Enough About You

A pioneering social critic’s prophetic take on the narcissism pandemic


| May-June 2011


When Christopher Lasch’s landmark book The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations was first published in 1979, narcissism was not a term with much popular currency. The book played a large role in changing that, and in the decades since its publication the wide-ranging cultural critique at its core has been embraced by conservatives and liberals alike. While there are sections of The Culture of Narcissism that now seem dated—or at least a product of their time—much of the material in the original edition is so spot-on and even prophetic that it could have been written this year. What follows is a general sampling of particularly timely or prescient passages from a book that has become a sort of Silent Spring of America’s psychological journey inward. —The Editors

 

This book describes a way of life that is dying—the culture of competitive individualism, which in its decadence has carried the logic of individualism to the extreme of a war of all against all, the pursuit of happiness to the dead end of a narcissistic preoccupation with the self.

Economic man . . . has given way to the psychological man of our times—the final product of bourgeois individualism. The new narcissist is haunted not by guilt but by anxiety. His sexual attitudes are permissive rather than puritanical, even though his emancipation from ancient taboos brings him no sexual peace. He extols cooperation and teamwork while harboring deeply antisocial impulses. He praises respect for rules and regulations in the secret belief that they do not apply to himself. Acquisitive in the sense that his cravings have no limits, he does not accumulate goods and provisions against the future, in the manner of the acquisitive individualist of 19th-century political economy, but demands immediate gratification and lives in a state of restless, perpetually unsatisfied desire.



 

Storm warnings, portents, hints of catastrophe haunt our times. The Nazi holocaust, the threat of nuclear annihilation, the depletion of natural resources, well-founded predictions of ecological disaster have fulfilled poetic prophecy, giving concrete historical substance to the nightmare, or death wish, that avant-garde artists were the first to express. Impending disaster has become an everyday concern, so commonplace and familiar that nobody any longer gives much thought to how disaster might be averted. People busy themselves instead with survival strategies, measures designed to prolong their own lives, or programs guaranteed to ensure good health and peace of mind.

john d
4/29/2011 11:14:17 AM

Problem is,societies arent homogeneous, so while Lasch provides a narrative of the sucked-in caste, he doesnt document others, ignoring his own context as well.Its a wierd book, ive been looking at it since the 70`s...how does he get this acute sense of the narcissistic but through the introspection he sees as symmptomatic? Its like a bitch about his ex-lover, with the tone of one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse."narcissist" is such a buzz word in the cynicism he exudes yet decries and succeeds in making the tragicaslly un-hip guilty.If Narcissus was doing it in whatever BCE, well its not modern is it?..."taking refuge in jokes" is he serious? how deeply jaded and humourless can one get? Theres no room at this Inn...he decries both the symptoms and the remedies...definitely commissioned by the Illuminati haha.


R Cree
4/19/2011 8:16:55 PM

We can't "...accept the banality of our existence." We aren't religious enough to follow the distorted and manipulating rules of the controlling elites. We don't have any faith since we don't have faith the the controlling religions. We don't acknowledge that "...there is a job to be done." ERGO, we must be narcissistic. BS, this article is one more piece of distortion by the controlling elites to shame us, control us and deceive us. Shame on you UTNE for putting this garbage on the web. I want to be free of these controlling asshole elites. I am not self absorbed--I am learning to survive without them, without their control systems, their economics. I am not going to hear their BS anymore. If they through their mouthpieces like UTNE Reader and their intellectuals want to call me narcissistic--that is fine, but you are wrong, you are out of touch and clueless to what is really happening to the masses on Main street.


LINDA EATENSON
4/19/2011 9:00:20 AM

The author omits the fact that narcissism is a condition considered normal for infants and adolescents. In other words, we're failing to grow up. Our economy wants us to have the impulse control of babies and the insecurities of horny teenagers. It's profitable. It wants us to be "independent" in the sense of not learning from others, not sharing, not cooperating, and not exercising skills of critical thinking and skepticism, again because it's profitable. If we are to survive and progress, we have to look at a bigger picture than just our recent individualism or our current narcissisism: there are many lessons to be learned from earlier, simpler societies. Having been a therapist for 35+ years, I know it's possible, although challenging, to accept responsibilities and be content.















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