Sharing Lasch, Hitting Bottom
by, 08-29-2010 at 02:34 PM (496 Views)
Today I am lashed with questions of the unforgiving and punishing kind.
Do I always have to not get it the first time around? Do I not pick up quickly enough?
Do I have low EQ? And do I compensate it by trying (so hard) to be an intellectual (thereby becoming a pseudo-intellectual)?
Do I tend to over-think?
Do I agree with the individualism of Ayn Rand? It felt great for a while, but only for a while. Is society that overruling that it turned greatness to guilt?
“The ‘good girls’ would actually marry foreigners for their money.”
Simply careless and cavalier, he said it offhand. Or purely, this foreigner-seatmate of mine in one of my classes has become that comfortable with me. He meant to say that he does not negatively perceive the fact that some, if not most, Filipino women who marry foreigners marry them for their money. He thought it’s only plausible that these women would marry their foreigner-husbands’ money since they are good daughters—the kind that would think of economic liberation for their families. He talks as if he has triumphed in attaining a firm grasp of the Filipino culture. He claims to love this country and blames all its social and politico-economic horrors and unsightliness on the “system.” He claims to kn ow of what was going on in the back stage of the Marcos and Ninoy act as well as what People Power I actually signified—what it represented and who represented it. I agree at some point that he knows quite a lot about this country, at least relatively and comparatively with the others. And I intend to leave it at that. It is not my wish today to present the big BUT, if there is, with regards to my foreigner friend’s familiarity of our country.
I got to remember that conversation with my foreigner-friend as I stumbled upon the ideas of Christopher Lasch, the author of The Culture of Narcissism that was first published in 1979. Lasch frowned on the narcissistic (in the classic Freudian sense) self that has become of each modern individual as a reaction to the chronic dissatisfaction and anxiety inhibited by capitalism, with consumerism as its machinery. Where people are made to be dissatisfied by stressing what they lack, people lead restless and unhappy lives. Relationships are severed and the family as a social unit is undermined and is eventually disintegrating. From one of economic, the dissatisfaction traverses to the self and to interpersonal relationships. With consumerist tactics that include product commercials, people are made to invent a hologram of the “ideal” man or woman, appearance-wise, that’s in reality an illusion, in the same way that the advertised “perfect” product is a form of trickery. This illusion that starts with the self is passed from the self to the interpersonal relationships—the ideal partner, the ideal mother, etc.
People in the slow telegram world decades ago must have imagined of today’s technologically sophisticated world as one where people are more connected and intimate. But we have proven them wrong. Lasch was said to have claimed:
…The modern dream of a rich, satisfying, erotic and emotional relationship is an illusion, and that "personal relations crumble under the emotional weight with which they are burdened". Love is based on trust, and it is hard to trust anyone in a culture of narcissism. People are so isolated, so vulnerable, so fearful that they can't have satisfying emotional relationships. The sexual revolution has not, contrary to the hopes of 20th century liberationists, allowed people to become more intimate. It has simply made us promiscuous.
Despite being misconstrued as one who’s “anti-pop,” The Culture of Narcissism was an objective exposé on many social issues with existential themes. Lasch wrote:
“…The best defences against the terrors of existence are the homely comforts of love, work and family life, which connect us to a world that is independent of our wishes yet responsive to our needs. It is through love and work, as Freud noted, that we exchange crippling emotional conflict for ordinary unhappiness. Love and work enable us to explore a small corner of the world and come to accept it on its own terms. But our society tends either to devalue small comforts or to expect too much of them. Our standards of ‘creative, meaningful work’ are too exalted to survive disappointment. Our ideal of ‘true romance’ puts an impossible burden on personal relationships. We demand too much of life, too little of ourselves.
...We find it more and more difficult to achieve a sense of continuity, permanence or connection with the world around us. Relationships with others are notably fragile; goods are made to be used up and discarded; reality is experienced as an unstable environment of flickering images. Everything conspires to encourage escapist solutions to the psychological problems of dependence, separation and individuation, and to discourage the moral realism that makes it possible for human beings to come to terms with existential constraints on their power and freedom.”
As always, the truth that stuns and arrests me is one that’s simple and understated. I have highlighted the said truth in the quote by Lasch, that the best defences against the terrors of existence are the homely comforts of love, work and family life. Work is the material evidence to keep the individual at equal pace with reality, reminding him that his possibilities may be limitless but his capabilities are limited. Therefore, he must make use of what he has and the extent of what he can do in his seemingly prorated existence. Individualism is great only to the extent of not allowing social constraints to impede maximum human capacity for greatness. When man reaches the top, what then? Greatness derived from individualism is therefore only significant when it has a purpose greater than the self.
Finally, an individual may skate in different routes for escapes but in the end, he comes back running to one familiar road leading to his own “home,” where familiar homely comforts lay waiting. No wonder my tear ducts were inundated as I watched the now immortal protagonist Chris in Into the Wild as he agonized to inscribe the following words as he was about to perish: Happiness is only real when shared.
This is the bottommost of the abyss. It took me quite a while to pick up but at least I got there.