Magazine article The Spectator

Sinister Cabals

Magazine article The Spectator

Sinister Cabals

Article excerpt


About this time last year when for one reason or another I was feeling fairly down, someone suggested that what I really needed was to see a cognitive behavioural therapist. Relative to my status and achievements, he explained, my view of my life seemed quite ridiculously negative. `You've got a big house, you earn a reasonable living, you're doing well at your job, you're happily married, your children are healthy and you love them. But all you ever do is complain about how much you hate yourself and about how unhappy you are and how unfair it is that you're not more successful.'

Perhaps he was right but I think there were at least two important points he'd overlooked. One, I'm a writer and depression goes with the territory. In fact, in the middle of a book when you're trying to create some sort of order from chaos, I fear it might even be a necessary evil. Two, it is not paranoia or self-hatred that leads me to believe I am not as successful as I deserve to be. It is my intelligent and lucid understanding of the nature of the universe. Quite simply, it is an absolute fucking outrage that my books aren't in the bestseller lists and that every editor in Fleet Street isn't crawling on his or her knees across broken glass to beg me to write columns for them. One day people will realise this; but until they do I'm bound to be dissatisfied, aren't I?

Anyway, the thing that got me thinking these thoughts was The Century Of The Self (BBC 2, Sunday), which has turned out to be one of those series so stupendously good that you keep asking your friends: `Did you see it? No? Oh, God, but you absolutely must, it's just sooo interesting. Like, in the last one, there was this absolutely amazing bit where ... etc. etc.' But then, I suppose we should have expected this, for everything executive producer Stephen Lambert does is genius.

One of the series' more extraordinary revelations has been the extent to which the psychotherapy movement influenced the development of 20th-century consumer society. Perhaps, like me, you'd assumed that shrinks were benign, unobtrusive figures that you could either pay to go to see or ignore completely. But it turns out that almost all the big social trends from the growth of advertising and public relations to the hippy movement and the number of paint shades you can buy from Dulux were mostly engineered by sinister cabals of Freudians, post-Freudians, Reichians or whatever other psychoanalytical sect happened to be fashionable at the time.

Last week's episode - `There Is A Policeman Inside All Our Heads - He Must Be Destroyed' - dealt with the comical moment when the Freudian approach to psychotherapy (which, if I understand aright, means repressing your wilder, animal instincts in order to become a controlled, model citizen) was supplanted by the Reichian one (like, er, express yourself and let it all hang out man), leading to the birth of the 'me' generation. …

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