WEIRDLAND: The Century of the Self, Rockin' the Free World

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

The Century of the Self, Rockin' the Free World

"The Century of the Self" documentary by Adam Curtis focuses on the work of Sigmund Freud and PR consultant Edward Bernays. In the late 60s and early 70s, thousands flocked to the Esalen Institute. From being obscure and fringe, it quickly became the centre of a national movement for personal transformation — they created the 'me' generation.

Adam Curtis: Werner Erhard was the ultimate relativist. Erhard thinks that defusing the notion that you have a true self is empowering. He thinks the self is endlessly fluid and can be reinterpreted again and again. But what I think he didn't realise was that, by doing that to people, he also liberated big business because it meant that business could say, "You can have any identity you want, be whatever you want to be, and we will sell you whatever you need to express your identity". So, ultimately, I think the joke is on him. What he was about was producing the most solipsistic, self-centred people you could possibly imagine. Really he was teaching people just to think in terms of their self — like, the world outside is not real — and telling them they could create their own reality by the strength of their own personality. It is extreme narcissism, but a very powerful idea that, arguably, led to the new self expressive consumerism which rose in the 80s and dominated life in the 90s. Erhard was one of those who encouraged the puffing up of that selfish aspect of human nature which is irrational and not very nice. The huge rise in depression and anxiety disorders in the last 50 years is linked to the rise of the self, a rise in the increasingly isolated self in society is a parallel with the rise in rates of anxiety and depression. Source:

Sean Kay, “Rockin’ the free world! How the rock & roll revolution changed American and the world” (2017) book review: “Rock and roll,” Kay says, “is more than a music form—it is an idea, an attitude, a way of thinking about the world.” Rock music is more than pop music. If anything, pop music is rock and roll’s dull child. Rock and roll is the part of pop music that is original, alive and urgent. That feeling of freedom is what rock and roll reinvented in the 1950s. Indeed, a sense of joyous urgency: the reason jazz coalesced as a new music, the reason Dixieland developed into Big Band that developed into Be-bop. Kay’s book stresses the upside of rock and roll: “Rock and roll affirms and spreads freedom, equality, human rights, and peace advanced via education and activism.” Despite the overwhelming narcissism, disregard for others, the drugs and alcohol-fueled morality, the enduring message of rock & roll is hope. “Hope. That’s a good message.” Source:

Jim Morrison avidly read the popular sociologists of the day, with a special interest in crowd psychology as it related to drama and the theater. Two favorite works Morrison cited in his notebooks were David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd, which explored problems confronting the individual and the threats to personal freedom imposed by mass culture, and Norman O. Brown’s Life Against Death, an influential 1959 bestseller that attempted to psychoanalyze human history. Morrison was deeply interested in Cold War–era issues of social control that also appealed to the entire science fiction movement and Beat writers. Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power drew him in with its analysis of the performer/audience nexus, and taught him techniques he would deploy in a few years as frontman in The Doors. C. Wright Mills’s The Power Elite left little illusion about who was in charge of the American republic, and probably doubled Morrison’s deeply ingrained contempt for authority, especially the military.

Christopher Lasch’s ‘The Culture of Narcissism’ (Written about Baby Boomers, Perpetuated by Millennials): The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations is a 1979 book by the cultural historian Christopher Lasch, in which he explores the roots and ramifications of the normalizing of pathological narcissism in 20th century American culture using psychological, cultural, artistic and historical synthesis. Lasch proposes that since World War II, post-war America has produced a personality-type consistent with clinical definitions of "pathological narcissism." This pathology is not akin to everyday narcissism, a hedonistic egoism, but with clinical diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. Lasch locates symptoms of this personality disorder in the radical political movements of the 1960s (such as the Weather Underground), as well as in the spiritual cults of the 1970s, from est to Rolfing. The sociologist Richard Sennett “reminds us that narcissism has more in common with self-hatred than with self-admiration,” writes Lasch.

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