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I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help Paperback – March 31, 1993

3.8 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Kaminer takes witty potshots at the omnipresent self-help programs and authors that are giving psychotherapists a run for their money.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From the Inside Flap

"If a Nobel Prize were awarded for clarity and sanity in a world gone mad, Wendy Kaminer would be on her way to Stockholm." -- Newsday

Anyone who's ever wondered why talking about addiction has become so fashionable, shuddered on hearing an "adult child" compare his upbringing with the Holocaust, or felt that admitting one's powerlessness is a frightening prospect for a participatory democracy will be delighted by this bracingly outspoken and intelligent work of social criticism.

Whether she is infiltrating twelve-step meetings and codependency workshops or evaluating the claims of gurus from Shirley MacLaine to M. Scott Peck, Wendy Kaminer deftly diagnoses a national movement (and multi-million-dollar industry) with a strong tendency toward authoritarianism, a cult of victimhood, and a nasty streak of covert religiosity.

Controversial, original, and brilliantly reasoned, I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional changes the way we think about self-help -- and helps us to think for ourselves.

"Explores...the ominous effect of all this institutionalized whining on our culture and politics...an incisive and provocative argument." -- Washington Post

"Extremely witty...Ms. Kaminer has a real gift for honing her anger to an epigrammatic edge....We can make good use of [her] skepticism."

-- The New York Times Book Review


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 180 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Printing edition (March 31, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679745858
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679745853
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #225,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
One reason why Kaminer's book is so excellent is that she doesn't limit herself to the product of obvious flakes such as Werner Erhard and Shirley MacLaine but also goes after stuff taken seriously by millions of folks who are otherwise intelligent and reasonable -- books such as *The Road Less Traveled* and *People of the Lie*. Kaminer shows how their content, when it's not merely vapid, is wrong or even dangerous.
Here's Kaminer on "discipline" and the power of evil, or rather on their description in *Road* and *Lie*:
"'With total discipline we can solve all problems,' [Peck] promises in the opening pages ... and discipline itself is only a 'system of techniques.' As for evil, it is 'strangely ineffective as a social force,' which would surprise anyone who has even heard of genocide...."
And now more on evil and discipline, from *Lie*. (Yes, evil -- which you'll remember is "strangely ineffective as a social force" and thus perhaps is of less concern to Peck's devotees than to the rest of us.)
"Peck defines evil as 'the unsubmitted will ... it's almost tempting to think that the problem of evil lies in the will itself ..." There are only two states of being: submission to God and goodness or the refusal to submit to anything beyond one's own will -- which refusal automatically enslaves one to the forces of evil. Ultimately, the only good thing you can will is willingness.
"Liberals, romantics, and any student of totalitarianism may find this chilling. There is surely enough recent historical evidence associating submission, not independence of will, with enslavement to evil. In their eagerness to submit, not everyone can distinguish God from the devil."
Bravo Wendy Kaminer!
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Format: Paperback
If, like me, you've been simultaneously fascinated and appalled by the wares of the "self-help" or "psychology" sections of your local bookstore (or ubiquitous cyberbookstore), you'll enjoy seeing it dissected and skewered by Wendy Kaminer, the rare person to have applied her brain to this stuff (and someone who has even attended a variety of [fill in this blank] Anonymous meetings and other non-events).
Nowhere does Kaminer deny that actual people get seriously screwed up by abusive parents, booze, dope, etc. What dismays her are the lack of perspective and the rejection of any use of a critical intelligence. What worries her are the tendencies of the therapists, gurus and quacks to reinforce and play on the helplessness of their paying customers.
Kaminer is surprisingly generous to people whose activities she finds generally obnoxious, for example conceding that the most moronic TV shows occasionally illuminate real problems. This is an even-handed book from a writer who refreshingly says at the start:
"I have only opinions and ideas; so although I imagine myself engaging in a dialogue with my readers, I don't imagine that we constitute a fellowship, based on shared experiences. Nor do I pretend to love my readers, any more than they love me and countless other strangers."
It's a sad state of affairs when a writer feels compelled to say something this obvious.
Many people will be dismayed by Kaminer's principled refusal to provide platitudinous or trite answers to the problems (real or imagined) of the day. They'll be happier with such opuscules as *Seven Habits of Highly Effective People*. Of this book, Kaminer asks, "what are the seven habits?
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Format: Paperback
There are at least two types of eloquence: one is stating the case in a manner that those already in agreement will applaud, and the other is arguing persuasively. Kaminer's book has been hailed for its exhortations and wit by foes of the "self-help" movement, whatever that is exactly. Fans of the books that she criticizes are undoubtably outraged. The skeptical will be unimpressed.

The irony is, one of Kaminer's chief complaints about the somewhat ill-defined self-help movement is that it blunts our critical thinking: she wants a nation of critical thinkers who won't analyze this book too closely. Kaminer doesn't offer any analytical evidence of how the self-help movement actually affects our society, she merely utters extremely vague warnings" "imagine the effect ... ." Nor does she have much evidence as to how people typically use self-help: a reader might gain useful insights without letting the book rule their life or joining a cult around the author. The "self-help movement" is a phrase that is tossed around a great deal, but what is Kaminer actually referring to? Any book that lumps together Norman Vincent Peale, Wicca, Alcoholics Anonymous and M. Scott Peck is covering a lot of ground. (It has never occurred to me to think of Wicca as a "self-help movement"; I guess Kaminer just doesn't like it and decided to throw it in for good measure.) All of philosophy and theology could be thrown into such a broad categorization. It would have been better if Kaminer had stuck to specific criticisms of specific books instead of trying to generalize about such a variety of works.

Kaminer's main arguments are two - one is that if you agree with her, the two of you will share the pleasure of sneering smugly at others.
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