Note: For simplicity we are now going to use abbreviations for the quadrants in this section - eg. UL for Upper Left.
1. Over reliance on the Lower Right (ITS)– structures/systems
Here are two examples of this:
i. Liberal/left leaning politicians and those committed to equality who want to eradicate poverty but who only consider lower-right objective conditions such as the labour market, the benefit system, training schemes and the material basis of deprivation and poverty. Their analysis is important and relevant but one-sided. In thinking about change traditionally this perspective has tended to ignore -
+ the contribution of culture (local and mass media engendered consumerism) LL
+ the importance of relationships LL
+the impact of role models UL and LL
+the psychological dimension such as the contribution individual's feelings of self-efficacy and optimism can make in transcending poverty UL
+child-rearing practices which effect the development of cognitive, social and emotional skills and the ability to acquire new skills UR
ii. Those in many walks of life – politics, trade unions, charities –committed to social change who continually stress the importance of structural change (LR) and ignore their own role in the process (UL and UR). As Ghandi once said 'BE the change you seek'. This refers to both making internal psychological changes (UL) as well as behaving in a new way (UR) – a way which is consistent with the changes sought. How many times have we seen examples of trade unions or progressive consultancies being the worst employers?
2. A reliance of the Upper Right (IT) which denies subjective feelings as evidence
A scientific/academic way of viewing the world which only values the right hand quadrants, thus downplaying the importance and relevance of individual, subjective experience. For example, individuals who are ill may say that they feel better if a nurse holds their hand or supports their emotional, not just their physical needs. But scientists and academics will often scoff at such feelings unless they have been supported by 'scientific evidence' – often placebo, controlled trials.
Even the great sceptic Ben Goldacre makes a similar point in one of his Guardian columns arguing that brain imaging is now being used as 'proof' of various types of human experience – low sexual libido, relief of pain or the pleasure derived from eating fatty foods. In other words, people can say that they have little sexual desire, their pain has gone or eating food containing fat gives them a feeling of pleasure but this is discounted unless there is hard scientific (UR) evidence. On the subject of acupuncture's impact on pain (now proven thanks to brain imaging) Goldacre writes:
The reality, of course, is much simpler: for your own personal experience of pain, which is all that matters, if you say that your pain is relieved then your pain is relieved (and I wish good luck to any doctor who tells his patient their pain has gone, when it hasn't, just because some magical scan says it has). (1)
3. An exaggerated emphasis on the Upper Left (I) and personal psychology and a concomitant marginalisation of physical, cultural or structural realities
Here are two different examples of this -
i. Organisational consultants who work with staff to improve morale and motivation but who only deal with psychological (or sometimes cultural – LL – as well) factors. Thus they deal only with team interactions, personal motivations, optimism and the like but ignore topics such as working hours and the physical environment which negatively effects individual well-being. They may also ignore system/structural factors such as pay scale, reward system, hierarchical decision-making and the like which also have a profound effect on morale.
ii. Figures such as Louise Hay who are so intent on arguing that that people's illness and lives are merely a reflection of their personal psychology that they deny the relevance of the real, tangible world. In Hay's own words: 'No matter what the problem is, our experiences are just outer effects of inner thoughts' - a quote you will find on thousands of personal development sites on the web. According to this perspectives, illness results from emotional, not physical causes.
Of course, there is truth in such a perspective – emotional factors contribute to our health and can result in illness. Negative, pessimistic thoughts, for example, may weaken the immune system. But illness is also caused by genetics, bacteria, viruses, toxins and diet (UR). Again psychological factors can make an important contribution to recovery but it is easy to overstate this if you simply view illness as a manifestation of a person's interior world.
One worrying effect of this trend towards seeing illnesses through the lens of the Upper Left quadrant is that is makes the sick person responsible for their illnesses. Secondly, it discourages us from looking critically at the objective factors which contribute to disease. In the USA where the Louise Hay school is most dominant – particularly in relation to breast cancer – there has not been a strong campaign asking why they have the highest cancer rate in the world: a rate that some argue is linked to their particular system of genetically modified food. (3)
4. An exaggerated emphasis on subjectivity – both LL (we) and UL (I) – and a complete dismissal of UR (It) and LR (ITS)
This is similar to the last example but in this instance it does not come from a particularly psychological perspective but from people involved in cultural studies or those academics who have been influenced by post-modernism. This is not a tiny group as these ideas, as we shall see, have permeated our education systems and other areas of public life.
What is of concern here is that this perspective can easily lead to the argument that there are no such thing as 'facts' and nothing we can call 'objective truth' – everything in life is based on interpretation. In other words, upholders of this view often argue that all reality is constructed.
Of course, it has been helpful for post-modernist thinkers to point out the inherent biases in philosophical thought or history – ie that it has been constructed or developed by bourgeois, white males and so has inherent biases. But this viewpoint can be so overdone that we lose any sense of external reality. In such a subjective world science is held in contempt and there is no such thing as objective laws governing the universe. According to this perspective all values are relative and nothing can be judged better than anything else as it depends on the subject's perspective. What's more since subjectivity rules supreme, all opinions are equally valid and valuable - a perspective which plays down the value of expertise and knowledge.
This all leads to moral relativism, demoralisation, narcissism and 'dumbing down' – a trend we can indeed see in modern education systems.
1. Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, 30 October 2010.
3. For a great analysis of this see former food analyst Robyn O'Brien's TED talk