Some would call this book 'prophetic'. Even though it was written in the Seventies, many of the points this book makes, and social trends it uncovers, where not only true then, but are exacerbated today. This book, though focusing on the United States, is relevant for the entire Western society. It challenges the 'improvement' in our society brought about by a mix of capitalism, liberalism and consumerism. It questions the values of such a society, and challenges motivations behind recent social 'movements' and campaigns. A must read for anyone wondering how we have arrived at the world we live in today where everything should be OK, but isn't. Where secularism has not provided a 'one for all' mentality, but 'every man for himself'. Where bewildered parents wonder what parenting means. Where the workplace is and environment of antagonism with a smile. Where liberalism has created a world with enforced boundaries. Where it's not a question of whether you are right, but whether you get caught. Where hope has been strangled by 'diminishing expectations'. Many books could fall into the trap of being judgemental, or harking back with rose-tinted views of days and decades past. This book doesn't do this, it just stands out as a fair and accurate condemnation of where American Society was heading in the 1970's (and where it is today).
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'The Culture of Narcissism - American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations' was published in the first year of the unhappy presidency of Jimmy Carter (1979). The latter endorsed the book publicly (in his famous 'national malaise' speech). The main thesis of the book is that the Americans have created a self-absorbed (though not self aware), greedy and frivolous society which depended on consumerism, demographic studies, opinion polls and Government to know and to define itself. What is the solution? Lasch proposed a 'return to basics': self-reliance, the family, nature, the community, and the Protestant work ethic. To those who adhere, he promised an elimination of their feelings of alienation and despair. There is no single Lasch. This chronicler of culture, did so mainly by chronicling his inner turmoil, conflicting ideas and ideologies, emotional upheavals, and intellectual vicissitudes. In this sense, of (courageous) self-documentation, Mr. Lasch epitomized Narcissism, was the quintessential Narcissist, the better positioned to criticize the phenomenon. Some 'scientific' disciplines (e.g., the history of culture and History in general) are closer to art than to the rigorous (a.k.a. 'exact' or 'natural' or 'physical' sciences). Lasch borrowed heavily from other, more established branches of knowledge without paying tribute to the original, strict meaning of concepts and terms. Such was the use that he made of 'Narcissism'. Lasch's greatest error was that he did not acknowledge that there is an abyss between narcissism and self love, being interested in oneself and being obsessively preoccupied with oneself. Lasch confuses the two. The price of progress is growing self-awareness and with it growing pains and the pains of growing up. It is not a loss of meaning and hope - it is just that pain has a tendency to push everything to the background. Those are constructive pains, signs of adjustment and adaptation, of evolution. America has no inflated, megalomaniac, grandiose ego. It never built an overseas empire, it is made of dozens of ethnic immigrant groups, it strives to learn, to emulate. Americans do not lack empathy - they are the foremost nation of volunteers and also professes the biggest number of (tax deductible) donation makers. Americans are not exploitative - they are hard workers, fair players, Adam Smith-ian egoists. They believe in Live and Let Live. They are individualists and they believe that the individual is the source of all authority and the universal yardstick and benchmark. This is a positive philosophy. Granted, it led to inequalities in the distribution of income and wealth. But then other ideologies had much worse outcomes. Luckily, they were defeated by the human spirit, the best manifestation of which is still democratic capitalism. Sam Vaknin, author of 'Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited'.
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