Escaping the Self: Alcoholism, Spirituality, Masochism, and Other Flights from the Burden of Selfhood

Escaping the Self: Alcoholism, Spirituality, Masochism, and Other Flights from the Burden of Selfhood

Escaping the Self: Alcoholism, Spirituality, Masochism, and Other Flights from the Burden of Selfhood

Escaping the Self: Alcoholism, Spirituality, Masochism, and Other Flights from the Burden of Selfhood

Synopsis

Overwhelmed by the demands of creating and maintaining a positive self-image in their personal and professional lives, some people are taking to escapist practices - drug and alcohol use is increasing, suicide rates are rising, exotic and foreign cults are flourishing. Why is it that there is such a strong urge to escape in a people as blessed as the middle classes? This book presents a view of the darkest side of human nature - showing how powerful experiences from religious ecstasy to bulimia can relieve the burden of maintaining a personal identity. Filled with lively examples and incisive analysis, this book enhances our understanding of behaviour both familiar and baffling.

Excerpt

or several years I have sought to understand our modern culture's overriding fascination with selfhood and identity. This fascination has permeated the society, and academic research has been touched, too. Indeed, starting in the late 1970s, self and identity formed one of the most popular topics of study in the social sciences, as well as exerting strong influence on the humanities. My own interest in the self and identity began as part of that movement.

But if I have ridden the self bandwagon, I have done so with some skepticism. There is something not entirely healthy about our culture's fascination with selfhood, something vaguely indecent, problematic, perhaps even dangerous. However beneficial overall, most major social developments exact costs as well. Usually the problems become apparent only gradually and long after the benefits have been embraced.

So it is, I think, with selfhood and identity. Our culture has moved selfhood to center stage and has developed an extensive vocabulary of self to inform a prolonged, admiring discourse on the subtleties and possibilities of selfhood. Meanwhile, the costs of this fascination attract less attention.

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