Blog Entry 5: "Why the Self is Empty"

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Hi all:

"Why the Self is Empty" is an academic article.  It's too long, the print is too small, its full of citations and names you won't (and don't have to) know.

Forget that stuff and read for the main idea.  Cushman is trying to talk about how consumerism shaped identity as older and more traditional forms of identity formation slipped away.

Do as you did with the last blog comment.  Pick a quotation you find interesting and then write about why you found it interesting (you agree/disagree; something you had not thought about before; important to over all argument; no clear or confusing).

Thank you.

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272 Comments

“Humans do not have a basic, fundamental, pure human nature that is transhistorical and transcultural. Humans are incomplete and therefore unable to function adequately unless embedded in a specific cultural matrix.”
I agree with this quotation from the article Why the Self is Empty by Phillip Cushman. Cushman makes a valid point that humans are not born knowing about the world, they learn from their cultural surroundings and their experiences. In order to represent our cultures, our society turns to consumer goods to shape our appearances and to show off their wealth.

"One prominent type of add offers the fantasy that the consumer's life can be transformed into a glorious, problem-free life-the 'life' of the model who is features in the ad" (29).
I found this quote to be a really important one because it shows the reader the "emptiness" that Cushman refers to throughout the reading. These ads make the consumer feel as if they are worthless without the products that the ad is selling. This feeling of "worthlessness" makes the consumer believe that by buying these products they can actually reach the same "life" of the model from the ad. I've seen this many times in numerous amounts of ads. For example, the Carl's Jr. commercials with skinny girls eating the burgers, or types of products for one's hair, or types of mints or gums that might get you that kiss you've been waiting for. Or what about commercials dealing with colognes or perfumes that send out the message that by wearing their perfume you'll feel "hot", or "sexy." They've even gone to the extreme of using condoms in ads that say you'll have great sex (picking at some men's insecurities). All these ads contribute to the consumers loss of their own personal values and in Cushman's words these ads convince the consumer that their life can be "transformed".

"The self was convinced of as capable, of personal change; impressing others and gaining their approval became an important aim in life, far outstripping the value of doing the morally correct act, which was dictated by one's character" (26).
Society shifts after World War two from being a community base into being individuals. Since mainly everyone became individuals, they began to feel empty within themselves and focused their time to consuming and keeping up with society. The reason i chose this quote was because i think it summarizes what each individual did to feel pleased with themselves. They began to consume inorder to "gain [society's] approval" of acceptance in the community. Their personality became what they represented with their stuff, rather than their own characteristics. I think this quote is correct because today, many of us judge others by their appearance, mainly on how they dress.

"Unlike character, which is centered on personal moral integrity, advice manuals of the time taught that personality was synonymous with becoming liked by others. The self was conceived of as capable of personal change; impressing others and gaining their approval became an important aim in life, far outstripping the value of doing the morally correct act, which was dictated by one's character" (pg. 26).

It is interesting to see that it all started so long ago that people were encouraged to do things simply to please others. It is definitely something we still see today with many. People tend to forget that things should be done because it is the RIGHT thing to do and not because it is what will make everyone happy. It is sad to know that this is what is taught to people and it's the type of advice given to them because it is not the way people should be living their lives. In a sense, they are losing themselves because they are no longer doing things because they really want to and it's the right thing to do, but because they feel like they have to in order to be accepted.

“Humans do not have a basic, fundamental, pure human nature that is transhistorical and transcultural. Humans are incomplete and therefore unable to function adequately unless embedded in a specific cultural matrix.”

So this quote from Why the Self is Empty by Philip Cushman is true.
I feel that what it means is that without haviing that culture to be in a person is not complete. Until the person has that the person isn't a person. It says how we arent built with that that we have to be born into it.

"Writers such as Lears(1983) and Modleski (1986) have argued that ads sell by convincing the public that a certain product is indispensable to their well-being or by implicitly addressing or exacerbating a personal fear in the customer that could be reassured or soothed by purchasing the product."
I chose this quote because I believe that ads do sell products by convincing the public that the certain product they are advertising is a necessity as well as a soothing product for their lives. Ads encourage people to purchase products they don't need but with their ability of persuasion i feel like they make people believe they do need that product in their lives.

“Individuals do not wish to buy if they do not perceive a need for a product. But with an empty self people always need.”

The products we buy from the consumer society are the products we see necessary for our lives. Whether it be for personal reasons to gain an identity or other reasons presented by advertisements, we are always buying. Furthermore, the fact that we are empty selves with no sense of personal identity does not help with the cause of stopping our feed of the ever-growing consumer society.

"Culture 'completes' humans by explaining and interpreting the world, helping them to focus their attention on or ignore certain aspects of their environment, and instructing and forbidding them to think and act in certain ways (Heiddeger, 1962/1977). Culture is not indigenous clothing that covers the universal human; it infuses individuals, fundamentally shaping and forming them and how they conceive of themselves and the world, how they see others, how they engage in structures of mutual obligation, and how they makes choices in everyday world" (25).

I think its clever of the author to refer to culture not as a piece of clothing that can put on and taken off. Rather, culture is something that acts as a foundation, an explanation and even an inspiration. And yet, in today's modern conception of culture, those very same articles of clothing can contribute to the key distinctions of each culture. What an individual decides to wear on his/her body and presents to the world can become a defining characteristic of his/her "culture."

"The thesis of this article is that the current self is constructed as empty, and as a result the state controls its population not by restricting the impulses of its citizens,as in Victorian times, but by creating and manipulating their wish to be soothed, organized, and made cohesive by momentarily filling them up." (24)

I believe this quote explains how companies, etc. try to find ways to capture the attention of consumers and offer them the solution to fill up the emptiness inside. They persuade them to buy their products and offer them as solutions to filling up the empty self.

“If psychologists do not recognize the ethnocentric nature of psychology’s discourse about the current Western self, we commit several errors. In particular, we participate in a culturally disrespectful and damaging psychological imperialism…”
In anthropology I learned about ethnocentrism. It’s the concept that one’s culture practices and beliefs are considered the right ones over all other culture practices and beliefs. I learned that we need to stay away from such a concept because it impairs our views and judgments. The Western ethnocentric psychology nature lacks individualism by ignoring other cultures. We tend to be prejudice and thus destroy the self contained individual because I believe culture is what defines us. It separates us from one another and makes each one of us unique.

"In the second half of the century the empty self has made it much easier for advertising to exert influence and control."
I picked this quotation because it is interesting how advertisement could make a person purchase a product. In the postwar era advertisements would state that purchasing a product would make the self feel happier. People were buying the products they were seeing in advertisements. Advertisements tend to critizes the consumer by imlpying that the consumer's life is dull when they don't have the product they are selling. This sometimes leads the consumer to buy the product to make them feel better about themselves.

"The process of studying humans is not the same as "reading" persons as "texts" (Gergen, 1988), but more like standing behind them and reading over their shoulder the cultural text from which they themselves are reading (Sass, 1988a, p. 250)."
The way advertising works is not on studying people but to see on what they like and work from that. So instead of trying to persuade people into buying something they don't want but instead they try to persuade them to buy something they are interested in.

"The post- World War II self thus yearns to acquire and consume as an unconscious way of compensating for what has been lost: it is empty."(24)

I find this quotation interesting because it explains the main reason why we, as humans have the never ending desire to consume everything that surrounds us. This can be proven by making comparisons between industrialized countries such as the U.S and poor countries(in terms of economic power) such as India. People from the U.S consume repeatedly regardless of the necessity of the goods and people in India don't suffer from this "addiction" because their culture is still alive.

"Humans are incomplete and therefore unable to function adequately unless embedded in a specific cultural matrix." Pg. 601
I chose this quote because it seems to be very true. Humans seem to be unable to function if there isn't any structure or purpose. Just imagine how chaotic the world would be without and laws, standards, routines, or reasons. Nothing would be achieved because there would be no incentives, rewards, or purpose. It is human nature to have structure otherwise nothing would have meaning.

"Culture 'completes' humans by explaining and interpreting the world, helping them to focus their attention on or ignore certain aspects of their environment, and instructing and forbidding them to think and act in certain ways. Culture is not indigenous clothing that covers the universal human; it infuses individuals, fundamentally shaping and forming them and how they conceive of themselves and the world, how they see others, how they engage in structures of mutual obligation, and how they make choices in the everyday world."
-I agree with this quotation because it shows why people from different places think, act, and perceive differently. Obviously we are all humans, but we still behave different from others. The quote explains how it is your culture what shapes you into different individuals. For example, I have trouble eating Chinese food. Not liking Chinese food is not an universal human characteristic since many people love Chinese food, but most people of my culture don't like it. It is our culture that has shaped us differently, indicating how the self is a social construct because without our cultures we have an empty self.

“Individuals do not wish to buy if they do not perceive a need for a product. But with an empty self people always need.”

This quote was important to me because it says that we would not need to buy anything if we were not "empty" but advertisers play on our insecurities to make us buy more things. Does this mean to say that we fall into their tricks of advertisement because we ARE empty?

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Tingle published on March 24, 2011 12:04 PM.

Blog Entry 4: "Setting the Course" was the previous entry in this blog.

Blog Entry 6: What is Wrong with Happiness is the next entry in this blog.

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