Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Barack Obama: The Triumph of Therapy

In voting for Barack Obama, America sent a narrative to the White House. And why should it not have? Through the agency of our most serious thinkers the therapy culture has been insisting that human life is a narrative, no more, and no less. How better to affirm your adherence to that culture than by voting for the better narrative.

In one sense Obama embodied a story of penance and redemption, a story of salvation through divine intercession. In another sense his policies have worked to enact a Robin Hood narrative, taking from the rich and giving to the poor.

They have not provided presidential leadership, largely because fictions cannot lead. They can pretend; they can don the trappings of leadership; but they can never work effectively as chief executive.

Of course, Obama was a great life story without a track record. There is a very large difference between concocting a pleasing narrative and presenting a record of accomplishment.

Even the most well-crafted fictional persona will eventually crash into reality. Now, as the country suffers an extreme case of buyer's remorse, we are all paying the price.

Amazingly, led by the self-appointed arbiters of truth, no one seemed to care that Obama lacked a record of achievement, either legislative or executive. It doesn't stop there. Obama never released his medical records. We know nothing of his grade point averages. We have never seen his SAT or LSAT scores.

For the therapy culture, your narrative is the meaning of your life. The therapy culture is about teaching us all to construct our life stories. As a reactionary movement it has pointed us to our past, encouraged us to regress, and imagined that we would find meaning once we discovered which myth we were playing out.

This culture has never had a real interest in track records. It has left that to the coaches.

Nor does it have any real interest in character. Building a record of accomplishment involves knowing how to deal with success and failure. A person who can react with humility to real success and can work to correct failure is showing character. He is less likely to become prey to the arrogance that is borne of flattery or to the self-doubt that is the lot of those who do not know how to deal with failure.

Good character involves a track record. Honorable people are those who have acted honorably over and over again. People who are trustworthy have consistently shown themselves worthy of trust.

Honor is not a role you play in a drama. You cannot put it on and take it off like a mask. You cannot achieve it by insisting with the greatest eloquence that you are a good person.

People who rely on narratives can never own their experience. If your life is an enactment of someone's dream or fantasy or drama, then you are a dramatic persona. Your experience is never really yours because you are always following a script.

If the story is the thing, then freedom is not. As a character in a play you do not have the freedom to countermand the script or to make it up as you go along.

Your experience is yours only when you respond to it ethically. Taking responsibility for success or failure makes an experience your own. It shows you as an ethical individual, not as a dramatic persona who can simply remove the mask and become someone else when things go wrong.

If this is not making very much sense, or if you still retain some hope for the Obama administration, think of it this way. If you want to ask for a raise, should you walk into your boss's office with your life story in hand? Or should you present a record of your accomplishments, showing what you have contributed to the bottom line?

Or else, when you are choosing someone to marry, should you choose the person who has the most compelling life story, or should you choose the person with the best character? Which one do you think will make the better long term mate?

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