Being “Good” in “Bad” Places

Toward a Principled American Lifestyle
  • Robert W. Rieber
Part of the Path in Psychology book series (PATH)


The point of view that I have advocated throughout my analysis of the social distress of our times may be perceived by some to have certain irrefutably cynical overtones. In describing given psychosocial problems, I may seem to have reached some rather pessimistic conclusions. These might lead the reader to consider my evaluation of the current state of affairs to be a skeptical outlook, with bleak and dismal possibilities for the future.


Symbolic Structure Social Distress Pessimistic Conclusion Court Violence Modus Vivendi 
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  1. 1.
    As early as 1863 a booklet was anonymously published for popular consumption to warn the general public about the current humbuggery that had already become institutionalized within the culture. Most of it appears very much like the psychopathy of everyday life we encounter today. For example, the advertising, swindling, quacks, the subscription cons through the mail, how to make a quick fortune con, the gift business swindle, the lottery games, and the phoney drug con. See Humbug: A Look at Some Popular Impositions (New York: S.F. French, 1863). There is an interesting parallel to this nineteenth century example in the telemarketing scams in the early part of the 1990s.Google Scholar
  2. Over a hundred years later, in 1938, Joseph Jastrow, one of the original popularizers of psychology and already famous for his activity in exposing swindlers and the like, had this to say about the American national character: Plainly, the betrayal of intelligence extends far beyond adviseering and salesmanship. It enters into the temper and texture of the American way of thinking, our ideology. Much of our enterprise in commodities and ideas, in ponderables and imponderables, thrives in an atmosphere of betrayal. Under such hospitality, the industrial habit of mind is carried over deliberately, as well as by a subconscious momentum, into fields where its pressure creates havoc. The bull, suited to the pasture, wrecks the china shop. The great American fallacy consists in, and insists upon, running as a business what cannot be so managed without sacrificing intrinsic values, in making a business of pursuits dependent upon quite other loyalties, commonly called cultural. The box-office, the cash-register, the promoter are the money-changers in the modern temples. (J. Jastrow, The Betrayal of Intelligence [New York: Greenberg, 1938], p. 21).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Carl Zimmerman (C. Zimmerman, The Family of Tomorrow: The Cultural Crisis and the Way Out [New York: Harper Brothers, 1949]), in discussing the historical roots of the family and the invisible cultural worlds represented in Aristophanes classic The Clouds, presents this warning: “The confusion of the invisible cultural world lays an increasing strain upon the individual and causes the development of the psychopathic personality. The rise of the psychopathic personality is another symptom of the disintegration of the family,” (p. 68).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Baudrillard’s position regarding virtual reality and the media in principle is compatible with my point of view, although I do not necessarily agree with the details of his theory. See Jean Baudrillard “Virtual Illusion or the Automatic Writing of the World,” Theory, Culture, and Society, 12(4):48 (1995).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 4.
    R. J. Lifton, “Protean Man,” Archives of General Psychiatry, 24:298–304 (1971).PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 5.
    C. Geertz, Local Knowledge: Further Essays on Interpretive Anthropology (New York: Basic Books, 1983).Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Mary Douglas [How Institutions Think (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987)] also has some pertinent things to say regarding this principle: Institutions systematically direct individual memory and channel our perceptions compatible with the relations they authorize. They fix processes that are essentially dynamic, they hide their influence and they arouse our emotions to a standardized pitch on standardized issues... no wonder they easily recruit us into joining their narcissistic self-contemplation. Any problems we try to think about are automatically transformed into their own organizational problems... if the institution is one that depends on participation, it will reply to our frantic question “more participation!” If it is one that depends on authority it will only reply “more authority!” Institutions have the pathetic megalomania of the computer whose whole vision of the world is its own program. For us the hope of intellectual independence is to resist, the necessary first step in resistance is to understand how the institutional grip affects the mind of the individual.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    I am in complete agreement with Saxe when he states, “A kind of hysteria about dishonesty seems to have permeated our culture. Perhaps stimulated by pervasive mendacity, we are quick to call others liars and frauds.” Furthermore, Saxe believes that the need to encourage honesty is clearly pressing. Ways to reinforce honesty need to be found, perhaps even for individuals who have done despicable deeds. Society cannot function well with the massive dishonesty now evident, and increasing the penalties for dishonest behavior may only serve to create additional deception. The effects of rampant dishonesty, from a lack of confidence in governmental leaders to mistrust among colleagues and friends, can only have a corrosive impact on our public lives. (L. Saxe, “Lying: Thoughts of an Applied Social Psychologist,” American Psychologist 46(4):409–415)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert W. Rieber
    • 1
  1. 1.John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Graduate CenterCity University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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