In Lashed by Lash I mentioned the American social critic Christopher Lasch, credited with coining the term diffuse dissatisfactions. I would express diffuse dissatisfactions as my belief that ‘the world is going to hell in a handcart‘. What other view would I hold, I’m a septuagenarian. I am nevertheless empathetic with Lasch’s argument that the self-awareness movement instead of liberating the personality and helping the individual to understand the world and society, suggests an even more extreme defensive stance, a momentary relief, Prozacs for the proletariat , tranquilisers for the bourgeoisie and cocaine for aristocracy. To a layman like me, confirming the abstractions of the socially stressed.
Towards the end of his life Christopher Lasch focused on the socio-psychological change in the US public, especially in his book The Culture of Narcissism. The following is based on abstracts from a review of the book:
Had the programmes offered by these movements been confined to the welfare of private lives, it may not perhaps have mattered. But they did not. The same concepts – with ideological underpinning – invaded major institutions, such as education, juvenile courts and social services. The principles of education were radically changed, which in turn impacted on juvenile courts and social services. From the concept of creating citizens who are able to receive, understand and appraise information coming from the surrounding world, education first became a data-feeding process and, as a result of the inevitable failure of this, it became a place of entertainment for pupils and students.
It is claimed that education, instead of creating independent and self-reliant citizens, creates instead young people for whom rights and obligations are rarely seen as mutually inclusive categories. That this is the direct result of teachers and lecturers’ giving up their academic responsibilities, leaving the students to develop themselves from their own resources. Ignoring the reality that pupils in school and students in academia are dominated by immediate and basic needs. That in attending to these, they are not in receipt of the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions – especially with regard to their future – even if, for the most part, they have little interest in it or the knowledge required to create it.
This betrayal of pupils and students is not accidental. Governments demand that schools deliver some knowledge, that they keep the pupils in school until they are sixteen and then, as students, send half of them to higher education. The major needs of the society that they enter into are not met by such knowledge as may be delivered in this process. Moreover, this is a knowledge that – in practice – is only delivered on paper (today 20% of the British adult population are illiterate). More and more clerical jobs are filled by university graduates and cashiers jobs by those having A-levels.
The problem is not the measured improvements in the notional level of educational achievement, it is the frustration that it creates in the individuals who set out to achieve academically and those that failed to do so (or chose not to). They all feel cheated in their aspiration for a better adult life. The education system failed them all. The only useful thing that it provided, in some small measure, was externally enforced discipline. Such a discipline dominates the workplaces, unfortunately, diffuse dissatisfactions fuel narcissistic personality problems in such an environment.
In my post It’s Hell for Democracy I refer to ‘Screwtape Proposes a Toast‘ (pdf), by C.S. Lewis which addresses the part played by democracy and education in the downfall of humanity. C.S.Lewis pre-dates Lasch and while intellectuals may occupy themselves with ethics, the ethos of a society is created through the application of the basest of political motives. Of course; the foregoing may simply be an expression of my neurosis brought about by my diffuse dissatisfactions.
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