The thinning of the psyche

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The thinning of the psyche

Post  VicarJoe on Wed Jun 24, 2009 1:02 pm

Some comments by Theodore Dalrymple during a recent symposium:

We seem to live in highly individualistic societies, but societies without much individuality. (Individualism and individuality are very different.) No doubt there are many reasons for this. One of the things that strikes me about people nowadays is how little they like to be alone, at least alone without any stimulation from electronic apparatus. We cannot be in a bar, an airport, a store, a railway station, and in some cases a bus or train without having stimuli poured into us as if we were too fragile for our own thoughts and had to be entertained 100 per cent of the time. A high proportion of homes have televisions or computers constantly illuminated, often several at once. Young people now cannot bear silence; it makes them nervous, confronting them with their own thoughts. But a capacity to bear silence, and even a desire for it, are necessary for concentration, contemplation, reflection and probably for creativity.

Social pressures to conform to demotic tastes are, paradoxically in an age of mass bohemianisation, very strong, much stronger than, say, 50 years ago, which is thought to have been an age of conformity. In the name of diversity and the freedom of the individual, uniformity develops. That is why the spread of tattooing is an interesting phenomenon. People try to establish themselves as individuals by having a tattoo of a butterfly on, say, their left buttock.

The cult of celebrity is important here. Most celebrities are pretty mediocre, perhaps with one talent. What is important is the combination of glamour and banality. In the cult of celebrity, ordinary people worship themselves. Unfortunately, the glamorous nature of life conferred by celebrity renders ordinary but perfectly honorable and indeed essential occupations a wound to the ego.

As for psychiatry, I think there are two aspects of it that have done damage. The first is psychotherapy in the debased version that has entered popular culture. This has resulted in psychobabble, which consists largely of talking about oneself without revealing anything of oneself, and as a substitute for genuine self-examination. If psychobabble is indulged in for too long, it actually empties the mind and character of real content.

The second aspect is DSMIII and DSMIV. In trying to become more scientific by operationalising its definitions, psychiatry has become terribly thin. It is as if psychiatry had automata for patients. The definition of depression in the DSM, for example, empties life of all meaning and consists simply of a checklist. The DSMs are to psychiatry what behaviourism was to psychology. I do not think it is necessary to be a Freudian to criticise this dehumanising trend.

If you read the 19th Century French psychiatrists, say, and then a current textbook, you will see that for all our technical sophistication, a great deal of real understanding has been lost.

* * *

In fact, the inducement of an awareness of one's status as a victim, by virtue of having suffered almost any kind of distressing event, seems to me one of the no doubt unintended effects of the spread of psychological, psychiatric and psychoanalytical ways of thinking into the general culture. All judgment, said Doctor Johnson, is comparative; but the intense focus on the self, rather than on the world, deprives one of any ability to judge, to put one's own sufferings or disgruntlements into any kind of perspective.

* * *

I would like to protest at the idea of self-esteem being a positive quality. It is not. It is solipsistic and antisocial. Criminals are full of it. I think we should, as people living in a civilized society, talk of self-respect, which is a social quality, rather than self-esteem, which is purely narcissistic.

Finally, what is to be done? Cultural processes are complex and not easily prescribed. I think it is important that we should have an understanding that human existence has frustrations built into it, or, as Keats puts it, Ay, in the very temple of delight/Veiled melancholy has her sovran shrine. Mature people do not expect to be happy all the time, to go from high to high without interruption. I think we have lost this appreciation, but it cannot be taught like arithmetical tables can be taught. So I think intellectuals have a lot to do to try to help people to a more realistic view of life's possibilities.

* * *

It is a fact that far more British children live with a television in their room than with a biological father in the household. This strikes me as truly appalling. It is hardly surprising in the circumstances that children come to regard material objects as indicators of well-being, from which the more intelligent of them will deduce that a lack of equality in material objects is a sign of great injustice.

So the ultimate problem, I suppose, is the absence of love in people's lives.

THE symposium can be read at: http://www.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=32194
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VicarJoe

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Wow Joe he is good,

Post  Thereforeiam on Wed Jun 24, 2009 2:14 pm

articulate and understandable although I (predictably) had to look up a word or two. What he perceives seems to support some of your points that you've made a few times over the past year about the deteriorating mindset of the last two generations. I hopefully will have time tonight to read the whole discussion. Are you game for a few questions on this later?
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Totally game

Post  VicarJoe on Wed Jun 24, 2009 2:20 pm

I barely reviewed it myself, but I liked what I saw in the skim and so cut and pasted it here, since AFan had brought up Dalrymple earlier.

I always find his ideas to be two things at once: surprising and obvious. A paradox. But my reaction is always, "of course!" and "wow, that goes against everything I've heard before."

I heard someone recently suggest that Dalrymple is the best essayist since Samuel Johnson, which is a bit bold, to say the least! This is apparently just him talking off the cuff, reacting to what others just said.
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Two things that caught my eye...

Post  stihl on Wed Jun 24, 2009 3:17 pm

...in what you posted.

Self-esteem verus self-respect. The difference being, with self-repsect you must measure yourself against an objective standard. We know how popular objective standards are today.

The other thing was the tatoo. I know lots of women that have gotten tatoos (from 20 to 60+), the depths of their personalities and confictions all seem about the same depth as a tatoo. tongue
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