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Saturday, 23 October 2010

Review of They F*** You Up by Oliver James

Oliver James, in They F*** You Up, cites the lives of Prince Charles, Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Paula Yates, serial killers, victims of sexual abuse, and others, as examples of various personality traits and problems. In the process, he has written an accessible but scholarly treatise on the role of care, or its lack, in early childhood. His observations and quotes from various studies make a convincing case for the primary function of good parenting in raising children. He breaks down the process into periods of childhood and infancy and also describes how conscience, self-awareness and general mental well-being can be fostered by good and appropriate care from parents or carers. His ideas, backed up by the results of many studies and tests, make it clear that the role of genes in forming personality, conscience and the idea of ‘self’ is at best peripheral. Those who cite genetics as the major cause of crime, addiction, low performance, sexuality, depression and other mental illnesses are exposed as frauds or, at best, ill-informed commentators. Whilst our genes play a large part in making the human the animal he is, it is undoubtedly the type of parental care we receive from birth to age 6 that forms us into the adults we become.
Charles, Prince of Wales outside the White Hou...Image via WikipediaJames explains in great detail how personality traits are formed, and describes how early brain patterning can and does form individuals into certain types of adults. Whilst some of the damage done by inappropriate parenting can be modified, alleviated and even repaired, a great deal cannot be changed without huge effort.
What James is calling for with this book is nothing less than a complete overhaul of the way society treats children. That nurture, rather than nature (genes), is the driving force behind personality disorders, depression, disassociation, weak conscience, criminality and madness is no longer disputed by those who understand these matters thoroughly. Those who blame genes, and use this argument as a basis for social discrimination, are both fraudulent and hypocritical.
James suggests a different strategy for dealing with society’s problems and forecasts that a failure to adjust to such a system will inevitably increase the rates of violence, crime, injustice and insanity in our world. I am convinced by his cogent arguments and find myself looking at my fellow human beings with much greater respect, tolerance and understanding.
Alain De Botton urges all prospective parents to read They F*** You Up BEFORE embarking on the hazardous voyage of parenthood. I can only agree with this injunction.
If you are thinking of having children, please, for the sake of your offspring and the future of the human race, read this book FIRST. And, if you have already had your children, or wonder about your own early life and its effect on your personality, read this book as a way of understanding why you are who you are and your friends are who they are. It is a cathartic experience.

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