Anyone who watches a bit of daytime or prime-time television will recognise what Frank Furedi is talking about in his stringent attack on the way we live now. It is not just the intimate subject matter routinely on view: childhood abuse, domestic violence, marriage problems. It is the tone, the timbre of the new conversation which so disturbs: the encouragement of "ordinary people" to speak of distress, to own up to trauma, to keep "working on their self- esteem". In a world where power still operates nakedly in the global markets or at the end of a gun, what can be meant by the mass emoting of so many apparently vulnerable citizens?
Furedi has written a textbook-style assessment of this new therapy culture. While he lacks the illuminating gifts of sociologists such as Christopher Lasch or Richard Sennett, who can make their analysis of shifting social forces as compelling as a novel, Furedi does a good job, through statistics, quotations and examples, of hammering home his points. For instance, the rising black lines on a series of graphs show how the use in newspapers of terms such as "stress", "trauma" and "counselling" has soared.
Furedi forensically examines this brave new emotional world: the rush of counsellors to the site of every trauma, the ways in which economic problems are recast as psychological phenomena, the cult of the Victim, the decline of political activism. Vulnerability is encouraged, dissident emotions such as anger and hate are managed away. On the one hand citizens are encouraged to "affirm" and "recognise" themselves and others. On the other, we have a citizenry who consider themselves almost uniquely powerless, a fact confirmed by ever-lower election turnouts.
Furedi puts all this cogently in context. …