Saturday, 5 January 2008

Missionary Zeal

Madeleine Bunting's 'Book of the Week' article on Oliver James' follow-up to 'Affluenza' in today's Guardian Review section is more like a polemic than a review.

As past references (Link, 4th from last paragraph) as well as today's article demonstrate, Bunting is a fully paid-up believer in the affluenza theory. Her article is unrelentingly positive towards the book, 'The Selfish Capitalist: The Origins Of Affluenza' (Link). I haven't yet read the book, but if as claimed in the article James wrote the follow-up to "reinforce his case with intellectual rigour", Bunting neglects to put across how. What actual data she does mention is more of the same as in the first book, and the same counterarguments and caveats apply to it.

What she instead uses most of the space allotted to this piece to do exemplifies the argument I made in my post on this topic two days ago (Link). On Thursday I said: "Far too many people are taking 'Affluenza' far too seriously...The affluenza concept sits very well indeed with large swathes of the political left".

Madeleine Bunting falls squarely into that category, and 'the affluenza concept' sits very well indeed with her. The entire piece is written as though 'affluenza' were accepted fact as gravity (in fact at the end she compares it with the discovery that smoking harms health). Picking out a particularly shining example is difficult - the article is entirely uncritical and entirely devoid of consideration of alternative explanations. Try this for size:

"...James is charting the new frontiers in psychology which have the potential to be the most significant indictment yet of the form of market capitalism which has held sway across the English speaking world for the past generation." - Madeleine Bunting
I guess there's no rule that reviews have to be fair and balanced, but is it really too much to ask that a book like this be reviewed with a modicum of objectivity, rather than by someone with such obvious vested interests!

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