Everywhere I look today there are products handing out advice about how to improve our lives, relationships, how to help each person get what they want- money, career, the right guy, and so on. Well, it’s quite understandable why people would be in the market for buying advice. Unsurprisingly, as markets go- not only do these products pray on basic needs, they can never fully supply these needs- or else sales would come to a full screeching halt after a while. And in our markets this would be sinning to our lord and god, the invisible hand.
The main occupation of those bubble-dwellers amongst us today in self-improvement. To what end? It isn’t clear. It might be happiness, or achieving those Cinderella dreams Disney have portrayed in extravagant colouring. Mostly it’s some undefined vague notion of our societies gods. Those Venuses 60 ft high and size -10 with superhuman capacity of having no discernible flaws. Those Apollos, 70 ft high with muscles for the sake of widening the eyes of us mere mortals without the capacity of using these muscles for anything remotely useful. And then there are these celebrities, who do nothing but be known and adored. All these portray to our unconscious the notion that they will never be expelled from society and have to survive without the support of the community, even though they are the first to be trashed and spat out. Handing out the promise that if we can be like them we will also never be lonely.
Even if we are convinced that we are not improving ourselves to be like them, the craze for self-improvement has penetrated most walks of lives. From high-street shopper trying to shed another pound even if there’s only bones to remove it from, to the nature loving hairy-lagged neo-hippy sure that the next meditation course will teach them how to keep the nightmares from an abusive relationship at bay.
I will now proceed to the time-honoured tradition that follows each rant- finger pointing. So who is to blame? Well, as the bast things in life, I will divide the blame to three- the obvious, the historical and the daft.
I blame… contraception! and the growing acceptance in recent decades of masturbation. Our primal instinct as mature adults to create, to produce something completely original has become infertile. Sex, and sexual pleasure are an end of their own, where the primal point being irrelevant and unwanted (in the vast majority of cases). It is the same when it comes to these self-improvement, self-awareness, self- achievement products. They are an end of their own, the point is still there, but somehow became secondary to the self- pleasuring pursuit of the next ‘how to achieve your dreams for dummies’ read. We are, in short, a generation of wankers.
The obvious is to put the blame on the gods of profit, Mammon and Lord Inv. Hand, who pull the strings of the organically occurring free market. The need to keep profits growing springs the tactic to create a need where none exists, and sell products to accommodate that need.
Self obessesion can be traced back to the origins of psychology. Our unconsciousness deciding behaviour for us, programmed responses imprinted at childhood and complexes arising from mal-resolution of life-stage crisis. In the town where I live if I were to go out to the street and throw a beer can it will hit a psychologist or someone who spends a third of their wage on one (every other can would probably hit someone who applies to both categories).
People go to psychologists to solve ‘every-day neurosis’ and instead spend their time and money drilling into their minds and past with such verbosity that one can only think they imagine themselves a Saudi oil-shah. Let me hand out a piece of true-ism. Solving a problem means you no longer have to keep dwelling on it.
Parents live in fear that any wrong action would imprint their children with a life- deforming Issue, each parental action is now escorted by a series of books and advice of how to behave when a child wants a hug. They dare not deny the child a product because all the other children have it and Gods save us if the child gets singled out in school! Well, this is a message to all parents striving to rise a socially-perfect child. What ever you do, your child will be socially-screwed-up. It is impossible to be healthy in our society which grows and profits on un-satisfiable needs.
There is a thin line between promoting self-awareness and fear mongering. Every-day psychology which started out as a useful solution for actual problems has become a fear-factor, self awareness is now an excuse to dwell in deepening spirals which achieve nothing but give the illusion of progress.
On the topic of progress, let me quote one of my favourite characters ” progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged.” (Harry Potter, book 5, by J.K Rolling). Though I don’t endorse Umbrige’s world view, I do agree with her distinction between progress for the sake of progress and progress for the sake of actual, vital, results.
We are stuck in an out-dated world view where change is a linear process, where ‘moving forward’ is the same as improving, and where progress get us closer to our highest state. Well, life isn’t a set of stairs, change is multi-dimensional, chaotic and non-linear, and the only final result of progress is death.
Though self-awareness, self-actualization, self-improvement and self-achievement do have their merits, one of the great flaws can be seen in the repeated word in these phrases- Self. There is a whole world out there, full with beauty and atrocities, life, suffering and experiences. How much time does one need to spend on self-improving before there’s permission to go out and actually live in this world?