Books Proteus Read in August 2019

Here’s something new I’m going to be doing on the blog. Every month at the end of the month, I’m going to make a dedicated post for reviewing every book I read that month. Those reviews then get posted to my page of short book reviews. Simple enough.


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He: Understanding Masculine Psychology by Robert A. Johnson:

Rating: 4/10

A man must consent to look to a foolish, innocent, adolescent part of himself for his cure. The inner fool is the only one who can touch his Fisher King wound.” A book by Jungian psychologist Robert A. Johnson exploring masculine psychology, primarily through the the Camelot myth. It starts off with an interesting discussion of childhood psychological wounds (the “Fisher King” wound) before getting bogged down by weird interpretations (not to mention unsupported assertions and free-association) of old meanings of words, comparative mythology, and numbers. This really put into perspective what I find frustrating about Jungianism: lots of interesting concepts, but too often it relies so heavily on myth and interpretation that it eventually gives up on logic or rules of evidence.

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The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden:

Rating: 9/10

“The tragedy of many people’s lives is that they look for self-esteem in every direction except within, and so they fail in their search. The ultimate source of self-esteem is, and can only be, internal. In what we do, not what others do. When we seek in the externals, we invite tragedy.” Psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden explores the nature of self-esteem, its two key foundations, and the six pillars for building and supporting self-esteem. In addition, he covers external factors that can affect self-esteem, such as parents, teachers, workplaces, religion, and the relationship between self-esteem and tribalism. You don’t have to agree with Branden’s libertarian politics to appreciate the message: you are enough, you have the right to exist, and you have value. For me the best part of this book wasn’t just the content, but the fact that the content echoed a lot of other great books I’ve read (especially Models by Mark Manson). If you’ve ever struggled with self-esteem, confidence, or self-love, I highly recommend this book.

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Way of the Superior Man by David Deida:

Rating: 6/10

“As long as life continues, the creative challenge is to tussle, play, and make love with the present moment while giving your unique gift.” A book about sexual polarity between men and women, and how to become a spiritually aware superior man. I have mixed thoughts. On the one hand, there are some interesting ideas, mirroring other books I’ve read, and I can see why this was recommended to me. On the other hand, this book is far more spiritual and poetic/flowery than books I usually read. Plus there are some parts that are just… weird. Parts where you’ll go “Huh? Where’d that come from?” or “Why is he even talking about that?” With all that said, here’s my overall take: if you’re a man interested in relationships with feminine women, there’s going to be some value for you, even if some parts are kind of weird (I’d also suggest checking out Models by Mark Manson if you’re looking for rock solid men’s advice).

Tribalism and Self-Esteem: Excerpt from “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem” by Nathaniel Branden

This is an excerpt (or really three excerpts) from the book “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem” by Nathaniel Branden. If you’re like me, and you’re very disturbed by growing tribalism in America and other countries, you’ll find this interesting.

Throughout human history, most societies and cultures have been dominated by the tribal mentality. This was true in primitive times, in the Middle Ages, and in socialist (and some nonsocialist) countries in the twentieth century. Japan is a contemporary example of a nonsocialist nation still heavily tribal in its cultural orientation, although it may now be in the process of becoming less so.

The essence of the tribal mentality is that it makes the tribe as such the supreme good and denigrates the importance of the individual. It tends to view individuals as interchangeable units and to ignore or minimize the significance of differences between one human being and another. At its extreme, it sees the individual as hardly existing except in the network of tribal relationships; the individual by him- or herself is nothing.

Plato, the father of collectivism, captures the essence of this perspective in the Laws, when he states, “My law will be made with a general view of the best interests of society at large … as I rightly hold the single person and his affairs as of minor importance.” He speaks enthusiastically of “the habit of never so much as thinking to do one single act apart from one’s fellows, of making life, to the very uttermost, an unbroken concert, society, and community of all with all.” In ancient times, we think of this vision as embodied in the militaristic society of Sparta. In modern times, its monuments were Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Between the ancient and the modern, we think of the feudal civilization of the Middle Ages, in which each person was defined by his or her place in the social hierarchy, apart from which personal identity could hardly be said to exist.

Tribal societies can be totalitarian but they need not be. They can be relatively free. Control of the individual can be more cultural than political, although the political is always a factor. What I wish to point out here is that the tribal premise is intrinsically anti-self-esteem.

It is a premise and an orientation that disempowers the individual qua individual. Its implicit message is: You don’t count. By yourself, you are nothing. Only as part of us can you be something. Thus, any society, to the extent that it is dominated by the tribal premise, is inherently unsupportive of self-esteem and more: it is actively inimical. In such a society the individual is socialized to hold him- or herself in low esteem relative to the group. Self-assertiveness is suppressed (except through highly ritualized channels). Pride tends to be labeled a vice. Self-sacrifice is enjoined.”

One encounters the tribal mentality again in the technologically advanced society of George Orwell’s 1984, where the full power and authority of a totalitarian state is aimed at crushing the self-assertive individualism of romantic love. The contempt of twentieth-century dictatorships for a citizen’s desire to have “a personal life,” the characterization of such a desire as “petty bourgeois selfishness,” is too well known to require documentation. Modern dictatorships may have a better grasp of individuality than did primitive tribes, but the result is that the hostility is more virulent. When I attended the First International Conference on Self-Esteem in Norway in 1990, a Soviet scholar remarked, “As Americans, you can’t possibly grasp the extent to which the idea of self-esteem is absent in our country. It’s not understood. And if it were, it would be condemned as politically subversive.”

The United States of America is a culture with the greatest number of subcultures of any country in the world. It is a society characterized by an extraordinary diversity of values and beliefs in virtually every sphere of life. And yet, if we understand that we will be speaking only of dominant trends to which there are any number of countervailing forces, there is a sense in which we may legitimately speak of “American culture.”

What was so historically extraordinary about the creation of the United States of America was its conscious rejection of the tribal premise. The Declaration of Independence proclaimed the revolutionary doctrine of individual, inalienable rights and asserted that the government exists for the individual, not the individual for the government. Although our political leaders have betrayed this vision many ways and many times, it still contains the essence of what the abstraction-America-stands for. Freedom. Individualism. The right to the pursuit of happiness. Self-ownership. The individual as an end in him- or herself, not a means to the ends of others; not the property of family or church or state or society. These ideas were radical at the time they were proclaimed, and I do not believe they are fully understood or accepted yet; not by most people.”