century of the self

I’ve been watching the BBC’s 2002 documentary, The Century of the Self. It’s the sort of artifact attack critique you want to show every man, woman and child, this is what it’s all about war terror talking heads, new + improved though I wouldn’t know what to expect or hope to follow. Y’all cogs are fools, capitalistic tools, me too tis of thee, all sorts of angst I thought I’s over, sidling up to thirty.

Paranoia. Social control. Virulent peace-time propaganda and the inextricable yet artificial linking of capitalism with democracy such that “good” business (effective, dominant, roughshod, bonanza enterprises operating regardless of ethics) means “good” government, with the best government existing only to indulge and legitimize business.

Meanwhile, psychology is imagined, not always without cause, but applied en masse with the intent of manipulation. Save our sick minds from national socialism, communism, perversion and too much isolation. Alone time, reflection, introspection is for weirdos—self examination better left to the professionals. Unconscious urges, the Freudian slippery slope, those sex bits were just the surface and in truth a diversion. Bait to freak out the proper folk dismissing it, while behind the scenes, the curtain, the machine is in motion, engineering consent, manufacturing desire.

I want some brownies. I’d settle for cake. But all the prepackaged quick-n-easy mixes require that I add an egg. Haven’t they figured this out yet? how to pulverize and include the egg I mean really. In my version of vegetarianism, I eat eggs when they’re “in things” but never buy them outright, the little pods of fetal chick goo gross that would rot in my fridge before I used them.

Later that day hello synchronicity in the next episode I watch of The Century of the Self, I learn that in the ’50s one of the first product focus groups, i.e., a group psychoanalysis session, uncovered that women felt guilty about using readymade cake mixes, which originally included all ingredients. While the purpose was convenience, readymade cakes were thought too easy. Housewives were cheating their families of their labor and their love. Betty Crocker changed the recipe to exclude the egg, which the woman had to add on her own.

Her own egg. A symbolic contribution. For her husband, her children. Sales soared.

Sixty years later, I’m too neurotic for a family. I have a problem with factory farming. But I still consume the products, eat the cruelty, yield the profit, with indirect complicity. I just need the right conditions—the right conditioning.

Help me out, psychology. Fix me.


  • Anca

    September 6, 2010 at 10:59 am

    I must admit some words seem not-so-heavy when I’m digging for more ancient (latin) rootings.

    Para + noia = beside, more than + thought
    Esthos + custom, habit ; ethics = right/wrong (interesting cultural (emotional) development of habit)
    Sick = (ro bolnava): bol + nava = man or mushroom + ship
    Engineer = (ro. Inginer) : in +gi + ner = in + birth + nerve, muscle, tendon, strength (inside birth strength?)
    Prob + lem = to believe, to appraise + boat, theme, title or ghosts
    Con +roll = together, with + little wheel
    Neurosis = (ro. Nevroza) : nevr +os = with /without even + voice, showing, sign, miracle, beak

  • Anca

    September 6, 2010 at 11:09 am

    So far just watched one episode (3rd). Interesting approach in releasing the self without the understanding of it (just the experience), as well as non-balancing with the reality of people being social creatures. (release within balance to social context) Releasing anger is different than releasing the NEED for anger, imo.
    Part of me thinks (hopes) at large we’re growing beyond last decades to merge self-autonomy with social/community awareness. In that journey questions that come from ‘instant’ beliefs come to my mind:
    – Why does ‘understanding’ a process is thought to ‘spoil’ it? ie, understanding how love works, does it manage to still keep its flavor? Understanding how beliefs/society/religion…etc works (or a model of it) , does it still keep its core? My take it’s a limiting ‘instant belief’ somehow formed that becoming aware takes away from the flavor of something. I played with changing that, and found in most cases emotional / spiritual flavor can be traced back while having more awareness.
    – Same applies to social control. Why becoming aware all of a sudden is linked to the thought of un-free, or controlled, or of hardship of situations? Same situations as before, new information simply adds to models of thought. Previous ones still apply, if one chooses to. (regression is possible, or more ‘clean’ – named choosing what mental model to believe = previous, recent, mix of them). Having different social awareness simply adds up to the ingredients I can use while choosing a thought pattern. The ‘instant belief’ that a thought can limit me or not is a … thought.

  • prollymolly

    September 6, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    Fix you? Fix you?? May I suggest Soylent Green?


  • megh

    September 7, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    But Soylent Green is peeeeeeoplllllle!

    Interesting thoughts, Anca. I think an individual may overcome the angst of awareness of social control, and feel “free” of it — but unfortunately, ultimately, so what. (And it does not seem that understanding the process does anything but make one feel cynical and sick — the machine is far from imploding just because of awareness. Or is that only because so few are aware?)

    The very basis of social control is that it works on a society level. Those who are aware of it but don’t care or let it affect them, or who attempt to drop out of society / culture, don’t matter in the grand scheme of social control. To escape requires a massive upheaval that may or may not ever happen. I think America / Western Civilization will eat itself at some point — arguably it’s happening, with the way we’ve screwed ourselves on the economy (“we” being a nicety, of course). Yet I still think we’re a long way from a significantly different world order (democracy, capitalism, war profiteering, electioneering, etc.).

    What I find fascinating about the whole thing is the overlap of psychology into sociology. Obviously “social psychology” has been around for awhile, and they were never fully separate to begin with. But I tend to think that peoples’ beliefs that these realms are discrete — or better yet, irrelevant or unsupportable — are the basis on which such manipulation is so effective. You can think your way out the harm in your own head and even out of society, but not the whole society out of itself.

  • Anca

    September 9, 2010 at 12:07 am

    For some reason remembering Soylent Green in all its mightiness made me think of “What about us” lyrics… yup, I agree! It’s about people… all the people, not just some.

    re: social control, the drop-ins, or drop-outs… seems like the classic riddle from where can the best impact be made? (inside out, or outside in? ya’ know, the cracks outside the box, or the ones inside?) My opinion is that there can be some sort of balance between the two states, but I agree, until a better model/pattern/process comes along, so far it does take effort (not quite a massive upheaval, but still… considerable effort)

    re: discreteness, effective manipulation -> a question on my mind for weeks now is… what if instead of spending time and energy into hush-hushing (and implicitly, assuming), that time & energy would be invested in discovering, exploring, improving, experiencing…etc?

  • megh

    September 15, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Started episode 3 last night, which delves into the transcendental self improvement / empowerment movement. They’re talking about est and Werner Erhard, about which I did some study for the You Are Not Dead seminar adaptation.

    This documentary is so great!

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