Category: Reviews

Man’s Search for Meaning

A Meaningful Book Review

Available at Amazon.com

Lightness Traveling, at Luminous Aether, recommended this book to me a few weeks ago. I rarely follow anyone’s book recommendations, because I hate to read. But the moon was in its 7th House, and Jupiter was aligned with Mars, so I went ahead and ordered this disquisition from Amazon, for a mere $10.

I bought the paperback version, for that fresh, printed smell, as my doctor has advised me that sniffing glue has damaged my health. But for those who prefer it, Amazon does offer a Kindle edition.

I thought it was a good read, worthy of the long, meaningful review that follows. But if you hate to read as much as me, I’ve broken it up into sections, to be consumed in digestible bits and pieces.

First Impressions

Man’s Search for Meaning is a self-help book translated and published for America in the 1950s, and authored by famed Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor E. Frankl. I’ve wondered if Lightness Traveling thinks I need a psychiatrist. I can’t argue, so everyday after my conversation with the tree in our front yard, and my morning toe-twiddling exercises, I opened up this book, seeking the counsel of Dr. Frankl.

Surviving the Holocaust

Frankl was a concentration camp survivor, of World War II. The first 60% of his book details his two-and-a-half years in Auschwitz, and a few other camps. It describes how he and a small percentage of other inmates managed to survive, and explains why most other prisoners perished.

This makes it an unusual recounting of the Holocaust. Most accounts get into all the general horrors, of which we’re already very much aware. But Frankl details the everyday experience of camp life. The little things that contributed to both misery and relief. And most importantly, he gets into the mindset needed in order to survive the hell of life in a concentration camp.

He recommends this mindset for all occasions, and not just the dire circumstances of his camp life. And this is why his book is a self-help book. He maintains that his methods for surviving Auschwitz can be transferred to any situation.

According to Frankl, the mindset needed for survival is that of meaning. When one has found a meaning for their life, one has the motivation to face the brutal challenges life may throw at them, and slog it out day after day, with happy determination, in order to fulfill their goal in life.

And speaking of happiness, Frankl contends that happiness is something that cannot be found by those seeking after it. He argues that happiness must ensue, rather than be pursued. And he claims it ensues naturally, when we pursue a cause greater than ourselves, rather than by directly pursuing happiness for ourselves.

Logotherapy

The final 40% of the book covers the subject of Logotherapy. This is a form of psychotherapy developed by Dr. Frankl for the treatment of neuroses. Basically, Frankl believes that all neuroses can be traced to an inadequate response to our need for meaning. Logotherapy aims to direct patients toward finding meaning to their lives, and a meaning that is adequate to survive any crisis.

Not knowing one’s meaning for life is not the cause of neurosis, according to Frankl. In fact, he asserts that it is very natural to search for meaning, while not yet knowing what the meaning is. It’s when we formulate our meaning around things that can be easily lost, or when we abandon the search for meaning altogether, that neurosis and self-destructive behavior begins.

Frankl observed that most prisoners in his concentration camp languished over the loss of their status, families, careers, and possessions. All of these things had given their lives meaning, and the loss of these things left them devastated and dispirited. Those who were unable to find new meaning, especially meaning to the loss and suffering they were currently experiencing, were those most likely to give up on life, and quickly succumb.

But if you are dedicated to a cause larger than yourself, something that cannot be stripped from you by Nazis, misfortune, or any other external force, then you will not lose spirit. You will fight on with passion in your heart and determination in your soul. This will not only afford you the best chance for survival, but even if you perish, you will perish with dignity, satisfaction, and peace, knowing that you tried your hardest and gave your best effort.

My Assessment

I agree with much of Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy. He presented this therapy as counterpoise to Freud’s psychoanalysis, and Adler’s psychodynamic therapy. Although he held these two psychologists in high regard, he offered an approach to neurosis that was very different from their approaches.

To me, it’s refreshing to have such a choice. Crazy as I may be, I’ve never tried any of these therapeutic routes. But if I thought I needed one, or more likely, was forced to choose one, I’d first seek out a psychiatrist who practices Logotherapy. That’s because, according to Dr. Frankl, many of his patients exhibited significant improvement within just a few sessions.

On the other hand, psychoanalysis can require decades of weekly therapeutic sessions, and thus can be extremely expensive. Psychodynamic therapy can also be time-consuming and expensive. And I’m an impatient, cheap bastard. So I’d try Logotherapy first, just for the savings in time and money.

But also, Logotherapy dovetails with my own philosophy of Unikonics, Unicorniks, Chasing Unicorns, or whatever the hell I call it. Logotherapy asserts that happiness ensues from the pursuit of something other than happiness, such as a cause greater than oneself.

I say something similar. When you chase unicorns, you’re not chasing happiness. Instead, you’re chasing unique experiences. Happiness ensues from this chase, especially if you catch the damned, elusive, one-horned creature. But it ensues as an automatic by-product. Happiness isn’t the object of your pursuit, but it ensues as a result of your pursuit.

There are many ways to chase uniqueness, including reading a book like Frankl’s, going to the theater, taking a vacation to a far-off land, hearing a good joke, shopping for something new, caring for an exotic houseplant, reading the news, going on a hike, and dining out. That’s just to name a few examples. There are zillions more.

Arguably, many of these pursuits do not seem to be for causes bigger than oneself. For instance, how can going to the theater be a cause bigger than you? Thus, although it can leave one feeling happy, it’s usually only for a brief time. That’s because unique experiences can only remain unique for a short period of time, before the newness wears off.

And so, one must go off and chase more unicorns, if one wants to continue being happy. The good thing about this is that there will always be new unicorns to chase. And that’s because life is constantly changing. Life involves a continuous cycle of new replacing old. Or to put it another way, unicorns are horny creatures, constantly breeding and multiplying.

Viewed from that perspective, the chasing of unicorns really is a cause bigger than oneself. After all, the changeable nature of our universe is much bigger than the individual. Enjoying the change and uniqueness it constantly has to offer, helps us to live full lives. And the fuller we live our lives, the more we have to offer everyone else.

So in my view, Frankl and I have similar philosophies. We’re birds of a feather. Peas in a pod. Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum.

Parting Ways

But not entirely. Rollo May was a famous psychologist who was also one of Frankl’s biggest critics. He argued that Frankl’s plain solution to all of life’s problems, undermined the complexity of human life.

I have to agree. Here I part ways with Frankl, and side with the May way. So long, Tweedle-dee!

Life is very complex. Adhering to a meaning of life that you might cook up, or that someone might suggest to you, leaves you limited and inflexible. It oversimplifies the way we find happiness, and prevents us from adjusting and adapting to the complex ways that our lives constantly change.

Uniqueness, including the uniqueness of a great cause, can’t be pursued in the same way every time. We have to mix it up. We have to keep our minds open to new possibilities. We must be willing to explore, and seek unique each and every day, from all the complex opportunities available to us.

There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Viktor, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

For instance, when we dedicate ourselves to a cause bigger than ourselves, there is a danger that the cause will deteriorate into the bland, stultifying torture of duty and obligation. It’s like being hired onto a new job. At first the job may be very exciting, and every day we may be motivated to go to work with a beginner’s eagerness to learn and explore. Our work ethic becomes impeccable.

But after awhile the job becomes old hat. We grow bored. And then the only reason we show up to work is to fulfill our duty to put in our time, and then pay our bills responsibly.

I believe duty and obligation to causes bigger than us, are not all they’re cracked up to be. Not when taken to extreme. Consider this:

Frankl had a golden opportunity to flee his native Austria, before being arrested by the Nazis. A visa awaited him at the American Consulate in Vienna. But he turned down this opportunity, because he wanted to follow the biblical commandment of honoring his father and mother. A cause greater than himself. He did not want to leave them alone, at the mercy of the Nazis.

And yet, his parents were overjoyed that this visa was being offered. They wanted to see their son escape and have the opportunity for a long life. Why dampen their joy? Why not let them go to their inevitable deaths in the concentration camps with the happy thought that their son was safe? After all, there was nothing he could have done to save them.

Not only that, but his pregnant wife was also arrested. She could have escaped to America with him, but instead was immediately sent to the crematoriums of Bergen-Belsen. Thus, his decision to follow this “cause greater than himself” cost the lives of his wife and unborn child, and nearly cost him his own life.

This is the disaster of duty and obligation, when taken to an extreme. It becomes an odious burden that endangers not only oneself, but others. Our ability to survive in this world depends upon the same thing as our ability to be happy. We must keep our minds open wide to change, and new ways of thinking. We must be willing to forsake a cause greater than ourselves for new causes greater than ourselves, that make more sense and lead ourselves and others away from harm, rather than toward it.

And so, when we find our meaning of life–our motivation to fulfill a cause bigger than ourselves–it’s helpful to pursue this cause with the understanding that the happiness or safety derived from it will only be temporary. And after the luster wears off, or after it becomes unsafe, it’s wise to move on to a new cause. Or at the very least, modify the cause, to find new ways to enjoy it, and to survive it.

Conclusion

Frankl’s book ends with a Postscript entitled, The Case for a Tragic Optimism. It is 18 pages long, beginning with page 141, and is based upon a lecture he gave in 1983. On page 144, the words turned into “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” and I fell asleep. It was all a lot of intellectual psychobabble, as far as I was concerned.

I woke up in the Afterword, so actually the Postscript was just the beginning of the end. The Afterword included some stats about the book, and a short biography of Frankl’s life, which I found interesting.

Man’s Search for Meaning was a groundbreaking book in the field of psychology, back in the 1950s, changing psychology forever. And many people welcomed this change, because by 2006 the book had sold more than 12 million copies and had been translated into 24 different languages. It’s a very popular book, an enduring classic that has stood the test of time.

Quite a few readers have reported being cured from their neuroses, simply by reading the book. Frankl coined this as “autobibliotherapy.” It speaks to the power this book possesses in potentially changing a reader’s life. I recommend it to anyone who is going through difficult times, or who is seeking a way out of the depression and misery that comes from perceiving life as meaningless.

I also recommend this book for those interested in the Holocaust, or who enjoy World War II history. I found it fascinating to learn the everyday details and psychology of life in a concentration camp.

Viktor Frankl died in 1997, at the age of 92. I think he lived such a long life, due to both his healthy psychological outlook, as well as to a great deal of luck. And I think it can be argued that in spite of his years, or partly even because of his years in a concentration camp, his was a rich and full life. He figured out how to make the most of his experience while a prisoner, and also of his life after his liberation.

There is no doubt in my mind that his life was meaningful.

Planet of the Humans


Stolen Quote:
We’re kind of like cockroaches on the planet, and no matter how much damage we’ll do, enough of us will survive to procreate and keep it going. ~ unidentified woman, interviewed in the documentary film, Planet of the Humans.


Planet of the Humans is a documentary that was executive produced by ultra-liberal and self-avowed socialist Michael Moore. It’s surprising that this documentary was produced by such a liberal, because it turns the environmental movement on its head. It exposes hypocrisy and a disturbing fraud facilitated by the darlings of green energy.

These darlings include former Vice-President Al Gore, Bill McKibben (founder of the environmental movement, 350.org), Van Jones (CNN commentator and Barack Obama’s Special Advisor for Green Jobs), Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, and the Sierra Club. Planet of the Humans takes these leaders to task, inferring corruption, especially for their support or promotion of biomass as a form of green energy.

Biomass, or biofuel, energy often involves the widespread clear-cutting of forests in order to generate electricity through the burning of wood. The film claims that the fossil fuel consumed cutting down forests and hauling logs to “green” energy power plants, could instead be used for generating electricity, and would produce as much electricity as the biomass power plants produce themselves.

The film also points out that burning wood pollutes the air with carbon dioxide, about as much as burning coal. And that aside, we also need our forests in our fight against climate change.

Wood isn’t the only questionable biofuel. The film shows a gruesome clip of whole cows being tossed into an animal shredding machine, which helps to render fat from the cows, for the production of biomass animal fat. And ethanol takes a hit, because it comes from farm crops, such as corn, that require fossil fuels to raise, harvest, and transport.

Biomass is portrayed by the film as a fraud perpetrated upon the American and worldwide public for the purpose of profiting from lucrative government subsidies. When we think of biomass, we think of green energy, environmental friendliness, and the saving of our planet, and so we don’t mind the subsidies provided to big businesses that utilize biomass. But this form of renewable energy apparently does far more harm to our planet than good, according to Moore’s documentary.

What is Moore disturbing (get the pun?), is that we now have hundreds of biomass power plants scattered throughout our country, and many Moore worldwide. For instance, Germany has been praised for its progress at producing green, renewable energy, and yet the film depressingly points out that most of this energy is from biomass.

Planet of the Humans also takes on solar and wind energy. It shows the huge amount of environmental destruction required to construct vast fields of solar panels and wind turbines. And it points out the amount of destructive mining required to harvest rare earth minerals and other raw materials needed for constructing solar panels and wind turbines. And back to the efficiency question, the film suggests that the fossil fuel required to produce solar and wind energy materials might be more efficiently used just generating electricity by itself.

Planet of the Humans was cynically released on Earth Day, April 22nd of this year. It’s been met by a withering barrage of criticism from many environmentalists. Apparently, they don’t like their sacred cows to be tipped. Some have accused Michael Moore of playing into the hands of Big Oil. And many have accused the film of inaccuracies and spin.

Actually there does seem to be some spin and distortion of facts in this documentary. Not a great amount, in my view, but some. On the whole, I’ve found the documentary to be thought-provoking. I’ve often wondered just how much bullshit pervades the environmental movement.

For instance, our local trash company uses two different garbage trucks to pick up trash. One is for non-recylables and the other for recyclables. It’s my understanding that most of the “recyclables” don’t actually get recycled. Instead, they end up at the dump. But consider how much extra fossil fuel is used to power two different diesel-guzzling garbage trucks, to do the job of one.

I was a letter carrier for several years at the Palm Springs, California post office. All of our mail trucks sported a bumper sticker that read, “Powered by clean, natural gas.” A lie. They were all powered by regular ol’ gasoline. The engines had been modified so that we could use natural gas if we wanted, but we never did.

It seems that all you have to do to make something environmentally acceptable to the general public, is slap a green sticker on it. It’s called greenwash, and I suspect it’s far more pervasive than most people imagine. Planet of the Humans has done much to uncover this fraud, even if it might exaggerate the problem to some extent.

Planet of the Humans was recently pulled from YouTube, citing an alleged copyright infringement. This so-called copyright infringement involves the unauthorized use of a 4-second clip, shot by a photographer who disagrees with the documentary. Michael Moore has justified using this 4-second clip as falling under the Fair Use Doctrine, and has accused YouTube of blatant censorship.

But the website, Gizmodo, has hailed YouTube’s decision, lambasting Planet of the Humans as “garbage”. Garbage or not, Rotten Tomatoes has thus far given the film a 64% score.

This documentary seems intended to point out that it’s futile to try to save our way of life through renewable energy. It argues that the only way to prevent a mass die-off of the human species is to vastly reduce the amount of humans occupying our planet. But the film doesn’t specify how to accomplish such population control, and this leads to accusations from critics of suggesting eugenics and ecofascism.

But I think Planet of the Humans does a fairly decent job making its overall point. I felt sad and alarmed while watching this documentary. But I also appreciate the courage of Michael Moore for risking brickbats from his liberal peers, while exposing hypocrisy and fraud in the environmental movement.

You can watch the full, 100-minute movie for free, until the end of June, at this website: https://planetofthehumans.com/

The Odessa Chronicles

I’ve been aware of The Odessa Chronicles for several years, thanks to the incessant, shameless plugging by its authors, Carolyn Shelton (joyroses13.wordpress.com) and Colin Chappell (meandray.com). They follow my blog, and I follow theirs. And if you’ve ever followed our comments, you may have noticed how much we sometimes antagonize each other. It’s all in good fun, but whew, it sure gets dicey at times.

My impression from their plugs was that The Odessa Chronicles was an apologue of talking animals that teaches moral lessons. So I was resistant to read it, as there’s a rebel in me that I enjoy harboring. Moral lessons are anathema to us rebels.

But in an idle moment of insanity, I took a look at their book on Amazon and decided to give it a go. But hell, I wasn’t about to fork over 25 bucks for the hardcover edition. And the paperback version isn’t much cheaper. So I ended up shelling out $4.99 for the Kindle version, which I read on my PC.

The first thing I noticed was that the writing was highly polished, flowed smoothly, and captivated my attention. This surprised me, as Carolyn’s blog posts, while fun to read, tend to contain technical errors, misspells, and head-scratchers. I wondered, did Carolyn write the rough, while Colin applied the sandpaper? I suspect that was at least partially the case.

I’m pretty sure Colin wrote the owl character’s lines, though, for they often involve the owl humorously correcting everyone’s use of the English language, with punctilious perspicacity. That’s pure Colin.

And the book indicates that Colin wrote at least a few other chapters, such as Odessa’s Journey. The fact that Colin had a strong influence in the making of this book, gave me hope that it would contain a definitive ending. Which it did. Sort of.

There are 48 chapters, counting the Introduction, and most chapters required only a few minutes to read, even for a slow reader like me. A few chapters were rather long, but they were broken down into parts. I appreciated this, as it was very considerate of my short attention span.

The first four chapters, after the Introduction, introduce the characters, who are Jaxon (a Jackalope), Odessa (an owl), Dewey (a cat), and Joshua Jeremiah Jonathan Jackson Pebblestone, aka the Man-Servant (a human being).

Jaxon, the Jackalope, has magical powers, and makes it possible for all four characters to communicate with each other. Dewey the cat takes advantage of this, and starts ordering Joshua around, finally giving him the nickname, Man-Servant.

Jaxon, Odessa, Dewey, and the Man-Servant decide to call themselves the Four Adventurers. They live on a farm, called Moonbeam Farm, where most of their adventures occur. Here they come to life, as the authors insightfully paint their characters with depth and feeling. By the middle of the book I sensed that I had come to know them well, and could regard them as my fictional friends.

Many of their adventures involve the animals pulling practical jokes on the man-servant, and the man-servant getting his revenge by japing them back.

The authors lace lessons on life into the adventures, often in humorous ways. I got quite a few chuckles, and this made the dreaded moral lessons easier to swallow.

While swallowing, here’s a few things I learned for my moral edification:

  • If you pull a practical joke on someone, expect one to be pulled on you (The Roof Top Incident).
  • Just reading about something, such as riding a bicycle, does not make you an expert on it (The Bicycle Adventure).
  • Don’t agree to do something without knowing what’s involved (Brave Dewey).
  • Be clear and logical in the way you communicate (the many dialogues with Odessa the Owl).
  • Don’t play in cardboard boxes sitting by the side of the road (The Cardboard Boxes!).
  • Don’t interfere with elections (The Greenwoods Election!).
  • Give gifts that the receiver will appreciate, and not necessarily the giver (Dewey’s Gift-Giving Day).
  • Don’t use magic to harm others (Dewey goes on a “Ride”).
  • Do as you say you are going to do (The Spirit From The North).
  • Don’t cheat at gambling (The Horse Race).
  • Follow your heart and comfort those who need comforting (Dewey and Jaxon Follow Their Hearts).
  • It doesn’t always have to be summer. You can have fun any time of the year. (The Trouble With Fall).
  • Not everyone likes, nor should eat, a Fluffernutter sandwich (The Picnic Lunch).
  • Unicorns are real, and can cure you of the blues (The Dewey Blues).
  • When you pull a joke on someone, think it through thoroughly, first, to make sure they don’t get hurt (A Snowy Day Adventure).
  • Sometimes you can have the best adventures in your own backyard, and they don’t even have to be planned (A Snowy Day Adventure).

A touching and suspenseful adventure (Odessa’s Journey) takes place about a third of the way into the book, where the owl, Odessa, leaves Moonbeam Farm to find some meaning to her life. This tale is broken down into 4 parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 3. Yes, that’s right, there are two Part 3’s. This is one of the few technical glitches I found in the book. I don’t like to be nitpicky, but since Odessa the Owl can be very particular and exacting, I think it’s only fitting for me, too, as the reader and reviewer.

There are bizarre moments, such as when the adventurers meet two seagulls named Bob One and Bob Two (The Odessa Odyssey). When addressed together, they ask to be referred to as Bob Three, since One plus Two equals Three. Although Bob Twelve could also work. Think about it.

This is a long book, by my aversion-to-reading standards, sort of reminding me of War and Peace. No, nothing is that long. The real problem is, I read slowly. But the chapters are self-contained adventures, so it was easy to digest it piecemeal, while gradually working my way through, over the course of a few weeks.

Colin is Canadian, and Carolyn is a lady of the States. Together, they have reached across an international border and conspired to write a classic. I loved the book. They tout it as a book for children of all ages, so perhaps I’m betraying my low maturity level. But I think it’s a good read.

The Odessa Chronicles is available for sale, on Amazon. You can click this link to learn more.

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