05 September 2011

The Selfish Society

Written by Published in Book Reviews

The Selfish Society opens with an arresting quote from poet Adrienne Rich: ‘In those years, people will say, we lost track/of the meaning of we, of you/we found ourselves/reduced to I’. She proceeds to explore territory revived by books such as Oliver James’s Affluenza, rallying against the rise of consumerism, an increasingly fascinating area when considered in the light of the recent rioting that took place in the UK. 

A pyschotherapist, Gerhardt looks at how our society, culture and politics got to where they are today, and her diagnosis – that individualism has confused material well-being for happiness, that community, care and family have been superceded by self-interest, self-absorption and self-centredness – is succint and timely. The forces of the late stages of capitalism, Gerhardt argues, have eroded emotional links with other people – family, neighbours – away. 

The road map for change lies in valuing emotional awareness and relationship, particularly in parenting, since how babies’ brains are conditioned will have a major effect on their ability to show empathy in later life. Gerhardt’s somewhat visionary perspective is to see a growth of emotional awareness spread through family and social networks into politics and the global family through cultivating loving, tolerant, nurturing family units from as early an age as possible.

Displaying a sound grasp of the latest neuroscience and a disdain for Thatcherite ideology that has messed with our minds, her rallying cry is for empathy, compassion and connection.

The Selfish Society: How we all forgot to love one another and made money instead by Sue Gerhardt (Simon & Schuster) £8.99

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