Living with Equals: An Individualist's Guide to Romantic and Emotional Happiness, by Jerry Klasman, New York: Delacorte, 1976, 141 pp., $6.95.
Psychuous Sex Guaranteed for Life by Using the Advanced Concepts of Romantic Love, by Frank Wallace, Wilmington, Delaware: I & O Publishing, 1976, 454 pp., $12.95 (paper).
Understanding Your Feelings and Emotions, by Paul Thomas Young, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1975, 192 pp., S7.95/S3.95.
Just like lemmings must go to sea, once in a long while practicing psychologists must dive into the mire of literature called "pop psychology"—that genre of book that translates the latest psychotherapeutic hocus-pocus into the formula for Happiness, Big Bucks, or the Girl(s) of your Dreams. A lot of these books make the bestseller lists, but this psychologist's latest excursion into what they are packaging for lay consumption concerns the three lesser-known books listed above. The first two deal with interpersonal relationships as they may occur across sexes. Young's Understanding concerns itself chiefly with defining emotions in scientifically "respectable" terms.
Klasman's Living makes an aggressive, though less than ambitious, attempt to help the reader define and redefine his or her perceptions of the interpersonal dynamics of romantic relationships. The book draws heavily from the author's own experiences as a therapist and owes a great deal of its conceptual underpinnings to Nathaniel Branden. In for heavy attack are the ideas of possession in a relationship, jealousy, monogamous relationships, and marriage.
The dismissal of marriage per se as a legitimate value, within 141 pages, would be a sizable accomplishment and a display of verbal economy, but between the covers of his book Klasman also finds time to introduce such new fangled concepts as "psychological laissez faire" and coercive and natural romantic monopolies and to define and debunk the bulk of Euro-American thought on what a romantic relationship is and what it should be. There's no denying that Living is highly engaging material and great fun to read. Nevertheless, the simplicity with which Klasman approaches certain central issues leads one to hope that he meant this work as a prelude to a more detailed dissertation on the subject or to believe (somewhat more pejoratively) that he holds a view of the human romantic condition that is critically oversimplified.
An example of this oversimplification is Klasman's characterization of jealousy as a remnant of a "poacher/predator" mentality. Here he asserts that feelings of jealousy are the net result of an attitude toward or perception of romantic partners as "possessions" and of other persons in the environment as threats—lurking to prey upon the relationship, to steal away feelings, attention, physical love, and the other sorts of attendant behaviors that are usually associated with romantic relationships. He suggests that the whole notion of possession must be scrapped before one can reasonably expect to experience long-lasting and successful relationships.
Although such an idea seems to have a ring of truth, Klasman never fully identifies how one goes about purging one's self—and indeed, one's partner—of this seemingly cancerous attitude. The closest he comes to this is to assert with characteristic firmness and brevity: "I realize this attitude (possession) began centuries ago in an age when venereal disease was epidemic and incurable. But the view persists today not in hygienic terms, but in moral terms. I sense that although the cult of virginity is in rapid decline and only a small percentage of people concern themselves with their lover's prior sexual history, the discovery that their lovers had sex elsewhere yesterday causes a considerable percentage to react as if the organs employed were no longer fit for human use—like rotten eggplant."
Does Klasman believe that the act of identifying for the reader (or client) what is the cause for such an attitude will in itself serve to convince him or her to abandon it? In fact, there is little evidence to show that identifying the supposed cause of a behavior, let alone an attitude, does much if anything to alter that behavior or attitude for the client. Also, it is questionable whether or not anthropologists, who make this sort of conjecture their business, would attribute as much import to the knowledge of how venereal diseases spread, regarding the phenomenon of possession, as they would to sex roles, the identification of progeny and lineage, inheritances, and other sociological matters. Either way, assuming that the elimination of the possession concept would enhance the probabilities of successful romantic relationships of long duration, he leaves us somewhat up in the air as to how one strips oneself, or the client, of this attitude.
Also, Klasman assumes that possession is an unnecessary outgrowth of romantic relationships, but he does not provide any clear evidence of this assertion. Perhaps ownership trips are a necessary or intrinsic part of romantic interpersonal relationships. Certainly there is enough evidence to suggest that this view is at least as plausible as the alternative that he puts forth. To wit, a romantic relationship can be behaviorally defined as a select series of actions that occur between two individuals, usually of the opposite sex, that are reserved for persons who choose to enter into that unique sort of interpersonal relationship. These actions include physical love, sharing of personal experiences and information, and certain sorts of intimacies that are not ordinarily made available to other sorts of acquaintances. Each of these actions takes up a degree of time. In that there is X amount of time for Y interactions with the romantic partner, the introduction of another person who relates to one's partner in a similarly romantic way greatly increases the probability that X (time available with one's partner) will be reduced to the detriment of Y (actual instances of interaction with one's partner). In this sense alone, a person who valued such interactions (Y) would display behaviors that are likened to protecting property. Moreover, in speaking, one will say, "My relationship with her…," or "Our relationship is…" Isn't it reasonable that a given person may try to protect his relationship—something he values—by insulating his partner from persons who may be perceived as having a vested interest in eroding that relationship in order to increase the probability of the growth and development of another?
Certainly, it is not suggested that these formulations harbor any more import or plausibility than the ones offered by Klasman. What is offered here is recognition of the fact that the idea of possession is not as crazy as Klasman would have us believe. Nor is it evident that it can easily, if at all, be purged from one's repertoire of responses toward a partner in a romantic interpersonal relationship.
Living has good points that far outweigh its bad ones. Its major flaw is the author's habit of comparing his propositions to paper tigers, as it were. Often, he strikes a dichotomy between what he views as ideal in a relationship and what might have been typical in relationships reminiscent of the 1950's era. Today, however, most persons experience relationships that fall somewhere between Klasman's Nirvana and the ultra-Chauvinism of the early to mid-20th century. Thus, choices for these persons are not quite as clear-cut and obvious as Klasman would have us believe. Despite the liberalized mores, it is difficult to dismiss your romantic partner's intimacy with another person.
Living is a fresh look at the human romantic condition. Its biggest virtue is its attempt to deal with romantic emotions in a rational and cognitive way—no one will get the impression from Living that "love is blind." It frames many concepts and redefines many attitudes in a way that can be of great use to the critical layman or practitioner when read in conjunction with other books and articles on the topic.
Frank R. Wallace, in Psychuous Sex etc., has produced a catalogue of sorts, all of it put together, one would assume, to guide Gullible Innocents—a population that is difficult to define, as will be mentioned later—through the jungle. At first glance, the reader is somewhat awed at the task that must have lain before Dr. Wallace. Closer scrutiny of the work is accompanied by the question, But what for?
Psychuous, according to the author, "is a new word that refers to any human activity that combines and integrates the rational mind with the emotional self…usually to achieve objective pleasures or happiness." He continues, "The word psychuous recognizes that no basic contradictions exist between the intellectual mind, the emotional mind and the physical body." In these views, obviously, Wallace takes a heavily Randian view.
The book in itself is a rather odd affair. A warning is attached to the cover that reminds the reader of the imperativeness of reading every word in the book—in order—so as to grasp the full meaning of what is being said, reviewed, rated, etc. Yet the pages are perforated so they can be torn out for at-home editing, rearranging, or whatever.
The book consists primarily of seven sections. Section one concerns itself mostly with the definitions of every word in the book's title. Section two contains "capsule summaries" of what are said to be "advanced concepts of romantic love"—ranging from universal sexual orientation, defined as "the importance of sex to one's total life," to penis limpness rate, a phenomenon hitherto unknown as measurable to the present writer. The third section, according to Wallace, "includes 113 book analyses covering the period from 2 B.C. to 1975 A.D." It provides elaborate codes to reveal whether any particular book is worth the reader's time and even calculates something called a "value minus error index," which is for Wallace's books what the Richter Scale is for earthquakes. Section Four, "The History of Love and Sex," claims to cover the span from 1300 B.C. to 2080 A.D., a rather remarkable achievement, even when one considers that the period between 1980 and 2080 is covered in little over a paragraph. The fifth section, "Common Concepts and 62 Fallacies about Sex and Love," seems the most useful in the book, simply listing statements about romantic thought, love, and sex and pairing each with what could be considered an Objectivist response. Section Six brings the reader to "146 Advanced Concepts of Romantic Love." Among other things, this section includes lists of fictional characters that appear in literature and in some of the author's works and that represent some of the concepts or their respective antitheses; excerpts from the author's other works, including his dissertation on the art of playing poker; and definitions of actual concepts. The final section includes letters of correspondence, pronunciation guides, bibliographic notes, a review, and a conclusion. In addition to all this, the better part of $13 will get you numerous tables, charts, indexes, tables of tables, and what have you.
Mr. Wallace has produced an extensive, but I dare say, eccentric work. It is hard to put a finger on its particular worth, however, let alone its marketability. Who would find use for an Objectivist assessment of all the literature that has occurred since pre-Christian times regarding sex, love, and romance? Those who are Objectivists would probably choose to make such assessments on their own. Non-Objectivists are not likely to lay out $12.95 to have such literature evaluated for them.
Perhaps Psychuous would be of greater worth if it underwent some extensive editing and style changes. Presently, it is written in an almost evangelical form, more reminiscent of a hard-sell insurance pamphlet than a scholarly work. Psychuous, as it presently exists, is a white elephant of questionable import and utility.
Paul Thomas Young's Understanding Your Feelings and Emotions is an easily read book that successfully straddles the void between popular reading and academic texts. It is written fluidly in the first person, the author sometimes including anecdotes from his own life to illustrate a point. The book is an attempt to amalgamate what is usually referred to as the scientific method and some definitions and formulations of affective human experiences, that is, emotions.
Young, in trying to appeal to a wide audience, covers a broad range of topics including perception, consciousness, facial expressions, pleasure, stress, relationships between mood and emotion, attitudes, anger, fear, love, hate, and the cause of such emotions. Competing theories regarding such affective behaviors are reviewed. The book presents a great deal of research in an entertaining and readable way and has 109 bibliographic entries, an unusually large amount for a popular book. Each chapter is preceded by a glossary of terms and their definitions.
The book is of particular import to those who have an interest in understanding and defining affective experiences in a nonsubjective, "scientific" manner. Not all of what Young does is unquestionable. He supports the notion that emotions are a "disturbed process or state" in the organism; for example, he calls the emotion of love "a disturbed emotional state." Such formulations fly in the face of the view that emotions are, or at least can be, natural extensions of cognitive processes. Young pays Freud more respect than modern psychology may want to afford him; he supports such concepts as "the unconscious" and attendant phenomena such as "Freudian slips" and what have you. A remark on page 143 would curl the hair of many REASON readers; under the heading "Social Changes and Problems," Young states that cooperation among humans is always superior to competition.
So there are problems. Nevertheless, Young has produced a comprehensive book that is rich in detail, research, and readability and takes a stab at an important area in psychology.
Mr. Barone works as an educational psychologist in southwestern Wisconsin.