Wednesday, January 26, 2005

I'm no psychologist (thank god), so maybe that seriously dents the credibility of my disagreement with Roy Baumeister's very scientific (apparently) conclusion that self-esteem is not really that helpful in life, and probably brings as much negative as positive consequence. More to say later, but I think he is really, seriously wrong, unless we concede the most shallow understanding of self-esteem. For one thing, why is it opposed to self-control and self-discipline and humility?

I know there are Article 19 readers that have thought and read more about this kind of thing than I have. What say you? I believe my opinion is borne less of the cultural brainwashing he suggests and more of direct observation and personal experience. But I guess making you think that is one of the powers of brainwashing. So I could yet be a victim.

But this seems right out of Lakoff's playbook for conservatives (not that I have reason to believe Baumeister is one): to portray self-esteem (a legitimating force from within) as weakness and lack of production, where self-control and self-discipline (taught, handed-down order from a legitimating authority from outside) are the opposite. I'm surprised Kevin Drum fell for it, though it sounds like his mother's fault (again, I'm no psychologist...).

Let me just say this for starters: I don't believe in giving students good grades that are undeserved just to boost their self-esteem. But, that's mostly because I don't believe that giving students undeserved good grades does in fact boost self-esteem. Since when did arrogance and misplaced confidence count as self-esteem? Those things sound more like what he's talking about. And of course they don't help. Can't we hold self-esteem up in a higher place? I do.

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