Monday, November 27, 2006

'We now join the real world, already in progress....'

Over the weekend, while catching up on some email during stuffing rehab, I received the following communication from mental-health activist Selena I. Glater, whom I quote in SHAM and have also referred to in pieces for National Review Online (NRO), The Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. Glater intended this as a comment on my post of November 6, This and drat, but it's of sufficient moment that I've opted to address it here in a post anew*, where more of you will read what she has to say as well as my response. I have changed/edited nothing except to clean up some of the grammar/punctuation. So here we go:

"Dear Steve: I am completely blown away by your all too frequent references to my previous work in the self-help movement as somehow related to 'Overdosing on Oprah,'** amongst other things. You could have the kind decency to contact me directly someday (via 'snail mail' or telephone) to dialogue about the actual context for my comments. Without the knowledge, and awareness, of the context for my theories (and yes, they are my theories, not yours to 'borrow' so that you can publish a book, give lectures, and rant on your public blogspace), you have no business continuing to gain personal and professional acclaim by bashing my work on the internet and in your now, well publicised book. I would relish the opportunity to speak with you before you 'print' any more misinformation about my theories of self help and the mental health field in general. Kindly, Selina I. Glater, MA, RMT, CPRP San Francisco Bay Area."

Anyway, first of all, I should mention that my basic gripe with Glater is that she epitomizes the latter-day notion that everyone deserves to feel empowered, regardless of his circumstances or handicaps—a belief that, to my mind, is not only silly, but potentially calamitous in a society that prizes, and hopes to encourage, meaningful excellence and legitimate value. We're not all equal; it's that simple.*** And some of us should not, ever, be in leadership positions, or even, probably, in charge of our own destinies. But I'm more interested here in the points Glater implicitly makes about my craft, points that no doubt will resonate with those who don't perpetrate journalism for a living. Most laypeople suspect the writer's methods to begin with; they assume that we routinely and gleefully misquote sources, knowingly pluck things out of context to make the targets of our poison pens look bad, and just generally play fast and loose with the data at our disposal. Well, you know what? Such allegations are not altogether without merit—and Selina, if you're with me here, I've written about that, too, also in such visible media as the L.A. Times and Wall Street Journal. No less a figure than iconic 60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt wanted to string me up by my you-know-whats after I published a Journal column highly critical of the staple tactics employed by TV's elite newsmagazines. (I'd link it, but you wouldn't be able to open it unless you subscribe to Lexis/Nexis or the Journal's own archives. And if you do, you can find the piece on your own.)

Thing is, there's the ideal...and then there's life, in which there are temporal, logistical and financial constraints. We reputable journalists and writers do try to do the best we can. During SHAM's research phase I was able to make first-hand contact with myriad sources, though I confess that Glater was not among them. In treating second-hand source material, we cannot contact everyone individually and ask that person if he or she said what he or she is quoted as saying, what the context was at the time, what he or she really meant, and so forth. It's impossible to do that amid the demands of a typical journalistic schedule, especially on involved, long-form projects like books. An honest journalist tries to be as fair as he can amid these drawbacks, which is to say, he reads a given quote, considers the credibility of the medium in which he found it, weighs it against the context in which it appears (and the rest of what he knows about the topic, and life as a whole), and comes to a thoughtful conclusion about what the speaker intended to mean, and whether the quote should be used at all. On balance, that process is not much different from what we all do, all day long, in dealing with the folks around us: We listen to what they say and draw an inference about what they mean. Assuming we think we understand what has been said, we do not usually follow up with a series of 49 questions, delve significantly into the background of the person who's saying whatever was said, try to find out what kind of day that person is having that might have colored the remark, etc. We take most of it at face value. And if you think about it, there's no other way to go about living one's life in a functional, realistic sense. In the case at hand, I thought Glater's remarks were pretty unambiguous. You can read them for yourself in the pieces linked above, and in SHAM, page 227, along with some helpful context.

Finally, there is Glater's observation that her theories are "my theories, not yours to 'borrow' so that you can publish a book, give lectures, and rant on your public blogspace," etc. Of everything she wrote, I gave the most thought to that line; if ever there were a case where it seemed doubtful that someone could mean what she said, this was it. But is there another way to read it? Can she seriously be arguing that the only person who enjoys license to talk about Selina I. Glater, and characterize the work of same, is Selina I. Glater? I guess I'm therefore to assume that in her own work in the field of mental health, Glater makes no mention of such key figures as Freud, Jung, and Rollo May, since "their theories are their theories." I must also assume that she doesn't believe in book reviews (where writers presume to interpret the work of another writer), analysis of major presidential speeches (where pundits are characterizing and contextualizing the prez's remarks), and so forth. One would also expect a learned person like Glater, with so many letters following her name, to be familiar with the doctrine of fair use. Or maybe not.

Here in the real world, when you put your ideas “out there,” you run the risk of having others comment on and, yes, shred them. You make yourself fair game. (Lord knows people have felt no qualms about doing that to me and SHAM.) Read 'em and weep, Selina.

* This seems perfectly ethical and reasonable to me, inasmuch as Ms. Glater obviously intended her remark for publication in this blog.
** the title of my NRO piece.
*** Note to those who would just love to interpret that as a kind of poor man's Michael Richards meltdown: I mean it on an individual basis. Individual men and women are not created equal, no matter what the Declaration says. I am not referring to racial or gender differences, here—though science may one day convincingly demonstrate those, too, for all we know.


Rodger said...

You reinforce a key point in writing, journalism and the research that supports such works as SHAM and others -- fair use.

And I see no harm in commenting in the market place of ideas, because that's all they really are, one person's perception -- his take -- on a particular issue. In fact, that's good and healthy. Otherwise how would we learn about different viewpoints, weigh them and create our own based on the information available.

I'l like to challenge you source to opening her own discourse in the marketplace of ideas and start her own blog -- maybe she has. I don't know.

Rodger said...

On The Rights To Feel Empowered...

Being empowered is one thing. Feeling empowered and having no power is totally different.

To me, empowerment seems to be a misunderstanding of the freedom we have in our society. We are free to do certain things and laws restrain us from doing other things.

Whether that is the law of imperfect men running an imperfect government or the physical law of nature, we are empowered in so far as nature and other men allow.

So, we can test our boundaries, realizing, however, that some boundaries can and will be extended -- those we can counted as successes in our lives. Other boundaries will to great for us to break or extend -- those might be considered our failures.

The point is, a healthy balance of success tempered with a healthy dose of failure keeps us humble in our efforts to live out life. Understanding that both are character building, and failures more so than successes, might lead us back to a more realistic understanding of what it means to be human.

Matt said...

"Selina I. Glater, MA, RMT, CPRP San Francisco Bay Area"

What are those acronyms?

MA could be almost anything, so if anyone knows...

An RMT could be (and I've found actual references for): Registered Massage Therapist, Reiki Master Teacher, or Registered Music Therapist. Do we know which of these she is?

CPRP I can't find much on other than this page:

And if the CPRP is meant to modify the San Fransisco Bay Area in her title, then I guess she's a Certified Park and Recreation Professional, but why that's relevent to her work in mental health is a question for me.

I have no such titles, although I was once a member of the Radio Shack Battery Club, so I'd like to be know henceforth as:

Matt Dick, RSBC

Anonymous said...

Dear Steve:

Yes, I understand the concept of "fair use." Now, could you please stop referring to me as an "activist." If you must refer to me at all (and for that I should feel some degree of pride that someone out there is listening to my ideas), please refer to me as the advocate that I am. "Activism," in my book, still seems somewhat too closely related to concepts such as social and civil unrest. I have never advocated either one of the above. In point of fact, I advocate working together towards system change. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.


Selina I. Glater, MA, RMT, CPRP
Bay Area, California

Anonymous said...

Rodger, you make some very good points here--especially about empowerment and the potential for empowerment from our failures. For surely we can learn a great deal from failure, and just as surely, wisdom is the ultimate empowerment!

Rodger said...

Wisdom is the ultimate of empowerment. Without wisdom -- and let's distinguish wisdom as a life-long process of understanding the world and how one fits into it -- empowerment is powerless.

I don't think that our successes as such give us the learning experiences that build our wisdom, but our failures do. They make us stop and take note, to think, and to step back from the world and try to figure out what exactly went wrong to create such failures.

Our successes, no doubt, make us feel good because we've accomplished something -- but do we stop and step back from our accomplishments and analyze what exactly went right and why? No.

There is something to say for both -- what do you guys think?

Anonymous said...

Hello again Steve, (and answer also directed to Matt):

Matt Dick questioned the "alphabet soup" after my name. As to my credentials:

The MA is just that - Master of Arts Degree - a graduate degree

RMT - refers to Registered Music Therapist - a post graduate program that includes academic work in mental health as well as clinical work in the use of music as therapy

CPRP - this credential stands for Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practitioner - a credential that I earned after many years of work in psychiatric rehabilitation

Hope this helps to clarify things!

Selina I. Glater
San Francisco Bay Area

Anonymous said...

RMT is not a post graduate program; an MMT is (Masters in Music Therapy).