In 2 Timothy 3:2 there is a warning of terrible times in the future when (among other things) people will be lovers of themselves. This podcast episode looks at this reality of our current day and age. At no point in the history of the world can an entire generation even come close to competing with our own for the unfortunate title of being a people totally in love with themselves.
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves…
2 Timothy 3:1,2
I look at the history and the dysfunction of this horrible reality and these terrible times.
Show notes are below. Please consider becoming a Patron to JB Shreve and the End of History.
Sigmund Freud and the Self
Our story begins with a look at the work and philosophy of Sigmund Freud. The self, as Freud identified it, was captured in the subconscious. He believed the tension between the conscious and subconscious had to be resolved for man to be whole and healthy. This idea became incredibly popular in the western world during the first half of the 20th century.
What is significant is that this was the first time in human history that the idea of personal health, safety, and happiness was rooted to the internal state of a human being. In the past avoiding plague, starvation, marauding armies, or other external threats were the primary needs for securing human happiness. Things changed now.
Another doctor, Abraham Maslow captured this in his idea of the human being’s hierarchy of needs. This hierarchy could be scaled out to all of society and at the pinnacle of human development and requirement for personal happiness was a deep and significant encounter with the self.
Edward Bernays and Engineering Consent for the Lovers of Self
Next in the story comes the nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays. Freud wanted to heal the self. Bernays wanted to manipulate the self. As he read the writings and philosophy of his uncle he was not concerned with what would be right and wrong when it came to the discovery of the self and its needs. He was concerned with how money and power could be gained by manipulating the self.
Bernays wrote a famous book titled Propaganda where he noted:
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.
Bernays is noted as the father of public relations and his work and research triggered a revolution in the marketing industry. This impacted everything from the type of cleaning products we buy to the politicians we vote into office.
There was a terrific documentary from the BBC I utilized as a key source for this section of the podcast. All four parts of the documentary are available on YouTube below.
Century of the Self- Part 1: Happiness Machines
Century of the Self – Part 2: Engineering Consent
Century of the Self – Part 3: There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads, He Must Be Destroyed
Century of the Self – Part 4: Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering
Ayn Rand and the Objectivists and Lovers of Self
After World War II the next step in the developing and centralizing the “self” was carried out by a modern day philosopher and thinker. Her name was Ayn Rand.
Rand is best remembered for her belief in the singular priority and centrality of the individual. The individual was the most important of all things. The world would be better and life would be better if the individual was left unrestrained and unhindered to be all he could be.
She gathered around her a group of followers and they called their belief system Objectivism. The belief of Objectivism was that the self did not need to be healed. The self needed to be freed.
The problems of the world and for individual life was that society and government had put restraints on the individual self in the shape of laws, regulations, and norms. These needed to be wiped away so that the true self would be freed to fully express itself. That was what would bring about real happiness, fulfillment, and self-actualization.
When it comes to the elaboration of this focus upon loving the self, none of the followers of Ayn Rand were more important than her closest one (also her lover) Nathaniel Branden.
Branden is known as the father of the self-esteem movement. This is where psychology and popular culture made a giant leap so that the focus of health and wholeness was not placed on healing but upon freeing the “real you.”
There were parallel developments taking place at the same time such as the Human Potential Movement. All of these varied in their degrees of extremism and weirdness but the core operating principle was the same.
The human self was beautiful. The human self needed to be freed. All things that worked to limit the human self were evil. We have to love the self.
The California Task Force To Promote Self Esteem
Then came the 1980s and 90s and a special task force established in the state of California to examine whether or not a positive self-esteem could cure the problems of society. This was a coordinated effort to prove that a positive self-esteem should be pushed by the government into the schools and culture building institutions of our society.
The study itself was bogus, from an academic perspective but that did not prevent it from being endorsed nationally in the media and celebrity centers. This was the pathway through which the love of the self entered mainstream American life and changed the way we see ourselves and one another.
Additional Reading Reference in the this Episode on the Lovers of Self :
- The manipulation of the American mind: Edward Bernays and the birth of public relations
- Esalen Institute
- The California Task Force to Promote Self Esteem (NYT 1986 article)
- The Great Self Esteem Con
- Generation Meds
- Me, Me, Me Generation