About the Book
Man Against Myth- Review
Dunham was born on October 10, 1905, in Mount Holly Township, New Jersey into a Philadelphia family with progressive leanings. His maternal grandfather had commanded a regiment of freed slaves in the Civil War, and his father James Henry Dunham was a Presbyterian minister who resigned his ministry in 1912, when Barrows was seven years old, because his study of philosophy and science, begun in the 1880s and 90s at the then College of New Jersey and at the University of Berlin, led him ultimately to disbelieve in supernatural religion. He took a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania in 1913 and went on to become a professor and dean at Temple University, where his son would eventually come to teach as well.
Called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities on February 27, 1953, Dunham refused to answer any of the questions posed to him, providing only his name, date of birth, and birthplace. He invoked his Fifth Amendment constitutional privilege against self-incrimination in response to all further questions. The choice to defy the Committee so early in his testimony was a direct by-product of successful criminal prosecutions against prior witnesses (such as the Hollywood Ten) who had declined to answer based upon the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech and association and others who had answered some questions about themselves but unsuccessfully asserted the Fifth Amendment privilege as a basis to decline to provide information about others.As a result of his refusal to cooperate with the Committee, Dunham was immediately suspended by Temple University. He was fired on September 23, 1953 for supposed “intellectual arrogance” and “obvious contempt of Congress.” Congress formally cited him for contempt on May 11, 1954. He was criminally tried in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in October 1955 and acquitted. Temple University did not reinstate Dr. Dunham, and he was blacklisted from academic employment for fourteen years, until he received a visiting professorship at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work in 1971. Temple University was censured by the American Association of University Professors for its treatment of Dunham.
It is an instructive, amusing and courageous book whose success is most desirable in public interest.
Review from Goodreads:
In the foreword, the author writes –Dunham was a trained philosopher who felt a responsibility to use philosophy as an instrument for conversation, as a way to help citizens notice and examine the ideas that help or hinder us. The book wields a pin, with enjoyable wit, and pops a number of social myths that have, all the same, endured long after Mr. Dunham.
Myths about human nature, wealth and poverty, racism, the ethic of selfishness, and many more are explored and released in puffs of humor and reason. More importantly, it is an amiable demonstration of the way social myths, unexplored, amass themselves and conceal unambiguous truths about the social arrangements that divide and oppress human beings.
In his own words, introducing the 1962 edition:
“Every one of the myths in this volume has been used, directly or indirectly, to palliate, to excuse, or to justify human slaughter — the violent extinction, that is to say, not of hundreds of men but of millions. The refutation and abandonment of these myths has thus become necessary to the survival of our race. In so dangerous an epoch of history, one will feel less a civilized Voltairean joy in the extirpation of error than an ardent and hastening wish to save mankind, so far as intellect can save it, by plain exposition of the truth.”
Intellect cannot ‘save’ mankind. The most beautiful and cogent explanation of a myth does not stop the masses from embracing it. This is especially true in an era where, politically, the notion of a consensus reality has been dispensed with, and it is considered part of our politics to choose your own reality. (Dunham does have a chapter on the myth that “thinking makes it so,” yet one wonders what he would make of our media culture.)
Until there is a willingness and a courage to try viewing things more as they are, and to learn how to see past our own filters, the mythologizing endures. Precious few are really interested in waking up, and opening up the can of worms of how to use insight and compassion in the world humans have made.
Sadly, Dunham is not here to help us pierce the myth that we can have an infinitely expanding economy on a planet of finite resources. That may be the myth that finally threatens our existence, or exposes us at least to a large reduction of population