The psychologist Oliver James has for many years been a part of the cultural landscape, writing best-selling books, making television programmes, contributing articles to newspapers and generally offering his views. As a practicing psychotherapist of many years’ standing, he has good reason to believe that he has important insights to offer.
James is particularly exercised by the damage caused by casual emotional abuse – the explosive parent who shouts and swears at their kids, displays resentment against them or tries to coerce them into doing things instead of employing reason. No sensible person disagrees with him on this, and only a harsh critic would deny that James has played a strong and positive part in popularising these simple, important wisdoms.
That’s why it’s so very odd that James has chosen now to perpetrate casual emotional abuse on a grand scale. His latest book, Not in Your Genes: The Real Reason Parents Are Like Their Children, expands on an argument he’s been making for years: that there is no scientific basis for belief in the idea that there is any genetic element to any psychological trait. Even illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are completely down to the environment in which you grew up, not the complex interplay between nature and nurture that mainstream science espouses.
Even if James had conclusive evidence to back up his absolutist claim – which he does not –…