Some of The Where and Why of New Wave Psychology
I invented New Wave Psychology in 1979. I was a graduate student in the Psychology Department at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. I was studying Social Psychology--the scientific approach to building a fact-based understanding of human social interaction. My goal was to become a college professor or researcher who would contribute to building this understanding...and with this understanding, create a better human world.
An event that stimulated the notion that "playing around" with creating art and fashion, rituals and games might be a way to learn about culture. During the spring winter and spring of 1977, I was studying to take my Ph.D. comprehensive exams in Social Psychology. I had already learned and in many ways "mastered" the various social science experimental methodologies for studying humans and their cognitive and social activities. I believed that these scientific methodologies had great potential for advancing human understanding of humans. I had begun conducting my own social psychological research program and presenting research papers at professional conferences. I was an enthusiastic supporter and believer in this relatively new approach to understanding ourselves. All we needed to do was apply these methods and we would surely develop a sound, objective and useful theory of human psychology, social interaction, and culture--instead of the bits and pieces of opinions, folk wisdom, and ideologies that humans had been relying on since before Plato. With a careful application of these approaches we would finally really understand who we are...and begin to make even greater progress toward creating a better world for ourselves. Studying for the comprehensive exams in Social Psychology required me to look at the entire body of knowledge of what social psychologists had been able to learn during the last forty years since beginning to apply these methods. I was stressed out by all the material I needed to read for these comprehensive exams...and at the same time chagrinned at how little we seemed to have really learned. I began to worry that maybe the experimental, scientific approach to understanding humans wasn't up to the task...that even with sophisticated experimental designs and analyses, we were essentially always the blind man feeling a small spot on an elephant and trying to describe what it was. And in the middle of all this stress and doubt, one of my roommates, Chris Butler, encouraged me to go see this interesting band/art/performance project called "DEVO." It sounded interesting, I liked to drink and hang out at the bars, so it didn't take much. Seeing "DEVO" really had a big effect on me: here were a bunch of former Kent State Art students who had put together this weird, industrial-sounding band, wore yellow-chemical jump suits on stage, and moved around and talked in an odd manner. My roommate Chris had already told me that they were basing this band/project on the notion that evolution was actually going backwards--a cynical attitude that humans and human civilization was actually getting "worse," going backwards, de-evolving (thus "devo"). When I first saw them they already had a small local following and there were people in the audience that were dressing and acting in accordance with this Devo project. In short, I stood there, in the midst of studying for my comprehensive exams for a Ph.D. in social psychology, and felt like this group of goofing-around artist-musicians must actually know more than I did about culture and human interaction because they had actually created their own little "sub culture"--complete with music, fashion, aesthetics, "religion," language, and rituals--and I (and the social sciences) were no where close to understanding enough to be able to do anything like this. And to top it off, I thought whatever they were doing was really fucking "cool." I perceived what DEVO was doing as being a legitimate "hand-on" approach to understanding culture--if you can create a completely artificial sub-culture and getting it growing in the real world, then you have achieved a practical and applied understanding of the phenomenon of human social interaction and culture.