'Mirror, Mirror' is an examination of narcissism and self-regard. Simon Blackburn looks at the ways in which we conceptualise and talk about self-esteem, and at what point such self-esteem tips over into personal and social pathology. Broadly, he comes to the conclusion that some measure of self-esteem is necessary if we are to esteem others: that we are perfectly capable, if we choose, of identifying justified and unjustified self-regard; and that history demonstrates that ours is far from being, as it is sometimes represented, a uniquely narcissistic culture or age.
Although Blackburn is a professional philosopher, he makes clear at the outset that the book is not intended to be an academic study of its subject: rather, a looser discussion around the issues. In fact, it was at its best for me when driven by strong emotion: the author's despair at the implications of the "because you're worth it" slogan - originally, and revealingly, "because I'm worth it" - and his anger in the face of the 'klepto-parasites' who infest the higher reaches of banking, industry and politics, their greed fuelled by apparently inexhaustible arrogance, their selfishness rotting necessary social values.
At other times, the argument becomes rather dry. A lengthy divagation through Milton's 'Paradise Lost' takes a long time to make some rather simple points. In fact, the book's central weakness is that nothing really new is advanced. The arguments, though for the most part clearly communicated, are unsurprising and curiously unilluminating. In a sense, an all-out polemic might have made for a better book.
'Mirror, Mirror' may serve usefully to bring things into focus for a reader who has never given much consideration to these issues. Others will want to look elsewhere for stronger meat.
on 7 May 2014
This study is based on the huge and growing inequalities within western societies, notably the U.S. and Britain, and the arrogance of the rich and powerful as the gap between rich and poor gets larger and larger. This is an issue of massive importance now, yet this work lacks focus and takes us nowhere: it's just a vague excursion through territory that merits better.