The ice and cold (minus 20 during the nights and minus 14 during daytime) are huge incentives to curl up with a good book (or documentary). The “Century of the self” documentary series I covered in my last post resonates with me – not least because it throws light on the huge changes which were taking place as I was growing up….
I was in my mid-teens when Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders (1957) began to make waves and I do remember the excited talk, in the aftermath of the Korean war, of “brainwashing” techniques……This article nicely captures the debates of the time – and JK Galbraith’s The New Industrial State (1967) confirmed the view of our generation that large companies basically gave us what they considered good for them – rather than for us….
The youthful rebelliousness of that period, I have to confess, left me behind. What I hadn’t realized was the role encounter groups then played in the direction young American activists took post-1968 when they became disillusioned with political action – and turned instead to personal or group therapy as a new form of politics. Social change, for this generation, was apparently to take place by osmosis – rather than through political parties. I was certainly aware of “flower power” in the 60s but missed its (alleged) “social edge”.
Where the documentary is perhaps more convincing is in its portrayal of the concern of the corporate world that the “live for today” attitude of that generation was threatening the impetus generated by the second world war for higher living standards…and how psychologists and social scientists were enrolled to deliver - through focus groups - a sophisticated understanding of the new individualism – and how it could be corralled for corporate interests…
The Protestant ethic may have been dismantled at one level (with its notion, for example, of “saving for the future”) but at another it was arguably being reinforced – as the new breed of “modern” social scientists (such as myself) were given the tools to question and ridicule the thinking of the generation which had emerged successful from the ravages of the second world war ….
Of course young people have been rebelling against their elders since eternity – but this time there were some huge differences –
- We had just emerged from the world’s biggest killing spree
- With mass industrial methods finely tuned
- Social science departments were being founded everywhere
- Student numbers started lift off – from less than 10% of the relevant age group to more than 50% within a generation
Scores of cheap books whose titles blazed with the phrase “What’s wrong with..……?” gave us in this period the same sort of discontent in our civic lives which we were being encouraged to exhibit in our consumer selves….So now each of us has our direct line, if not to God then to “the truth” as revealed in whichever of the hundreds of thousands of books (or blogs) vying for our attention gets through our defences….
”Modernisation” became the slogan of the 60s – and still resonates today as we continue to dismantle all that went before…..even as it is postmodernism which legitimises so many different ways to make sense of the world