Book Review: Talking to Crazy

Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life by Mark Goulston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


It’s sort of like a pop psych version of The Prince, but instead of manipulating snooty European nobles with “near truths” and tactical surrenders, you use it on coworkers and loved ones when they’re acting screwy.

Goulston gives examples of the various crazy people will act out in their day to day lives — focusing primarily on every day, garden variety crazy, not axe murderer crazy — and how to disarm it. Most of these disarmaments require a sacrifice of dignity. You’ll be flattering them unduly, you’ll be lying about their capability, you’ll be pretending they’re right or that you’re scared or something like that as a means of “leaning into their crazy” which gives you the leverage to frog-march them back into sanity.

He seems like an excellent psychiatrist, if duplicitous. I like the prospect of leaning into crazy. People get really embedded in delusional thinking, and to challenge that delusion challenges their whole self-concept, which feels like an attack not only on the individual, but on the whole foundation of the individual’s world. Burning it down and salting the earth. So when you try to talk somebody out of crazy, it feels like bombardment, and they’ll start deploying whatever weapons they have to stop what they perceive as your assault. And guess what? Those weapons? Real crazy.

Whereas, leaning into crazy, it’s like a trojan horse. They won’t realize you’re dragging them back into sanity until it’s too late, at which point they won’t be irrational anymore, which is the point.

Goulston’s methods are sketchy because yes, they are deliberately, premeditatedly manipulative. In that respect, it reads like a pick-up artist book. Here’s a list of canned responses and insight into the psychology of others to coax them into doing what you want. It’s just, in this case, doing what you want is “acting like a reasonable adult”, and I think that’s probably the greater good.




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Book Review: Your Brain on Nature

Your Brain On Nature: The Science of Nature's Influence on Your Health, Happiness and VitalityYour Brain On Nature: The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality by Eva M. Selhub

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From beginning to end, this book was an exercise in cognitive dissonance for me.

I’m a major proponent of the back-to-nature mentality, which I refer to as my “unga bunga bullshit” and inflict on my friends at every opportunity. So are this book’s authors, and they provided chapter after chapter of studies confirming my every bias. Even biases I didn’t know I had!

Shinrin-yoku, Japanese for “btfo in the woods”, improves your mental health on every conceivable level, including what aspects of it extend to the physical. Being around dogs, cats, fish, and hamsters do, too. Eating fewer Tastykakes and more fish reduces brain inflammation, linked to improvement in mood, lower depression symptom presentation, and increased cognitive functioning.

Wow! Turns out I was right about everything forever. To ameliorate any potential flagging in well-being, I self-prescribe a friendship dog and a big ol’ joint of roasted meat like in Conan. Join me in the shrub, my brethren.

“That’s not what cognitive dissonance means,” you may be saying. “Everything is great for you rn! Why you so stingy with those stars?”

Let me tell you, beloved reader. Although I’m functionally paleo, and I do consider hitting a tire with a sledgehammer to be cardio, I’m also a practician clinician who reads this shit recreationally and spent the last decade arguing with people on the internet. I know a thing or two about sourcing references.

Red Flag #1:
The writing wasn’t very good. This is excusable, but must be considered. Writing is hard, academic writing is agony, and you can’t expect a dry, scientific tome of this length to be an emotional roller-coaster the whole way through. What stuck out for me were word repetitions, slips in grammar, and clunky sentence construction. A good solid edit could have fixed all of this, but didn’t. Disconcerting.

Red Flag #2:
“For a chapter-by-chapter list of references used in this book, go to yourbrainonnature.com”.
What? Why?
I get that you used a lot of references, but removing your scientific backing and proof from your argument by additional degrees is incredibly suspicious.

I did track the references down, and they seem to be a pretty even divide between respectable sounding psych or anthropology(???) journals, and ambiguous horticultural journals no one’s ever heard of. Considering the authors, that makes sense, which brings us to our next red flag.

Red Flag #3:
Eva Selhub, MD, and Alan Logan, ND. What the hell is an ND, you may ask? I certainly did. It means “naturopathic doctor”, which is to say, not any kind of actual doctor. I tried to find more information on naturopathy thereafter and there were only two sources of information:
a) Naturopathic.org, which paints all NDs as physicians who became frustrated with the pharmaceutical industry and injecting children with autism vaccines so they went rogue, quit “conventional medicine”, and started prescribing essential oils
b) Wikipedia.org, which was essentially a 3000-word rendition of holding up a foghorn and yelling “QUAAAAAAAAAAACKS”

Red Flag #4:
Eva Selhub is very well-credentialed. She’s a for-real doctor of internal medicine, taught at Harvard Medical School for around 20 years, and served as Medical Director at Benson Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital for 6 years. She publishes often in medical journals and shows up on Dr. Oz. Despite being nearly 50, she still lookin’ kinda fresh doe. Nowadays she identifies as a “resiliency expert and executive coach” and is her own LLC, which is probably much more lucrative. The issue with lucrative is, most pyramid schemes tend to be, for the executive coach.

Red Flag #5:
An alarming number of medical quotes and excerpts throughout the book come from the 1700s to the early 1900s. This is intended to instill the “forgotten wisdom” motif, but we just stopped leeching people in the early 1900s.

None of these attempts to poison my own well necessarily detract from the suggestions made by the research, which boil down to “hanging out in the woods is better for your mental and physical health than playing Candy Crush 15 hours a day”. That’s a reasonable supposition. I’ve gotten through some more recent and less suspect books recently with data that points the same way — Digital Minimalism is a good one.

It’s an “I want to believe” situation. Everything seems to check out, but there’s a fishy smell under all this patchouli.

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