The Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch (Quotations)

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© 1998-2018 by Zack Smith. All rights reserved.
Christopher Lasch


These are quotations from Christopher Lasch's book, The Culture of Narcissism. Some are very good, some are merely handy. I can't say that Lasch was right about everything -- I don't think he was -- but one never gains wisdom by limiting one's sources of knowledge. To advance, you have to consider multiple viewpoints, and if possible all sides of an issue. It is in the contradictions that you are forced to think deeper and gain not just knowledge, but wisdom. And in the case of Lasch, it's not a waste of time to consider what he says.

Be sure to also check out my selected quotes from Henry David Thoreau's Walden.


Preface xvii

Many radical movements in the past have drawn strength and sustinence from the myth or memory of a golden age in the still more distant past.

Preface xviii

A denial of the past, superficially progressive and optimistic, proves on closer analysis to embody the despair of a society that cannot face the future.

Chapter The Awareness Movement and the Social Invasion of the Self

Page 5

To live for the moment is the prevailing passion -- to live for yourself, not for your predecessors or posterity.

Page 12

...the agressive, punishing, and even self-destructive past of the superego is usually modified by later experience, which softens early fantasies of parents as devouring monsters. If that experience is lacking -- as it so often is in a society that has radically devalued all forms of authority -- the sadistic superego can be expected to develop at the expense of th ego ideal, the destructive superego at the expense of the severe but solicitous inner voice we call conscience.

Page 22

In his emptiness and insignificance, the man of ordinary abilities tried to warm himself in the star's {famous person's} reflected glow.

Page 23

Neither drugs nor fantasies of destruction -- even when the fantasies are objectified as 'revolutionary praxis' -- appease the inner hunger from which they spring.

Page 23

Personal relations founded on reflected glory, on the need to admire and be admired, prove fleeting and insubstantial.

Page 28

Quoting Richard Sennett, who is describing how society has changed as people have become more narcissistic
  1. In eighteenth-century London or Paris, sociability did not depend on intimacy. Strangers meeting in the parks or on the streets might without embarrassment speak to each other.
  2. In the 19th century, however, reticence broke down, and people came to believe that public actions revealed the inner personality of the actor.
  3. In our own time, according to Sennett, relations in public, concieved as a form of self-revelation, have become deadly serious. Conversations have taken on the form of confession.

Chapter The Narcissistic Personality of Our Time

Page 31

Quoting Erich Fromm We live in a historical period characterized by a sharp discrepancy between the intellectual development of man... and his mental-emotional development, which has left him still in a state of marked narcissism with all its pathological symptoms.

Page 31

...Sennett reminds us that narcissism has more in common with self-hatred than with self-admiration.

Page 32

Theoretical precision about narcissism is important not only because the idea is so readily susceptible to moralistic inflation but because the practice of equating narcissism with everything selfish and disagreeable militates against historical specificity. Men have always been selfish, groups have always been ethnocentric; nothing is gained by giving these qualities a psychriatic label.

Page 33

Re Fromm and Sennett They fail to explore any of the characer traits associated with pathological narcissism, which in less extreme form appear in such profusion in the everyday life of our age:

  1. dependence on vicarious warmth provided by others combined with fear of dependence
  2. a sense of inner emptiness
  3. a boundless repressed rage
  4. and unsatisfied oral cravings.

Nor do they discuss what might be called secondary characteristics of narcissism:

  1. pseudo self-insight
  2. calculating seductiveness
  3. nervous, self-deprecating humor.

They thus deprive themselves of any basis on which to make connections between the narcissistic personality type and certain characteristic patterns of contemporary culture, such as the

  1. intense fear of old age and death
  2. altered sense of time
  3. fascination with celebrity
  4. fear of competition
  5. deteriorating relations between men and women.

Page 34

Every society reproduces its culture -- its norms, its underlying assumptions, its modes of organizing experience -- in the individual, in the form of personality.

Page 35-36

A new theory of narcissism has developed, grounded in Freud's well-known essay on the subject (which treats narcissism -- libidinal investment in the self -- as a necessary precondition of object love) but devoted not to primary narcissism but to secondary or pathological narcissism: the incorporation of grandiose object images as a defense against anxiety and guilt. Both types of narcissism blur the boundaries between the self and the world of objects, but there is an important difference between them. The newborn infant -- the primary narcissist -- does not yet perceive his mother as having an existence separate from his own, and he therefore mistakes dependence on the mother, who satisfies his needs as soon as they arise, with his own omnipotence.

Page 36

Secondary narcissism, on the other hand, 'attempts to annul the pain of disappointed {object} love' and to nullify the child's rage against those who do not respond immediately to his needs; against those who are now seen to respond to others besde the child and who therefore appear to have abandoned him.

Page 36

If the child for some reason experiences this separation trauma with special intensity, he may attempt to reestablish earlier relationships by creating in his fantasies an omnipotent mother or father who merges with his own self. Through internalization the patient seeks to recreate a wished for love relationship which may once have existed and simultaneously to annul the anxiety and guilt aroused by aggressive drives directed against the frustrating and disappointing object.

Chapter The Banality of Pseudo-Self-Awareness: Theatrics of Politics and Everyday Existence

Page 72

...the modern manufacturer has to 'educate' the masses in the culture of consumption. The mass production of commodities in ever-increasing abundance demands a mass market to absorb them.

Page 72

In a simpler time, advertising merely called attention to the product and extolled its advantages. Now it manufactures a product of its own: the consumer, perpetually unsatisfied, restless, anxious, and bored. Its 'educates' the masses into an unappeasable appetite not only for goods but for new experiences and personal fulfillment. It upholds consumption as the answer to the age-old discontents of loneliness, sickness, weariness, lack of sexual satisfaction; at the same time it creates new forms of discontent peculiar to the modern age. It plays seductively to the malaise of industrial civilization. Is your job boring and meaningless? Is your life empty? Consumption promises to fill the aching void...

Page 83

The narcissist divides society into two groups: the rich, great, and famous on the one hand and the common herd on the other. Narcissistic patients, according to Kernburg, 'are afraid of not belonging to the company of the great, rich, and powerful, and of belonging instead to the 'mediocre', by which they mean the worthless and despicable rather than average in the ordinary sense of the term.' They worship heroes only to turn against them when their heroes disappoint them.

Page 85-86

When the superego consists not so much of conscious ego ideals but of unconscious, archaic fantasies about parents of superhuman size, emulation becomes almost entirely unconscious and expresses not the search for models but the emptiness of self-images. The protagonist of Heller's Something Happended, who completely lacks 'naive optimism' and a sense of self, experiences an 'almost enslaving instinct to be like just about everyone I find myself with. It happens not only in matters of speech, but with physical actions as well.... It operates unconsciously, ... with a determination of its own, in spite of my vigilance and aversion, and usually I do not realize I have slipped into someone else's personality until I am already there.' The narcissist cannot identify with someone else without seeing the other as an extension of himself, without obliterating the other's identity. Incapable of identification, in the first instance with parents and other authority figures, he is therefore incapable of hero worship or of the suspension of disbelief that makes it possible to enter imaginitively into the lives of others while acknowledging their independent existence.

Page 86

At the same time that public life and even private life take on the qualities of spectacle, a countermovement seeks to model spectacle, theater, all forms of art, on reality -- to obliterate the very distinction between art and life. Both developments popularize a sense of the absurd, that hallmark of the contemporary sensibility. Note the close connection between a surfeit of spectacles, the cynical awareness of illusion it creates even in children, the imperviousness to shock or surpise, and the resulting indifference to the distinction between illusion and reality.

Example: Ibsen

Page 87

Overexposure to manufactured illusions soon destroys their representational power. The illusion of reality dissolves, not in a heightened sense of reality as we might expect, but in a remarkable indifference to reality. Our sense of reality appears to rest, curiously enough, on our willingness to be taken in by the staged illusion of reality.

Page 89

Speaking of experimental theater...

The merging of actors and audience does not make the spectator into a communicant; it merely provides him -- if it does not drive him out of the theater altogether -- with a chance to admire himself in the new role of pseudo-performer

Page 89

Whereas the 'classical' drama of Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Ibsen turned on conflicts associated with classical neuroses, the absurdist theater of Albee, Beckett, Ionesco, and Genet centers on the emptiness, isolation, loneliness, and despair experienced by the borderline personality. The affinity between the theater of the absurd and the borderline's

  1. 'fear of close relationships,'
  2. 'attendant feelings of helplessness, loss, and rage,'
  3. 'fear of destructive impulses,' and
  4. 'fixation to early omnipotence'

...inheres not only in the content of these plays but -- more to the point of the present discussion -- in their form. The contemporary playwright abandons the effort to portray coherent and generally recognized truths and presents the poet's personal intuition of truth. The characteristic

  1. devaluation of language,
  2. vagueness as to time and place,
  3. sparse scenery, and
  4. lack of plot development

...evoke the barren world of the borderline:

  1. his lack of faith in the growth or development of object relations,
  2. his 'oft-stated remark that words do not matter, only action is important,' and above all
  3. his belief that the world consists of illusions.

'Instead of the neurotic character with well-structured conflicts centering around forbidden sex, authority, or dependence and independence within a family setting, we see characters filled with uncertainty about what is real.' This uncertainty now invades every form of art and crystallizes in an imagery of the absurd that reenters daily life and encourages a theatrical approach to existence, a kind of absurdist theater of the self.

Page 96

Distancing soon becomes a routine in its own right. Awareness commenting on awareness creates an escalating cycle of self-consciousness that inhibits spontaneity.

Page 96

In a society based so largely on illusions and appearances, the ultime illusions, art and religion, have no future. Credo quia absurdum, the paradox of religious experience in the past, has little meaning in a world where everything seems absurd, ...

Page 96

As for art, it not only fails to create the illusion of reality but suffers from the same crisis of self-consciousness that afflicts the man in the street. Novelists and playwrights call attention to the artificiality of their own creations and discourages the reader from identifying with the characters. By means of irony and eclecticism, the writer withdraws from hi subject but at the same time becomes so conscious of these distancing techniques that he finds it more and more difficult to write about anything except the difficulty of writing.

Page 97

The narcissist... finds his own desires so theatening that he often experiences the utmost difficulty in sleeping, in elaborating the sexual impulse in fantasy..., or in suspending current reality during psychoanalytic sessions. The narrator of Heller's Something Happened confesses: I am often aghast upon awakening from a sound, dreamless sleep to realize how far away from life I have been, and how defenseless I was while I was there... I might be unable to return. I don't life to lose touch with consciousness entirely.

Page 98

When art, religion, and finally even sex lose their power to provide an imaginative release from everyday reality, the banality of pseudo-self-awareness becomes so overwhelming that men finally lose the capacity to envision any release at all except in total nothingness, blankness. Warhol provides a good description of the resulting state of mind:

  • The best love is the not-to-think-about-it love. Some people can have sex and really let their minds go blank and fill up with the sex; other people can never let their minds go blank and fill up with the sex, so while they're having the sex they're thinking, Can this really be me? Am I really doing this? This is very strange. Five minutes ago I wasn't doing this. In a little while I won't be doing it. What would Mom say? How did people ever think of doing this? So the first type of better off.

The other type has to find something Imprisoned in his pseudo-self-awareness of himself, the new Narcissus would gladly take refuge in an idee fixe, a neurotic compulsion, a 'magnificent obsession' -- anything to take his mind off his own mind. Even unreflecting acquiescence in the daily grind, as the possibility of achieving it recedes into the historical distance, comes to seem like an almost enviable state of mind.

It is a tribute to the peculiar horror of contemporary life that is makes the worst features of earlier times -- the stupefaction of the masses, the obsessed and driven lives of the bourgeoisie-- seem attractive by comparison. The nineteenth-century capitalist, compulsively industrious in the attempt to deliver himself from temptation, suffered torments inflicted by inner demons. Contemporary man, tortured on the other hand by self-consciousness, turns to new cults and therapies not to free himself from obsessions but to find meaning and purpose in life, to find something to live for, precisely to embrace an obsession, if only the passion maitresse of therapy itself. He would willingly exchange his self-consciousness ofr oblivion and his freedom to create new roles for some form of external dictation, the more arbitrary the better. The hero of a recent novel renounces free choice and lives according to the dictation of dice: 'I establish in my mind at that moment and for all time, the never questioned principle that what the dice dictates, I will perform.'

Men used to rail against the irony of fate; now they prefer it to the irony of unceasing self-consciousness. ... The prison life of the past loks in our own time like liberation itself.

Chapter Schooling and the New Illiteracy

Question: Is society's obsession with appearances a cause (or metaphor) for its tendency toward anti-intellectualism, i.e. a refusal to not only look deeper but to think deeply as well?

Page 127

The crisis of our culture, as R.P. Blackmur noted in 1954, rises from the false belief that our society requires only enough mind to create and tend the machines together with enough of the new illiteracy for other machines -- those of our mass media -- to exploit. This is perhaps the form of society most expensive and wasteful in human talent mankind has yet thrown off. Blackmur's analysis has gained cogency with the passage of time.

Page 128

One study after another documents the steady decline of basic intellectual skills. ... At Stanford, only a quarter of the students in the class entering in 1975 managed to pass the university's English placement test, even though these students had achieved high scores on the SAT.

Page 145

In the name of egalitarianism, they preserve the most insidious form of elitism, which in one guise or another holds the masses incapable fo intellectual exertion. The whole problem of American education comes down to this: in American society, almost everyone identifies intellectual excellence with elitism. This attitude not only guarantees the monopolization of educational advantages by the few; it lowers the quality of elite education itself and threatens to bring about a reign of universal ignorance.

Chapter The Socialization of Reproduction and the Collapse of Authority

Page 169-170

The invasion of the family by industry, the mass media, and the agencies of socialized parenthood has subtly altered the quality of the parent-child connection. It has created an ideal of perfect parenthood while destroying parents' confidence in their ability to perform the most elementary functions of childrearing. The American mother, according to Geoffrey Gorer, depends so heavily on experts that she 'can never have the easy, almost unconscious, self-assurance of the mother of more patterned societies, who is following ways she knows unquestionly to be right.' According to another observer, the immature, narcissistic American mother is so barren of spontaneous manifestation of maternal feelings that she redoubles her dependence on outside advice. She studies viligantly all the new methods of upbringing and reads treatises about physical and mental hygiene. She acts not on her own feelings or judgement but on the picture of what a good mother should be.

Page 171

As the child begins to percieve his mother's limitations and falliability, he relinquishes the image of maternal perfection and begins to take over many of her functions -- to provide for his own care and comfort. An idealized image of the mother lives on in the child's unconscious thoughts.

Page 171

The narcissistic mother's incessant yet curiously perfunctory attentions to her child interfere at every point with the mechanism of optimal frustration. Because se often sees the child as an extension of herself, she lavishes attentions on the child that are 'awkwardly out of touch' with his needs, providing him with an excess of seemingly solicitous care but with little real warmth. By treating the child as an 'exclusive possession,' she encourages an exaggerated sense of his own importance; at the same time she makes it difficult for him to acknowledge his disappointment in her shortcomings.

Section Narcissism and the Absent Father

Page 172

Families of this type arise in America not just in response to a particular member's pathology but as a normal response to prevailing social conditions. As the world of business, jobs, and politics becomes more and more menacing, the family tries to create for itself an island of security in the surrounding disorder. It deals with internal tensions by denying their existence, desperately clinging to an illusion of normality. Yet the picture of harmonious domestic life, on which the family attempts to model itself, derives not from spontaneous feeling but from external sources, and the effort to conform to it therefore implicates the family in a charade of togetherness or 'pseudo-mutuality', as one student of schizophrenia calls it. The mother in particular, on whom the work of childrearing devolves by default, attempts to become an ideal parent, compensating for her lack of spontaneous feeling for the child by smothering him with solicitude. Abstractly convinced that her child deserves the best of everything, she arranges each detail of his life with a punctilious zeal that undermines his initiative and destroys the capacity for self-help. She leaves the child with the feeling, according to Kohut, that he has 'no mind of his own'. His idealistically inflated impressions of the mother persist unmodifies by later experience, mingling in his unconscious thoughts with fantasies of infantile omnipotence.

Page 174

Women with 'otherwise well-integrated personalities', according to Dr. (Annie) Reich, unconsciously seek to please a narcissistic mother by replacing the missing father, either by elaborating grandiose fantasies of success or by attaching themselves to successful men.

... In such patients, the superego or ego ideal consists of archaic representations of the father unmitigated by reality. The identification of themselves with a sexual organ, their grandiose ambitions, and the feelings of worthlessness that alternate with delusions of grandeur all testify to the primitive origin of the superego and to the aggressivenss with which it punishes failure to live up to the exaggerated ideal of an all-powerful father.

 ... ''Narcissistic women seek to replace the absent

with the mother of earliest infancy.

Page 175

On the assumptions that pathology represents a heightened version of normality, we can now see why the absense of the American father has become such a crucial feature of the American family: not so much because it deprives the child of a role model as because it allows early fantasies of the father to dominate subsequent devlopment of the superego. The father's absense, moreover, deforms the relations between mother and child. According to a misguided popular theory, the mother takes the father's place and confuses the child by assuming a masculine role ('Momism'). In the child's fantasies, however, it is not the mother who replaces the father but the child himself. When a narcissistic mother, already disposed to see her offspring as extensions of herself, attempts to compensate the child for the father's desertopm (and also to conform to the socially defined standards of ideal motherhood), her constant but perfunctory attentions, her attempts to make the child feel wanted and special, and her wish to make it 'stand out' communicate themselves to the child in a charged and highly disturbing form. The child imagines that the mother has swallowed or castrated the father and harbors the grandiose fantasy of replacing him, by achieving fame or attaching himself to someone who represents a phallic kind of success, thereby bringing about an ecstatic reunion with the mother.

Page 175

In view of the suffocating yet emotionally distant care they receive from narcisstic mothers, it is not surprising that so many young people -- for example, the alientaed students interviewed by Kenneth Keniston and Herbert Hendin -- describe their mothers as both seductive and aloof, devouring and indifferent.

Section The Abdication of Authority and the Transformation of the Superego

Page 176

The psychological patterns associated with pathological narcissism, which in less exaggerated form manifest themselves in so many patterns of American culture -- in the fascination with fame and celebrity, the fear of competition, the inability to suspend disbelief, the shallowness and transitory quality of personal relations, the horror of death -- originate in the peculiar structure of the American family, which in turn originates in changing modes of production. Industrial production takes the father out of the home and diminishes the role he plays in the conscious life of the child. ...

Page 177

According to (Jules) Henry and other observers of American culture, the collapse of parental authority reflects the collapse of 'ancient impulse controls' and the shift 'from a society in which Super Ego values (the values of self-restraint) were ascendant, to one in which more and moe recognition was being given to the values of the Id (the values of self-indulgence).' The reversal of the normal relations the generations, the decline of parental discipline, the 'socialization' of many parental functions, and the 'self-centered, impulse-dominated, detached, confused' actions of American parents give rise to characteristics that 'can have seriously pathogical outcomes, when present in extreme forms,' but which in milder form equip the young to live in a permissive society organized around the pleasures of consumption. Arnold Rogow argues, along similar lines, that American parents, alternatively 'permissive and evasive' in dealing with the young, 'find it easier to achieve conformity by the use of bribery than by facing the emotional turmoil of suppressing the child's demands.' In this way they undermine the child's initiative and make it impossible for him to develop self-restraint or self-discipline; but since American societt no longer vlaues these qualities anyway, the abdication of parental authority itself instills in the young the character traits demanded by a corrupt, permissive, hedonistic culture. The decline of parental authority reflects the 'decline of the superego' in American society as a whole. These interpretations, which lucidly capture the prevailing styles of parental discipline, their impact on the young, and the connections between family and society, need to be modified in one important detail. The changing conditions of family life lead not so much to a 'decline of the superego' as to an alteration of its contents. The parents' failure to serve as models of disciplined self-restraint or to retrain the child does not mean that the child grows up without a superego. On the contrary, it encourages the development of a harsh and punitive superego based largely on archaic images of the parents, fused with graniose self-images. Under these conditions, the superego consists of parental introjets instead of identifications. It holds up to the ego an exalted standard of fame and success and condemns it with savage ferocity when it falls short of that standard. Hence the oscillations of self-esteem so often associated with pathological narcissism.

Page 179

The decline of parental authority and of external sanctions in general, while in many ways it weakens the supergo, paradoxically reinforces the aggressive, dictatorial elements in the superego and thus makes it more difficult than ever for instinctual desires to find acceptable outlets. Note: This is one aspect of discipline: control of instinctual desires.

Page 179

The social changes that have made it difficult for children to internalize parental authority have not abolished the superego but have merely strengthened the alliance of superego and Thanatos -- that 'pure culture of the death instinct,' as Freud called it, which directs against the ego a torrent of fierce, unrelenting criticism.

Page 179

The new permissiveness extends largely to expression of libidinal instincts, not to aggression. A bureaucratic society that stresses cooperation, interpersonal give and take, cannot allow many legitimate outlets for anger. Even in the family, which is supposed to allow expression to feelings denied expression elsewhere, anger threatens the precarious equilibrium that members of the family try so hard to preserve. At the same time, the mechanical quality of parental care, so notably lacking in affect, gives rise in the child to ravenous oral cravings and to a boundless rage against those who fail to gratify them. Much of this anger, fiercely repressed by the ego, finds its way into the superego...

Page 180

In Heller's Something Happened, which describes with such a multitude of depressing details the psychodynamics of family life today, the father believes, with good reason, that his rebellious adolescent daughter wants him to punish her; and like so many American parents, he refuses to give her this satisfaction or even to recognize its legitimacy. Refusing to be maneuvered into administering punishment, he wins psychological victories over his daughter, on the contrary, by giving in to her wishes and thereby avoiding the quarrels she seeks to provoke. Yet both his children, notwishstanding his desire, in his son's case at least, to adopt the part of 'best friend,' unconsciously regard him as a tyrant. He muses in bewilderment: 'I don't know why my son feels so often that I am going to hit him when I never do; I never have; I don't know why both he and my daughter believe I used to beat them a great deal when they were smaller, when I don't believe I ever struck either one of them at all.' The parent's abdication of authority intensifies rather than softens the child's fear of punishment, while identifying thoughts of punishment more firmly than ever with the exercise of arbitrary, overwhelming violence.

Section The Family's Relation to Other Agencies of Social Control

Page 180

Society reinforces these patterns not only through 'indulgent education' and general permissiveness but through advertising, demand creation, and the mass culture of hedonism. At first glance, a society based on mass consumption appears to encourage self-indulgence in its most blatant forms. Strictly considered, however, modern advertising seeks to promote not so much self-indulgence as self-doubt. It seeks to create needs, not to fulfill them; to generate new anxieties instead of allaying old ones. By surrounding the consumer with images of the good life, and by associating them with glamour of celebrity and success, mass culture encourages the ordinary man to cultivate extraordinary tastes, to identify himself with the privileged minority against the rest, and to join them, in his fantasies, in a life of exquisite comfort and sensual refinement. Yet the propaganda of commodities simultaneously makes him acutely unhappy with his lot. By fostering grandiose aspirations, it also fosters self-denigration and self-contempt. The culture of consumption in its central tendency thus recapitulates the socialization earlier provided by the family.

Page 181

In the school, the business corporation, and the courts of law, authorities conceal their power behind a facade of benevolence. Posing as friendly helpers, they discipline their subordinaes as selfdom as possible, seeking instead to create a friendly atmosphere in which everyone freely speaks his mind.

Page 182

The appearance of permissiveness conceals a stringent system of controls, all the more effective because it voids direct confrontatons between authorities and the people on whom they seek to impose their will.

Page 182

...parents rely on doctors, psychiatrists, and the child's own peers to impose rules on the child and to see that he conforms to them.

Page 183

The ideology of modern management draws on the same body of therapeutic theory and practice that informs progressive education and progressive childrearing.

Page 185

The growing acceptance of that view make it possible to preserve hierarchical forms of organization in the guise of 'participation'. It provides a society dominated by corporate elites with an antielitist ideology. The popularization of therpeutic modes of though discredits authority, especially in the home and the classroom, with leaving domination uncriticized. Therapeutic forms of social control, by softening or eliminating the adversary relation between subordinates and superiors, make it more and more difficult for citizens to defend themselves against the state or for workers to resist the demands of the corporation. As the ideas of guilt and innocence lose their moral and even legal meaning, those in power no longer enforce their rules by means of the authoritative edicts of judges, magistrates, teachers, or preachers. Society no longer expects authorities to articulate a clearly reasoned, elaborately justified code of law and morality; nor does it expect the young to internalize the moral standards of the community. It demands only conformity to the conventions of everyday intercourse, sanctioned by psychiatric definitions of normal behavior.

 ''In the hierarchies of work and power, as in the family,

social constraints. It merely deprives those constraints of a rational basis. Just as the parent's failure to administer just punishment to the child undermines the child's self-esteem rather than strengthening it, so the corruptibility of public authorities -- their acquiescence in minor forms of wrongdoing -- reminds the subordinate of his subordination by making him dependent on the indulgence of those above him. The new-style bureaucrat, whose 'ideology and character support hierarchy even though he is neither paternalistic nor authoritarian,' as Michael Maccoby puts it in his study of the corporate 'gamesman', no longer orders his inferiors around; but he has discovered subtler means of keeping them in their place. Even though his underlings often realize that they have been 'conned, pushed around, and manipulated,' they find it hard to resist such easygoing oppression. The diffusion of responsibility in large organizations, moreover, enables the modern manager to delegate discipline to others, to blame unpopular decisions on the company in general, and thus to preserve his standing as a friendly adviser to those beneath him. Yet his entire demeanor conveys to them that he remains a winner in a game most of them are destined to lose.

 ''Since everyone allegedly plays this game by

can the losers escape the heavy sense of their own failure. In a society without authority, the lower orders no longer experience oppression as guilt. Instead, they internalize a grandiose idea of the opportunities open to all, together with an inflated opinion of their own capacities. If the lowly man resents those more highly placed, it is only because he suspects them of grandly violating the regulations of the game, as he would like to do himself if he dared. IT NEVER OCCURS TO HIM TO INSIST ON A NEW SET OF RULES.

Chapter VIII: The Flight From Feeling: Sociopsychology of the Set War

Section The Trivialization of Personal Relations

Page 188

In short, the growing determination to live for the moment, whatever it may have done to the relations between parents and children, appears to have established the preconditions of a new intimacy between men and women. This appearance is an illusion. ... The same developments that have weakened the tie between parents and children have also undermined the relations between men and women.

Section The Battle of the Sexes: Its Social History

Page 191

What distinguishes the present time from the past is that defiance of sexual conventions less and less presents itself as a matter of individual choice, as it was for the pioneers of feminism. Since most of those conventions have already collapsed, even a woman who lays no claim to her rights nevertheless finds it difficult to claim the traditional priviledges of her sex. All woman find themselves identified with 'women's lib' merely by virtue of their sex, unless by strenuous disavowels they identify themselves with its enemies. All women share in the burdens as well as the benefits of 'liberation', both of which can be summarized by saying that men no longer treat women as ladies.

Section The Sexual 'Revolution

Page 191

The demystification of womanhood goes hand in hand with the desublimation of sexuality.

Page 191-192

Sex valued purely for its own sake loses all reference to the future and brings no hope of permanent relationships. Sexual liasons, including marriage, can be terminated at pleasure. This means, as Willard Waller demonstrated a long time ago, that lovers forfeit the right to be jealous or to insist on fidelity as a condition of erotic union. ...

'To show jealousy,' under these conditions, became 'nothing short of a crime .. So if one falls in love in Bohemia, he conceals it from his friends as best he can.' In similar studies of the 'rating and dating complex' on college campuses, Waller found that students who fell in love invited the ridicule of their peers.

Page 193

In high school and college, the peer group attempts through conventional ridicule and vituperation to prevents its members from falling in love with the wrong people, indeed from falling in love at all; for as Hollingshead noted, lovers 'are lost to the adolescent world with its quixotic enthusiasms and varied group activities.

Section Togetherness

Page 193-194

The degradation of work and the impoverishment of communal life force people to turn to sexual excitement to satisfy all their emotional needs. Formerly sexual antagonism was tempered not only by chivalric, paternalistic conventions but by a more relaxed acceptance of the limitations of the other sex. Men and women acknowledged each other's shortcomings without making them the basis of a comprehensive indictment. Partly because they found more satisfaction than is currently available in casual relations with their own sex, they did not have to raise friendship itself into a political program, an ideological alternative to love. An easygoing, everyday contempt for the weaknesses of the other sex, institutionalized as folk wisdom concerning the emotional incompetence of men or the brainlessness of women, kept sexual enmity within bounds and prevented it from becoming an obsession.

Feminism and the ideology of intimacy have discredited the sexual stereotypes which kept women in their place but which also made it possible to acknowledge sexual antagonism without raising to the level of all-out warfare. Today the folklore of sexual differences and the acceptance of sexual friction survive only in the working class. Middle-class feminists envy the ability of working-class women to acknowledge that men get in their way without becoming man-haters. These women are less angry at their men because they don't spend that much time with them. ... Middle-class women are the ones who were told men had to be their companions.

Section Feminism and the Intensification of Sexual Warfare

Page 196

The woman who rejects the stereotype of feminine weakness and dependence can no longer find much comfort in the cliche that all men are beasts. She has no choice except to believe, on the contrary, that men are human being, and she finds it hard to forgive them when they act like animals. {For women too are crude, competitive animals.}

Section Strategies of Accomidation

Page 198

Because the contradictions exposed (and exacerbated) by feminism are so painful, the feminist movement has always found it tempting to renounce its own insights and program and to retreat into some kind of accommodation with the existing order, often disguised as embattled militancy.

Page 199

All these strategies of accommodation derive their emotional energy from an impulse much more prevalent then feminism: the flight from feeling. For many reasons, personal relations have become increasingly risky -- most obviously, because they no longer carry any assurance of permanence. Men and women make extravagant demands on each other and experience irrational rage and hatred when their demands are not met. Under these conditions, it is not surprising that more and more people long for emotional detachment, or 'enjoy sex', as Hendin writes, 'only in situations where they can define and limit the intensity of the relationship.' ...

Sexual separatism is only one of many strategies for controlling or escaping from strong feeling. Many prefer the escape of drugs, which dissolve anger and desire in a glow of good feeling and create the illusion of intense experience without emotion. Others simply undertake to live alone, repudiating connections with eithe sex. The reported increase in single-member households undoubtably reflcts a new taste for personal independence, but it also expresses a revulsion against close emotional attachments of any kind.

Page 200

The most prevalent form of escape from emotional complexity is promiscuity: the attempt to achieve a strict separation between sex and feeling. Here again, escape masquerades as liberation, regression as progress. The progressive ideology of 'nonbinding committments' and 'cool sex' makes a virtue of emotional disengagement, while purporting to criticize the depersonalization of sex. Enlightened authorities like Alex Comfort, Nena and George O'Neill, Robert and Anna Francoeur insist on the need to humanize sex by making it into a 'total experience' instead of a mechanical performance; yet in the same breath they condemn the human emotions of jealousy and possessiveness and decry 'romantic illusions'. ... The promotion of sex as a 'healthy', 'normal' part of life masks a desire to divest it of the emotional intensity that unavoidably clings to it.

Section The Castrating Woman of Male Fantasy

Page 201

Today men and women seek escape from emotion not only because they have suffered wounds in the wars of love but because they experience their own inner impulses as intolerably urgent and menacing. The flight from feeling originates not only in the sociology of the sex war but in the psychology that accompanies it.

Page 202

Instinctual desires always threaten psychic equilibrium and for this reason can never be given direct expression. In our society, however they present themselves as intolerably menacing, in part because the collapse of authority has removed so many of the external prohibitions against expression of dangerous impulses. The superego can no longer ally itself ... with outside authorities. ... Not only have the social agents of repression lost much of their force, but their internal representations in the superego have suffered a similar decline. ... the superego has to rely more and more on harsh, punitive dictation, drawing on the aggressive impulses in the id and directing them against the ego.

The narcissist feels consumed by his own appetites. and catalogs, the huge number of obese people.}

The intensity of his oral hunger leads him to make inordinate demands on his friends and sexual partners; yet in the same breath he repudiates those demands and asks only a casual connection without promise of permanence on either side. He longs to free himself from his own hunger and rage, to achieve a calm detachment beyond emotion, and to outgrow his dependence on others. and domination situations e.g. mortgages.}

He longs for the indifference to human relationships and to life itself that would enable him to acknowledge its passing in Kurt Vonnegut's laconic phrase, So it goes, which so aptly expresses the ultimate aspiration of the psychiatric seeker.

Page 203

Women today ask for two things in their relations with men: sexual satisfaction and tenderness. Whether separately or in combination, both demands seem to convey to many males the same message -- that women are voracious, insatiable.

Page 203

The sexually voracious female, long a stock figure of masculine pornography, in the twentieth century has emerged into the daylight of literary respectability. The cruel, destructive, domineering woman, la belle dame sans merci, has moved from the periphery of literature and other arts to a position close to the center. Formerly a source of delicious titillation, of sadomasochistic gratification tinged with horrified fascination, she now inspires unambiguous loathing and dread. Heartless, domineering, burning (as Leslie Fiedler has said) with 'a lust of the nerves rather than of the flesh,' she unmans every man who falls under her spell.

Examples given: Monroe, Mansfield, Lolita, Hemingway's bitchy heroines, etc.

Page 204

Child or woman, wife or mother, this female cuts men to ribbons or swallows them whole. She travels accompanied by eunichs, by damaged men suffering from nameless wounds, or by a few strong men brought low by their misguided attempts to turn her into a real woman.

Page 204

After the painful renunciation of the mother, sensuality seeks only those objects that evoke no reminder of her, while the mother herself, together with other 'pure' (socially respectable) women, is idealized beyond reach of the sensual.

Section The Soul of Man and Woman under Socialism

Page 206

A rejection of one assertion put forth by feminism

The expliotation of women has evolved through many historical forms, and the importance of these changes must not be obscured by treating sexism as an unchanging fact of life, when can be abolished only by abolishing sexuality itself and instituting a reign of androgeny.

Chapter IX: The Shattered Faith in the Regeneration of Life

Section The Dread of Old Age

Page 207

Two approaches to the problem of age have emerged. The first seeks not to prolong life but to improve its quality, especially the quality of what used to be known as the declining years. ...

The second approach proposes to deal with old age as a medical problem, in Albert Rosenfeld's words -- something your doctor may some day hope to do something about.

Page 208

Both [approaches] rest more on hope -- and on a powerful aversion to the prospect of bodily decay -- than on critical examination of evidence. Both regard old age and death as 'an imposition on the human race,' in the words of the novelist Alan Harrington -- as something no longer acceptable.

Section Narcissism and Old Age

Page 209

Obviously men have always feared death and longed to live forever. Yet the fear of death takes on new intensity in a society that has deprived itself of religion and shows little interest in posterity.

Old age inspires apprehension, moreover, not merely because it represents the beginning of death but because the condition of old people has objectively deteriorated in modern times. Our society notoriously finds little use for the elderly. It defines them as useless, forces them to retire before they have exhausted their capacity to work, and reinforces their sense of superfluidity at every opportunity. By insisting, ostensibly in a spirit of respect and friendship, that they have not lost the right to enjoy lfe, society reminds old people thta they have nothing better to do with their time. By devaluing experience and setting great store by physical strength, dexterity, adaptability, and the ability to come up with new ideas, society defines productivity in ways that automatically exclude 'senior citizens'. The well-known cult of youth further weakens the social position of those no longer young.

Thus 'our attitudes toward aging,' as a recent critic observes, 'are not accidental.' They derive from long-term social changes that have redefined work, created a scarcity of jobs, devalued the wisdom of the aes, and brought all forms of authority (including the authority of experience) into disrepute.

Page 210

The so-called midlife crisis presents itself as a realization that old age looms just around the corner.

Page 210

Because the narcissist has so few inner resources, he looks to others to validate his sense of self. Heneeds to be admired for his beauty, charm, celebrity, or power -- attributes that usually fade with time. Unable to achieve satisfying sublimations in the form of love and work, he finds that he has little to sustain him when youth passes him by. He takes no interest in the future and does nothing to provide himself with the traditional consolations of old age, the most important of which is the belief that future generations will in some sense carry on his life's work. Love and work unite in a concern for posterity, and specifically in an attempt to equip the younger generation to carry on the tasks of the older. The thought that we live on vicariously in our children (more broadly, in future generations) reconciles us to our own supersession -- the central sorrow of old age, more harrowing even than failty and loneliness. ...

The emergence of the narcissistic personality reflects among other things a drastic shift in our sense of historical time. Narcissism emerges as the typical form of character structure in a society that has lost interest in the future. Psychiatrists who tell parents not to live through their offspring; married couples who postpone or reject parenthood, often for good practical reasons; social reformers who urge zero population growth, all testify to a pervasive uneasiness about reproduction. ...

When men find themselves incapable of taking an interest in earthly life after their own death, they wish for eternal youth, for the same reason they no longer care to reproduce themselves. When the prospect of being superseded becomes intolerable, parenthood itslf, which guarantees that it will happen, appears almost as a form of self-destruction. In Lisa Alther's Kinflicks, a young man explains that he doesn't want to have children. I always saw the world as a stage ... And any child would be a ballsy young actor wanting to run me off stage altogether, watching and waitnig to bury me, so that he can assume center stage.

Section The Social Theory of Aging: Growth as Planned Obsolescence

Page 212

Gail Sheehy tries to convince people that old age is not necessarily a disaster -- without, however, challenging the social conditions that cause so many people to experience it as such. Reassurance of this kind only defeats its own object. As reviewers have pointed out, Sheehy does for adulthood what Dr. Spock did for childhood. Both assure the anxious reader that conduct he find puzzling or disturbing, whether in his children, his spouse, or himself, can be seen as merely a normal phase of emotional development.

The work of understanding and taking it in stops after the label is applied.}

But although it may be comforting to know that a two-year-old child likes to contradict his parents and often refuses to obey them, if the child's development fails to conform to the proper schedule, the parent will be alarmed and seek medical or psychiatric advice, which may stir up further fears.

Page 212

The spirit of Sheehy's book, like that of Comfort's, is generous and humane, but it rests on medical definition of reality that remain highly suspect, not least because they make it so difficult to get through life without the constant attention of doctors, psychiatrists, and faith healers. Sheehy brings to the subject of aging, which needs to be approached from a moral and philosophical perspective, a therapeutic sensibility incapable of transcending its own limitations.

Sheehy recognizes that wisdom is one of the few comforts of age, but she does not see that to think of wisdom purely as a consolation divests it of any larger meaning or value. The real value of the accumulated wisdom of a lifetime is that it can be handed on to future generations. Our society, however, has lost this conception of wisdom and knowledge. It holds an instrumental view of knowledge, according to which technological change constantly renders knowledge obsolete and therefore nontransferable. The older generation has nothing to teach the younger, ... except to equip it with the emotional and intellectual resources to make its own choices and to deal with 'unstructured' situations for which there are no reliable precedents or precepts.

Page 213

Having raised their children to the age at which they enter college or the work force, people in their fourties and fifties find that they have nothing left to do as parents. This discovery coincides with another, that business and industry no longer need them either.

Page 213

Because the older generation no longer thinks of itself as living on in the next, of achieving a vicarious immortality in posterity, it does not give way gracefully to the young.

Page 213

[Sheehy's] solution to the crisis of aging is to find new interests, new ways of keeping busy. She equates growth with keeping on the move.

Page 214

According to Sheehy, 'it is our own view of ourselves that determines the richness or paucity of the middle years.' In effect, she urges people to prepare for middle age and old age in such a way that they can be phased out without making a fuss. The psychology of growth, development, and 'self-actualization' presents survival as spiritual progress, resignation as renewal. In a society in which most people find it difficult to store up experience and knowledge (let alone money against old age, or to pass on accumulated experience to their descendants, the growth experts compound the problem by urging people part fourty to cut their ties with the past, embark on new careers and new marriages ('creative divorce'), take up new hobbies, travel light, and keep moving. THIS IS NOT A RECIPE FOR GROWTH BUT FOR PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE. It is no wonder that American industry has embraced 'sensitivity training' as an essential part of personnel management. The new therapy provides for personnel what the annual model change provides for its products; rapid retirement from active use.

Page 216

Re immortality and the problems it would bring

The remarkable thing about this reasoning is not that Rosenfeld has loaded the dice by arguing that medical progress is inevitable, in spite of the 'qualms' it arouses in the tender-minded, but that his fixation on the hypothetical consequences of prolongevity prevents him from seeing that possibilities he projects into an imaginary, science-fiction future have already rooted themselves in the prosaic, everyday reality of the present. ... Devoid of all historical perspective, [futurology] has no way of recognizing the future when the future has become the here and now. ... Social stagnation is not just a hypothetical possibility but a reality. ... The prolongevity movement (together with futurology in general) itself reflects the stagnant character of late capitalist culture. It arises not as a natural response to medical improvements that have prolonged life expectancy but from changing social relations and social attitudes, which cause people to lose interest in the young and in posterity, to cling desperately to their own youth, to seek by every possible means to prolong their own lives, and to make way only with the greatest reluctance for new generations.

In the end, the discovery that one is old is inescapable, writes David Hackett Fischer. 'But most Americans are not prepared to make it.' He describes with sympathetic irony the desperation with which adults now ape the styles of youth. This historian observed a Boston matron on the far side of fifty, who might have worn a graceful palla in ancient Rome, dressed in a miniskirt and leather boots. He saw a man in his sixties, who might have draped himself in the dignity of a toga, wearing hiphugger jeans and a tie-dyed T-shirt. He witnessed a conservative businessman, who in earlier generations might have hesitated earch morning, wondering whether to wear black or charcoal gray, going to the office in white plastic shoes, chartreuse trousers and cerise shirt, purple aviator glasses, and a Prince Valiant haircut. Most astonishing were college professors who put aside their Harris tweeds and adopted every passing adolescent fad with an enthusiasm out of all proportion with their years. ...

Page 217

The dread of age originates not in a 'cult of youth' but in a cult of the self. Not only in its narcissistic indifference to future generations but in its grandiose vision of a technological utopia without old age, the prolongevity movement exemplifies the fantasy of 'absolute, sadistic power' which, according to Kohut, so deeply colors the narcissistic outlook. Pathological in its psychological origins and inspiration, superstitious in its faith in medical deliverance, the prolongevity movement expresses in characteristic form the anxieties of a culture that believes it has no future.

Chapter X: Paternalism Without Father

Section The New Rich and the Old

Page 218

Most of the evils {!} discussed in this book originate in a new kind of paternalism, which has risen from the ruins of the old paternalism of kings, priests, authoritarian fathers, slavemasters, and landed overlords. Capitalism has severed the ties of personal dependence only to revive dependence under cover of bureaucratic rationality. Having overthrown feudalism and slavery and then outgrown its own personal and familial form, capitalism has evolved a new political ideology, welfare liberalism, which absolves individuals of moral responsibility and treats them as victims of social circumstance. It has evolved new modes of social control, which deal with the deviant as a patient and substitute medical rehabilitation for punishment. It has given rise to a new culture, the narcissistic culture of our time, which has translated the predatory individualism of the American Adam into a terapeutic jargon that celebrates not so much individualism as solipsism, justifying self-absorpotion as 'authenticity' and 'awareness'.

Section The Managerial and Professional Elite as a Ruling Class

Page 221

As even the rich lose the sense of place and historical continuity, the subjective feeling of 'entitlement', which takes inherited advantages for granted, gives way to what clinicians call 'narcissistic entitlement' -- grandoise illusions, inner emptiness.

Section The Conservative Critique of Bureaucracy

Page 232

Criticism of the new paternalism, insofar as it remains imprisoned in the assumptions of political liberalism, objects to the cost of maintaining a welfare state -- the 'human cost' as well as the cost to the taxpayers -- without criticizing the ascendancy of the managerial and professional class. Another line of attack, which singles out bureaucracy as the overriding evil, arises out of a conservative idealization of old-fashion individualism. Less equivocal in its opposition to bureaucratic centralization -- except when it comes from right-wingers who denounce government regulation of industry and still plead for a gigantic military establishment -- the conservative critique of bureaucracy superficially resembles the radical critique outlined in the present study. It deplores the erosion of authority, the corruption of standards in the schools, and the spread of permissiveness. But it refuses to acknowledge the connection between these developments and the rise of monopoly capitalism -- between bureaucracy in government and bureaucracy in industry.

Chapter Afterword: The Culture of Narcissism Revisited

Page 239

I was struck by evidence, presented in several studies of business corporations, to the effect that professional advancement had come to depend less on craftsmanship or loyalty to the firm than on 'visibility', 'momentum', personal charm, and impression management. The dense interpersonal environment of modern bureaucracy appeared to elicit and reward a narcissistic response -- an anxious concern with the impression one made on others, a tendency to treat others as a mirror of the self.

The proliferation of visual and auditory images in a 'society of the spectacle', as it has been described, encouraged a similar kind of preoccupation with the self. People responded to others as if their actions were being recorded and simultaneously transmitted to an unseen audience or stored up for close scrutiny at some later time. The prevailing social conditions thus brought out narcissistic personality traits that were present, in varying degrees, in everyone -- a certain protective shallowness, a fear of binding committments, a willingness to pull up roots whenever the need arose, a desire to keep one's options open, a dislike of depending on anyone, an incapacity for loyalty or gratitude.

Narcissists may have paid more attention to their own needs than to those of others, but self-love and self-aggrandizement did not impress me as their most important characteristics. These qualities implied a strong, stable sense of selfhood, whereas narcissists suffered from a feeling of inauthenticity and inner emptiness. They found it difficult to make connection with the world. At its most extreme, their condition approximated that of Kaspar Hauser, the nineteenth-centry German foundling raised in solitary confinement, whose 'impoverished relations with his cultural environment', according to the psychoanalyst Alexander Mitscherlich, left him with a feeling of being utterly at life's mercy.

Section Theory of Primary Naricissism: Longing for a State of Bliss

Page 240

It was his growing preoccupation with narcissism in [the] primary sense, I realized, that pointed Freud toward his controversial hypothesis of a death instinct, better described as a longing for absolute equilibrium -- the Nirvana principle, as he aptly called it. Except that it is not an instinct and that it seeks not deathh but everlasting life, primary narcissism conforms quite closely to Freud's description of the death instinct as a longing for the complete cessation of tension, which seems to operate independenty of the 'pleasure principle' and follows a 'backward path that leads to complete satisfaction.

Narcissism in this sense is the longing to be free from longing. ... Its scorn for the body's demands distinguishes narcissism from ordinary egoism or from the survival instinct. ... Since [primary] narcissism does not acknowledge the separate existence of the self, it has no fear of death. Narcissus drowns in his own reflection, never understanding that it is a reflection.

Page 242

The best hope of emotional maturity, then, appears to lie in a recognition of our need for and dependence on people who nevertheless remain separate from ourselves and refuse to submit to our whims. It lies in a recognition of others not as projections of our own desires but as independent being with desires of their own. More broadly, it lies in acceptance of our limits. The world does not exist merely to satisfy our own desires; it is a world in which we can find pleasure and meaning, once we understand that others too have a right to these goods. Psychoanalysis confirms the ancient religious insight that the only way to achieve happiness is to accept limitations in a spirit of gratitude and contrition {i.e. remorse and penitence} instead of attempting to annul those limitations or bitterly resenting them.

Page 243

Klein added an important refinement to psychoanalytic theory by distinguishing betwen the superego, which rests on fear of punishment, and conscience, which originates in remorse, forgiveness, and gratitude.

Twentieth-Century Gnosticism and the New Age Movement

Page 245

The coexistence of advanced technology and primitive spirituality suggests that both are rooted in social conditions that make it increasingly difficult for people to accept the reality of sorrow, loss, aging, and death -- to live with limits, in short.