“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Obsession with Obsession

The paradox is that T.M. Luhrmann (“The Anxious Americans,” July 19) reproduces the syndrome she identifies as a problem: the American obsession with emotional life and the idea that it needs to be drastically changed. In her case, the target is identified as a cultural concept, and the magic bullet she implies is getting rid of that cultural concept. But the real problem might be treating things (from emotions to terrorism) as objects that can be altered with a magic bullet. 

Professor Luhrmann’s essay retweets the idea that we Westerners are special (in this case, specially dysfunctional). Her argument is tantamount to saying that it’s not anxiety, but the very idea of inner life at all (hence psychoanalysis and other Western “developments”) that is “bad.” That sounds familiar: here is an anomaly, so let’s eliminate it. How’s that been working out so far?

Being obsessed with identifying an anomaly that we must eliminate also lurks behind an obsession with this obsession.

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