Bits and Pieces

After reading a good book there are bits and pieces of insight and even wisdom that float to the top — bits and pieces that deserve special attention and deeper thought. I always underline them and return to them later — which is why I read real books, not electronic substitutes. This way the books become a part of me and I also become a part of them. Readers of these blogs will know that I often return to Christopher Lasch, one of the deepest thinkers I have read who always teaches me something about subjects that interest us both. In reading The Minimal Self — which I have referred to in earlier posts — I have quoted several insights that I think deserve special attention. I post other bits and pieces here:


(Lasch is convinced that we as a culture have entered a survival mode of existence that resembles in important ways the techniques used by the inmates of the death camps during the Second World War. In this regard, he noted):

“. . . It is the survivors [of Auschwitz] who see their experience as a struggle not to survive but to stay human. While they record any numbers of strategies for deadening the emotional impact of imprisonment — the separation of the observing self from the participating self; the decision to forget the past and to live exclusively in the present; the severance of emotional ties to loved ones outside the camps; the cultivation of a certain indifference to appeals from fellow victims — they also insists that emotional withdrawal could not be carried to the point of complete callousness without damaging the prisoner’s moral integrity and even his will to live. It is the survivors who try to ‘give meaning to survival,’ while those who come after them and live under conditions seemingly more secure see meaning only in survival itself.”


“. . .modernism in its most ‘advanced’ form no longer explores new frontiers of sensibility, new dimensions of reality, but, on the contrary, undertakes a strategic retreat from reality and a regression into a realm . . .’in which mental and perceptual operations are so basic that they cannot sustain any but the most undifferentiated emotions.’ It is hardly necessary to add that in ‘advanced’ art this embodies the survival mentality characteristic of those faced with extreme situations: a radical reduction of the field of vision, a ‘socially approved solipsism,’ a refusal to feel anything, whether pain or pleasure. . . . the weakening of the distinction between the self and its surroundings — a development faithfully recorded by modern art even in its refusal to become representational — makes the very concept of reality, together with the concept of the self, increasingly untenable.”


“Our culture surrounds children with sexually seductive imagery and information; at the same time, it tries in every possible way to spare them the experience of failure or humiliation. It takes the position that ‘you can be anything you want to be.’ It promises success and gratification with a minimum of effort. Adults spend a great deal of time and effort trying to reassure the child of his importance and of their own love, perhaps in order to allay the suspicion that they themselves have little interest in children. They take pains not to remind the child of his immaturity and dependence. Reluctant to claim the authority of superior experience, parents seek to become their children’s companion. They cultivate a youthful appearance and youthful tastes, learn the latest slang, and throw themselves into their children’s activities. They do everything possible, in short, to minimize the difference between the generations. Recently it has become fashionable to minimize gender differences as well, often — once again — with the best of intentions.”


“A truly conservative position on culture rejects both enforced conformity and laissez-faire. It attempts to hold society together by means of moral and religious instruction, collective rituals, and a deeply implanted though not uncritical respect for tradition.”


“All these institutions operate according to the underlying principle that a willingness to cooperate with the proper experts offers the best evidence of ‘adjustment’ and the best hope of personal success, while the refusal to cooperate signifies ’emotional problems’ requiring more sustained therapeutic attention. . . the shift form the authoritative sanctions to psychological manipulation and surveillance. . . [has given rise to] a professional and managerial class that governs society not by upholding authoritative moral standards but by defining normal behavior and by invoking allegedly non-punitive, psychiatric sanctions against deviance.”

Gone is the moral high ground of which Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke so eloquently. It has vanished within the self in which all of reality has been reduced to the “world-for-me.” We are now living in an age that centers on the self, the reductio ad absurdum of solipsism.


6 thoughts on “Bits and Pieces

  1. Hugh, you did hit on bits and pieces of wisdom. This phrase struck me as it defines many problems in my view:

    ” ….governs society not by upholding authoritative moral standards but by defining normal behavior and by invoking allegedly non-punitive, psychiatric sanctions against deviance.”

    We over value conformity and under value individual thought. To me, we do so at our peril, as innovation tends to occur at the intersections of different spheres, rather than in the middle of one.

    I also appreciated the idea of Holocaust survivors not losing their humanity. Well done, Keith

  2. Lasch is an interesting writer. I read the Culture of Narcissism when I lived in New Haven.

    At that time Otto Kernberg published his theories of Borderline and Narcissistic personality disorders and I suspect that Lasch was influenced by Kernberg.

    I find that these insights regarding Holocaust survivors applicable to the lives of adult survivors of child abuse.

    As creatures with minds we must somehow give meaning to the experience of mindless brutality. If we are successful we can become teachers and humanitarians; if not, the emptiness and rage that follows emotional and physical rape will consume us.

      • I read Culture of Narcissism right after reading
        Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism
        by Otto Kernberg.

        Both men take a moral stand regarding the pathology of narcissism
        which I think is based on the mind’s ability to use intellect to
        transcend emotional impulses, especially destructive behavior.

        If secular humanism is a faith as some people contend it is, then it is
        a faith in ‘man’s’ ability to discipline his intellect.

        The morality of secular humanism is that we are responsible for
        using our minds to improve our ability to use reason in everyday life.

        Kernberg saw narcissism as both a pathology and a moral failure; I base that
        on what I remember from one reading so I may be off…:)

        My theory is that Narcissism at its most malignant either breeds
        more narcissism or damaged empaths.

        I wonder if that isn’t what we see on the streets our cities today: narcissists
        stepping over their victims who in the twisted logic of the narcissist deserve
        the every day beating of unnecessary poverty.

      • I think ion large measure it is. Latch sees the roots of narcissism in the absence of any authority figure in the lives of the young. They grow up confused about right and wrong and where to draw lines. They become immersed in themselves and prone to violence.

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