Sunday, July 20, 2008

Learned Optimism

The psychologist and author, Dr. Martin Seligman, has recently been the subject of fierce criticism for having given a lecture on the subject of torture and interrogation in 2002 at the naval base in San Diego. In Jane Meyer's new book "The Dark Side" the author charges Seligman with collaborating with the government, by providing information useful in planning the interrogation of terror suspects.

Seligman is the author of "Learned Optimism" - a wonderful book that explains much about the nature of optimism and its power in our lives. It is hard for me to believe that an author whose writing in this instance was so hopeful, helpful and humane could be complicit in the use of torture.

Seligman claims that the purpose of his lecture was to provide US servicemen and women with insights that might help them to withstand harsh interrogation, and not to offer advice on how to torture others.

I am keen to read Jane Meyer's book, but I see no reason to reject Seligman's defense. There are, to be sure, many villains in the story of America's 21st century war crimes. A Truth Commission should be established to examine the record and bring an honest close to this ugly chapter in our history. But let us be fair to people in the process. It will bring no cleansing if we follow one witch hunt with another.

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