.

Now, whoa! Hold the phone. That's an awfully extreme reading of Positive Psychology, doncha think? Well... consider this: "humanistic" psychologist Abraham Maslow once wrote...

The study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy.

Motivation and Personality, 1987

Maslow is credited as a source of the "positive psychology" meme (craze is more like it). For instance (quoting myself here, since we're on a Dylan run already, from Positively Fourth Street), in Positive Psychology in Practice, the authors of a paper called "Positive Psychology: Historical, Philosophical, and Epistemological Perspectives" say (p. 17):
...the human being should, as Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi maintain, be conceptualized and understood as a being with inherent potentials for developing positive character traits or virtues. This idea is the core of the actualizing tendency as described by Rogers and self-actualization as described by Maslow. For positive psychology, the concept of good character thus becomes the central concept.
Now it seems to me that when you start out with an aversion to "cripple psychology," then catalog Character Strengths and Virtues in "A Handbook and Classification," as Martin Seligman has done, the time may not be long until those who fall outside such a taxonomy of vibrant smiling health are also catalogued and, who knows, maybe even rounded up. But of course, that can't happen here.

The caption on that site reads:
This poster is from the 1930's, and promotes the Nazi monthly Neues Volk (New People), the organ of the party's racial office. The text reads: "This genetically ill person will cost our people's community 60,000 marks over his lifetime. Citizens, that is your money. Read Neues Volk, the monthly of the racial policy office of the NSDAP."
It is so easy for fate and destiny (if you recall the first graf here) to be recalculated as faults and deficits -- and for the worth of lives thus deemed unworthy to be measured in tax dollars. But of course, that can't happen here either, not in this Culture of Life [caution: not for the squeamish].

Just to recap before pressing on: Seligman is the guy who invented Positive Psychology (and oh yeah, helped design the torture methods used at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib), Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced chokin-yer-chicken) is the guy who wrote A Life Worth Living, and Maslow is the guy whose primary mentor was Edward L. Thorndike -- one of the most prominent boosters of eugenics in the United States.

Eugenics... had the support of leaders in academia. E.L. Thorndike and Leta Hollingworth popularized eugenics to generations of prospective classroom teachers.
That quote, by the way, is from an excellent stash of historical background on American eugenics, developed by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. This is significant for two reasons:
  1. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, NY, was once the home of the infamous Eugenics Records Office.
  2. The Chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor Lab -- and not so incidentally, co-discoverer of DNA, for which he shared a Nobel Prize -- was summarily booted from that institution last Fall for his offhand comments about... well, let's quote from the 25 October 2007 New York Times story, James Watson Retires After Racial Remarks...
James D. Watson, the eminent biologist who ignited an uproar last week with remarks about the intelligence of people of African descent, retired today as chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island and from its board.

But of course, it would border on conspiracy theory to see all these oddly connected things as any more than wyrd coincidences.