Dave's Progress. Chapter 94: Get Over Yourself, or, The Blog- A Story of Self-Obsession.
I don't know whether it's me, but I have come to notice something of a trait in the blogs I sometimes read. Many of them are from that beautiful country that is America, or as F. Scott Fitzgerald once put it, the place where "man must have held his breath" when first surveying its vastness and beauty.
I find America a fascinating place- after all, it is home to most of the movies that I watch, the books I read, the television I routinely ingest. I would love to visit the place, and find its populace, from my own limited experience, to be a charming, friendly bunch. So, when it is that something goes awry with America, I feel it. Just, it seems, as the rest of the world feels it, or, as the old axiom goes, "when America catches a cold, we get the flu".
So you will forgive me for pointing out something that I feel is unhealthy in the American psyche of today, an unhealthiness that is indeed reflected in blog land, and that is, what I feel to be, a pernicious obsession with the self.
I can't think of many blogs from the land of the free and home of the brave, and, indeed, from my own country, that don't reflect this tendency. Almost everyone, it seems, has a "journey", and they are forever willing to tell us about it. The subject of the blogs often seems to be the authors themselves, their discontents and misfortunes and also their joys, but mostly their discontents. It is as if life, or the world at large, doesn't really exist, to the extent that, when someone once wrote a really interesting blog from America about politics and entertainment (and suggested that the two were inter-related), the said blogger actually gave up writing it, because no one actually read it. On the other hand, examining your nasal hair or belly-button fluff (metaphorically speaking) with endless reams of soul-searching and introspection seems endlessly fascinating to many.
Indeed, such writings seem to have their own language, and particular words have crept in to our own English idiom. Words like the above-mentioned, ubiquitous "journey". Or, for example, words like "empowerment" and "closure". Now, I can't help feeling that when you are confined by a certain use of language, your brain becomes confined too. I believe it was Wittgenstein who said that language defines the boundaries of consciousness and that we just keep running up against the bars of our own cages. So, if language essentially creates a mindset, then these terms seem to veritably encourage one which focuses on the self as the centre of all things.
Perhaps, however, we have to look further afield for where, at least philosophically, this all began, and I think it was that Chinese master of the banal statement masquerading as profundity, Confucius, who intimated that in order to change the world, you must first change yourself. The self, then, becomes the locus of everything, and it seems to me, that particularly in America, people have taken this teaching on board to a damaging degree.
But, why would I think that it's damaging? Well, for a start, in terms just of mental health, the American obsession with therapy has gone too far. In my blog "American Madness" I pointed out the truly insane degree to which psychiatry has gone in the States to "diagnose" people, in this case, children, with varying degrees of mental ill health. It seemed to me that most of these kids were just normal, if a little exuberant, and yet had been given labels and even in some cases were having to cope with stigma. No one looked to environmental causes for their challenging behaviour. No, it was all just the manifestation of the children's personalities, which in these cases, and in my view erroneously, were given actual diagnoses of pathology to account for their slightly rebellious conduct.
Moreover, America seems to have become the land of "self-help". My friend, who is given to follow some of the "teachings" she finds in self-help books, has even herself noted that the vast majority of them come from America. Again, the "self" is the locus of all and one particular "teaching", which my friend follows, called the "law of attraction", would have you believe that whatever happens in your life, you have somehow attracted it. Doesn't matter if it's cancer or schizophrenia, you have somehow (by "default", my friend explains, as no one would actively wish some terrible disease upon themselves) "attracted" it. Thus, you can conversely, by somehow manipulating the law of attraction through positive thought, "attract" good things instead- the car you want, that necklace you so admire, the house you want, etc, etc. It is tacitly made out that the "law of attraction" is some sort of real physical property of the universe, and only by using it to our advantage do we end up not being some kind of shit magnet.
Well, I don't know about you, but I have many problems with such "teachings", not least that their ostensible "spirituality" seems to mask the fact that all you would appear to want is material things and material things make you happy.
Which kind of brings me to my final point. All this me-ness, I believe, kind of makes people very compliant to whatever political system they may be living in. By continually focusing on the self as the locus of change, doesn't that mean that we neglect the faults of our society, our environment, our political and economic life? It reminds me of a joke I saw in the Woody Allen film "Manhattan", in which Woody is attending a party full of wealthy liberal types, and one woman says that she is concerned about some pro-Nazi groups that have recently been marching in the city, but that her concerns have been allayed by the fact that someone has written a "biting political satire" about the situation. Woody's response to this is, "well, if you're talking about Nazis you don't need satire, what you really need is baseball bats". And therein, ladies and gentlemen, lies the rub. With all this naval-gazing and introspection and finding the fault to be within ourselves, I think we run the risk of neglecting the fact that society itself or the political and economic situation in which we find ourselves is at fault and what needs to be changed, and I don't think you do this by becoming some kind of zen master, but rather by actively engaging with the world. Try telling the Chinese populace, for example, that if only they looked within themselves, things would all be OK.
So, I think, particularly as we grow older, it is healthy to recognise that there are things bigger than ourselves and our little "journeys". We should, I think, as the author and philosopher Iris Murdoch once said, allow the self to recede and the world to exist. In other words, it may be time to get over ourselves (to use another Americanism) and become a little less self-obsessed and a little more aware of the world.
That's all for now from your normal, average, delusional and paranoid man.P.S. I would just say that I would include myself in my own criticisms, and that I may be generalising, particularly about the American blog. It just seems to me that we have entered an age in the West where solipsism seems to have replaced any real engagement with the world. You, of course, are free to disagree.