Professor Bill Epstein recently retired from UNLV with a glum perspective on the future.
“I hope I’m wrong. I don’t think so,” he told State of Nevada.
Epstein, who spent nearly 30 years at the university as an urban affairs professor, sees fissures growing in American society as it treats deep problems like income inequality with Band-Aids.
That theme runs through Epstein’s latest, and 10th, book, “Soothing Fictions: The Social Clinic in the United States.”
In it, he faults what he calls the social clinic — the talk therapy structure that underpins many social service efforts such as drug courts and marriage counseling.
“It substitutes for material care, and there is absolutely no evidence that any form of talk therapy is successful,” he said. “And thus it is a soothing fiction of social concern.”
He said psychotherapy works to re-enforce social values and one of the most important is that people invent themselves and therefore are responsible solely for themselves.
Epstein believes it re-enforces the idea that people who are the bottom rung of the class system deserve to be there because that is how they invented themselves.
However, Epstein said, in reality, people are a reflection of their environment.
“The soothing fiction is that people invent themselves. The reality is is that the environment does,” he said.
Epstein said society has rejected the idea of investing in the population to get the desirable outcome of well educated and well-paid people.
“We’ve become immensely wealthy but we haven’t shared our wealth with our own people,” he said.
The professor says the country hasn't shared itself wealth in terms of wages but also in terms of access to "critical social institutions" like education, health care and mental health care.
Bill Epstein, retired professor, UNLV
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