Marriages, Shack-Ups, and Other Disasters: How Choice Pollution Has Screwed Us All Up . By Kurt Meyer. Book Surge Publishing. 228 pages. $16.99.
There is perhaps no greater buzzword in the culture of modernity than "choice." The freedom to choose is joined by similar outworn clichés like "diversity" and "open-mindedness" as the philological foundation for our self-centered society. But with all the choices comes chaos. The sheer volume of lifestyle options available in today's culture is gnawing away at social stability and wrecking the social network. Thus argues psychologist Kurt Meyer in his book Marriages, Shack-Ups, and Other Disasters: How Choice Pollution Has Screwed Us All Up.
Meyer gives a brief overview of how all the modern lifestyle options slowly evolved. The world's traditional religions, primarily Catholicism, had governed social norms up until the Enlightenment. The twin revolutions of the late 18th century in France and in the U.S. placed man's ability to chart his own destiny ahead of the old mores. Society still retained certain traditional underpinnings until the social revolution of the 1960s spawned an array of new lifestyle choices and launched the "anything-goes agenda."
Today, anything goes. Meyer counts no less than eight different modern lifestyle groupings, from the individualist to the socialist, from the technocrat to the Christian. Along with choosing one's lifestyle comes the perceived need to choose one's own reality. "Today's reality is loaded with so many possibilities that make it virtually impossible to stay on top of all the choices," Meyer writes. And with this new privately chosen reality comes an increase in self-righteousness, as people seek to impose their own versions of reality on others. The author lists five different fallacies that corrupt these private realities. Ironically, one of them is a "false lack of choice." Meyer shows how individuals become obsessed with having to get what is highly advertised and popular, and consequently lose the very "freedom to choose" that they once exalted so highly.
Having laid out the societal problem in the first part of the book, the second part of Marriages, Shack-Ups, and Other Disasters deals with the tools to start repairing one's social network. The excess of lifestyle choices has made it harder for people to interact with one another, and Meyer offers tips for conflict-management. He describes a technique called "Verbatim Therapy," which involves finding the emotional as well as the objective truth of a situation and opening the lines of dialogue. Meyer also instructs readers not to avoid conflict, citing a plaque on his desk that states, "The only way around a problem is through it." Avoiding a problem means suppressing anger, and suppressed anger will eventually find its expression, though often in unpredictable circumstances. Catholic readers might see in Meyer's advice the need to take up the Cross of life's small problems and "go through" their own mini-Calvarys in order to find real peace.
The author goes on to lay the groundwork for building strong relationships and minces no words in his embrace of the traditional family with a stay-at-home mother: "Nothing has been designed to improve on this arrangement." He also critiques homosexual parenting, noting the difficulty of children in such an environment learning proper sex roles in a normal relationship.
The final chapters of Meyer's book include intriguing dialogues based on his concept of Verbatim Therapy. Meyers offers ten different examples of couples fighting over a variety of issues. At key points in the argument the author inserts a "reality check." Then the confrontation resumes with each party presumably a little wiser. A few of the topics are obviously geared toward the yuppie culture, such as the burning debate over whether a wife can get her own Lexus, or a San Francisco Bay Area couple battling it out over the purchase of a marble fountain for the yard. But even within these examples there are useful tidbits for conflict-management, and other examples address issues more pertinent for traditional Catholics.
Meyer's book focuses on dealing with reality as it is rather than attempting to change it. Yet one can't help but see the story of the Tower of Babel play out in its pages. Modernity, having turned away from God and the Church, is left with so many different lifestyles that no one speaks the same tongue anymore. The ideas contained in Marriages, Shack-Ups and Other Disasters won't reverse that problem, but they can make coping with the fallout a little bit easier.
This article was originally published in the December 2008 edition of New Oxford Review.