Sunday, 13 November 2016

Book review: The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch, 1979

The Culture of Narcissism posits that when we tumble forth from the bliss-like satisfaction of the womb into the cold hard world, where not all of our needs are satisfied, we develop the capacity for anxiety; and that because the modern advertising industry keeps us in a state of constant desire, and because the bureaucratic nature of modern life makes us feel, and indeed often makes us in fact, helpless to act in many of the ways we wish to, we're not able to achieve or be satisfied with the minor victories that ought to be all we need to live fulfilling lives; and that we've therefore become creatures of anxiety and narcissism (as defined by psychotherapy as opposed to general usage) who vacillate between feelings of implausible entitlement and bewildered, depressed dissatisfaction; and that we therefore need to build a system of education and government that empowers people rather than swaddling and failing them.

Which is all pretty fucking good. Sadly it's mixed up with a fair dollop of Freudian codswallop about Oedipal complexes and castration fantasies and all that guff, but if you can hold your nose through that nonsense there's a great deal to like.

Too much to quote, in fact, although one turn of phrase in particular I thought was magnificent:

"Since the society has no future, it makes sense to live only for the moment [...] to become connoisseurs of our own decadence."

If that's not the perfect description for our modern inclination to do things like down 14 pints, vomit in our own lap and then brag about it to our friends, I'm a mongoose.

It's also highly pertinent to our recent fondness for voting for ludicrous quick fixes to complex problems, as I've written about here.

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