Thursday, January 05, 2006

Why Believe "Self-help's Big Lie"?

Steve Salerno got himself a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed piece on New Year's Day, denouncing self-help culture as a big lie. While he and I agree on some things, we don't agree on others.

Here's my Letter to the Editor that the Times elected not to include in their line-up of responses . . . I guess no one likes to think about the economic underpinnings of the anxiety that sends folks to read self-help books . . .

To the Editor:

Steve Salerno rightly points out that much of American self-help culture is a mass deception. ("Self-help's Big Lie," 1/1/06). But his analysis begs the question of why Americans are hooked on self-help. If Americans aren't just gullible or plain stupid, why are they turning to the likes of Tony Robbins, Stephen R. Covey, and the good doctors Phil and Laura?

The answer is simple: faced with declining earning power (real wages are about 20 percent less now than they were in 1972) and unstable, unpredictable employment opportunities—not to mentioning destabilized families and soaring divorce rates—Americans are searching for answers. Contemporary Americans are not just overworked, they're belabored: they're at work on themselves, struggling to remain not just employed, but ever re-employable; not just married, but also re-marriageable.

Americans turn to self-help culture for advice on how to minimize their economic and interpersonal risks in an increasingly competitive global context. Helping Americans actually minimize these risks is the important work of the sociology, social activism, and social policy that Mr. Salerno so blithely dismisses as "sociological junk food and a culture of victimization."

Micki McGee


Blogger Julia Lupton said...

Great structural analysis of the problem! It is a helpful (!) mapping of how two people can arrive at a similar point (critique of self-help) from two very different political positions.

3:18 PM  

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