When I was younger I was of the opinion that most of the “self help” and bigger-picture (lifestyle, career) advice out there was bullshit. For the most part, it didn’t work, and was basically in the genre of “information that is marketable because it tells people what they want to hear,” i.e. that:
- The things that they wish they could do but can’t because of the sacrifices that would have to be made and how these sacrifices affect other people are in fact exactly what they should be doing, and the sacrifices either are myths or don’t matter or negatively affect people all that much, or
- That the sacrifices themselves are myths made up by “negative, toxic” people who just can’t bear to see anyone be successful.
Then I had this period of a number of years, basically from late-Ph.D. stage until last year sometime, during which I thought maybe I had it wrong and this was the problem with me in general, and that what I really ought to be doing is giving all of this advice a chance.
No, I was right in the first place, and as I’ve learned over and over again over the course of my life, I ought not to have doubted myself. So let me state, for the record, that self-help and “personal development” advice really falls into two major camps at the end of the day:
- How to screw other people but rationalize your screw job so that instead of your exploiting or mistreating them in some way for your personal gain, it becomes about how they are “toxic” for trying to hold you back.
- Telling you about how all the half-baked, narcissistic stuff that you’re doing is really the best you stuff already (“Hey babe, you’re already perfect, you go girl and don’t let the haters tear you down!”) and how to rationalize your inner judgments so that instead of rueing your incorrect choices and mistakes, you love them and can continue to make them over and over again without regret.
© Aron Hsiao / 2002
There’s a whole nexus of cultural dimensions that reinforce this, from our “theraputic” culture that shifts all choices from the realm of the moral to the realm of the aspirational and personal, to the individualistic ethos of modern liberal-democratic culture, which canonizes personal choice and “self-realization” as the foundational goods of society and social membership.
And there is a master rationalization that stands in for the moral calculus on providing and marketing this kind of advice. It goes something like this:
“People find value in it, so it’s fine that they spend on it, and the fact that they spend on it must indicate that they find value in it, so it must work in one way or another.”
This rationalization is also bullshit.
A huge amount of the spending and investment in our culture (dare I say the vast majority?) occurs not because people find value in something but because they are hoping to find value in something, i.e. it is aspirational—and the tenor of most of the marketing for most of the products sold to most of the people is a dead giveaway that this is the case.
And the more people are let down by what they’ve already spent on or invested in, the more desperate they become to set the ship right with whatever resources remain available to them, i.e. they become more and more aspirationally-oriented as they are stretched thinner.
I guess this is a muddled, 3:45 am way of saying, “It’s all a scam, man, and the more they tell you that what you need to do is work on yourself, the greather the chance that what they’re really telling you to do is hurt someone else to get just a tinier bit ahead, because selves are traditionally and biologically structured in the way in which they are because they necessarily have to function in, and were ‘designed for,’ life in society—as human social animals.”
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Some interpersonal red flags that make me deeply suspicious, whether from women or for men:
- Excessive use of cosmetics, fashion, or other items aimed at enhancing superficial appearance, particularly if they’re expensive, “sustainable,” “eco-friendly,” “animal-friendly,” and so on.
- Yoga, rock climbing, or other fitness-isms pursued as a kind of ‘”self-improvement porn,” which is really a form of entertainment rather than avocation, much less vocation.
- Anything particularly virtue-signal-worthy—recycling, organic eating, community organizing, etc. in which participation at present is significantly above historical baselines.
- Adoption of cultural practices and material circumstances that are not one’s one, i.e. white folks wearing Indian clothes, upper-middle-class Buddhists, etc.
- Avowed atheism or agnosticism in the co-presence of the things above.
- Lots of adult-to-adult socializing in the absence of other demographic groups, particularly amongst those who stridentlyy embrace the things above as it begins to look suspiciously like virtue-signal-worthy self-segregation in the interest of not being confronted by or associated with difference.
I guess this is my way of saying that I think that virtually everyone currently over the age of twenty who is not in the working class or below on the social ladder is a rather cheap fraud engaged in a collective game to pull the wool over their own eyes while standing next to innumerable others who are doing precisely the same thing, so that we can all feel better about ourselves as we drive into the same moral ditch that the baby boomers drove into.
This is the problem with the world. It isn’t climate change.
Climate change is ultimately most enabled by—if you’ll forgive the massive ellipsis here—yoga, Whole Foods, and incense as purchased and practiced by the sanctimonious iPhone set, who are busy mutually congratulating themselves into an enlightened, “diverse,” “verdant” epicurean graveyard of atomized, highly “virtuous” individuals.
The populist revolution occurred and is occurring because the plebes sense this (and not incorrectly) but aren’t educated or savvy enough to have any clue what to do about it.
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Frankly, there isn’t much to do about it other than regret it and hate yoga, “famer’s market” sellers of traditional Indian clothes, and all varieties of duckface, which is not actually a particular physiological manifestation (it actually comes in many different varieties and involves many different body parts) but a particular (and bankrupt) moral pose.