Friday, November 19, 2010

the self-help ethos

According to Eva Illouz, Freud was well aware of the limitation that he could cure only wealthier people and curing the poor people's neurosis did not really make sense. "Freud explained, laborers' social conditions are such that recovery from neurosis will only accentuate their misery." (Illouz, Cold Intimacy, Polity Press, 41) Therapy was supposed to be meant for only the privileged. Freud's point was the fact that one is not one's master, so he did not think his study could be used to let someone climb the social ladder or achieve self realization.

On the other hand, during the process of democratization, laborers have been encouraged to behave like those privileged: "Now you can own a house, car....even Freud. You can be your master." This "Be your master" was not from Freud, however, but from very Victorian notions of individual responsibility. Illouz gives an example of this ethos of self-improvement, citing Samuel Smiles's popular book in 1859 called Self-Help, which was "a series of biographies of men who had risen from obscurity to fame and wealth."

At this point, Illouz does not explain why this self-help culture became so dominant in American society in the first place, but focuses on history of this melange of the self-help ethos and therapy, and discusses how people ended up thinking that those who do not try to achieve self-realization are sick.

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