Where Oedipus once tormented us, it is now Narcissus. Pathologies linked to authority and domination have ceded to the limitless angst of self-contemplation. The old question ”” “What am I allowed to do?” ”” has given way to the equally scary “What am I capable of doing?” Alain Ehrenberg, a French author and psychologist, speaks of the “privatization of human existence.”
Community ”” a stable job, shared national experience, extended family, labor unions ”” has vanished or eroded. In its place have come a frenzied individualism, solipsistic screen-gazing, the disembodied pleasures of social networking and the Ã -la-carte life as defined by 600 TV channels and a gazillion blogs. Feelings of anxiety and inadequacy grow in the lonely chamber of self-absorption and projection.
These trends are common to all globalized modern democracies, ranging from those that prize individualism, like the United States, to those, like France, where social solidarity is a paramount value. Ehrenberg’s new book, “La SociÃ©tÃ© du Malaise” (“The Malaise Society”) is full of insights into the impact of narcissistic neurosis.