I recently finished reading Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace’s mammoth novel about the near future. It took me nearly four months, and would have taken longer if I had not had extra time on my hands as I recovered from surgery. Reading the middle third of the book was like wandering through a wilderness; I kept going out of sheer determination, but it seemed like I was getting nowhere. There’s some satisfaction at having persevered to the end, but mainly there’s relief.

One of the reasons I initially decided to read the book was that I had seen the DFW interview movie The End of the Tour (2015) when it was first released, and that movie (which I discussed here) had made me curious about DFW’s analysis of the struggles those of us living in modern (or postmodern) USA have with living meaningful and genuine lives. As I read IJ, I paid attention to anything that shed light on this issue. There is of course much more to the novel than this, and I don’t want to suggest that DFW wrote primarily to offer advice about how to live with American entertainment, excess, and irony. I do want to focus on that issue in giving my thoughts about the book, though.

Just a couple of caveats before I begin. I have no particular expertise at literary analysis and only limited knowledge of DFW’s life and works, so readers are likely to find more astute information about IJ elsewhere. I’m merely sharing some of the thoughts the novel prompted in me. Also, I haven’t taken especial care to avoid spoilers, so if you’re reading IJ and don’t want to know what happens, it may be best to wait until you’re ready for such information before you read what I have to say.

To start, then, this post will focus on one feature that stood out as I read, namely that IJ portrays a world in which human desire is prevalent and problematic. Pretty much everyone is pursuing something they yearn for, usually something they hope will make them whole, or at least better. These desires aren’t a sufficient guide for life, though. In fact, they are likely to make life worse. In one of the two main settings for the novel, the Enfield Tennis Academy, the pre-adolescent and adolescent students all begin with a desire to make “The Show,” the professional tennis circuit. Not reaching this goal is problematic, but achieving it is even more fraught with danger:

“It’s possible that the only jr. tennis players who can win their way to the top and stay there without going bats are the ones who are already bats, or else who seem to be just grim machines….” (p. 437-8)

Thus Schtitt, the head coach of the academy, is as interested in helping his charges avoid the perils of success as he is in helping them succeed. As one of the staff explains,

“The point here for the best kids is to inculcate their sense that it’s never about being seen. It’s never. If they can get that inculcated, the Show won’t fuck them up, Schtitt thinks.” (p. 680)

In the other main setting, Ennet House–a halfway house for recovering drug addicts–the residents had desired what they thought drugs could provide, be that pleasure or escape or peace, but eventually they were always disappointed. More than this, they became trapped. For example, one of the residents, Joelle van Dyne, attempted to kill herself by overdose just because she had been imprisoned by her addiction. Here’s where she found herself:

“It is the cage that has entered her somehow. The ingenuity of the whole thing is beyond her. The Fun has long since dropped off the Too Much. She’s lost the ability to lie to herself about being able to quit, or even about enjoying it, still. It no longer delimits and fills the hole. It no longer delimits the hole.” (p. 222)

Desire is dangerous; it’s likely to become our master. DFW sounds almost as pessimistic as philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer here, sharing with him the idea that what motivates human beings is primitive, illogical desires that can never be satisfied. Many of the characters in the book are caged in some way; typically this is the result of having pursued desires that seemed to offer bliss but end up causing harm.

Schopenhauer thought all we could do to mitigate the force of desire was to lead very constricted lives; fortunately, Wallace is more hopeful. I’ll discuss where he finds hope in a later post; let me close here by noting that for him at least one path to release could be found in addiction recovery organizations such as AA or NA. That this approach works is a surprise even for those in recovery. At one point, Don Gately, a staff member at Ennet House, reflects:

“Substances start out being so magically great, so much the interior jigsaw’s missing piece, that at the start you just know, deep in your gut, that they’ll never let you down; you just know it. But they do. And then this goofy, slapdash anarchic system of low-rent gatherings and corny slogans and saccharin grins and hideous coffee is so lame you just know there’s no way it could ever possibly work except for the utterest morons…and then Gately seems to find out AA turns out to be the very loyal friend he thought he’s had and then lost, when you Came In.”  (p. 350)

We all could use a little help; the trick is to figure out what will genuinely provide assistance and what promises to do so but ends up harming us instead.

 

Site of the Temples to Roman Gods, Caesarea Philippi.

Site of the Temples of Roman Gods, Caesarea Philippi.

One of the places I visited on my recent trip to Israel was Banias, site of the ancient town Caesarea Philippi, formerly called Paneus and dedicated to the worship of Pan. Philip the Tetrarch built Caesarea Philippi as an administrative center early in the first century and named it after Augustus Caesar, his patron.  In Jesus’ time there were large temples to Pan, Zeus, and Augustus. According to Tim, our guide, the Romans called it the “rock of the gods” but the Jews called it “the gates of hell.” It was here that Jesus asked his disciples who others said that he was, and who they said he was. The city was not near where most of Jesus’ ministry took place, and he probably went out of his way just so that he could ask these questions in a site associated with the gods of the empire. Peter of course replied “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God”. (Matt. 16:16). The ‘living’ part contrasted to the Romans’ gods of stone.

Jesus went on to say that he would build his church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (v. 18). Presumably he was referring to the “gates of hell” designation that the Jews gave this place. Thus, he was saying that his followers would eventually prevail over the religious system of the empire, to which everyone in that world except a few holdouts in the backwaters of the Levant had given their allegiance. Who would make such an audacious claim?

And yet. Within 300 years Christianity was the religion of Rome. Tradition has it that Christians had come to Caesarea Philippi much earlier that this; there certainly was a flourishing Christian community there by the fourth century A.D.

This wasn’t the only place we visited that was formerly a pagan stronghold but eventually became Christian. There were Christians in Sythopolis, a city of the Decapolis, even before the persecution of believers by the Roman Empire stopped. One early martyr from there was Procopius, later venerated as a saint. The Sythopolian church was important until the conquest of the city by Muslims in 634 A.D. There was also an early church in Caesarea Maritima, a seaport built by Herod the Great that was later the regional Roman capital. According to Acts, Phillip brought Christianity there in the years after Christ’s death, and the Apostle Peter went there to baptize a Roman military officer, Cornelius the Centurion. A few centuries later, Origen, one of the church fathers, founded a school there.

Sythopolis

Sythopolis

I have probably had too much of a top-down view of early church history, giving too much credit to the conversion of the Emperor Constantine for the success of Christianity. Visiting these sites and others made me realize that the cause of Christ wouldn’t have spread without the countless believers who lived out their faith in relative obscurity, in some particular place, like as not some backwater. When, during our final night in Israel, we were all invited to talk about what had most impressed us during the trip, my son Elliot said that he was particularly struck the activity of countless Christians whose names are hidden in history but who made an impact during the first century and beyond. I had been impressed by this as well.

Paul wrote to the church at Colossae “your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” In his book Joyful Exiles, James Houston elaborates on this passage as follows:

“…the apostle urged believers to remember that they had died with Christ, that they must now seek a selfless way of living. This is what ‘hiding’ is all about–denying the world’s ways, making choices that are incomprehensible to anyone seeking self-fulfillment. Indeed, it is refusing to accept Satan’s cosmic suggestion that ‘you will be like God'” (p. 35)

That’s the temptation–to want to be something more than what we are. In our current media-obsessed culture, where branding and self-promotion is ubiquitous, I need to be reminded from time to time that being hidden with Christ is immeasurably more important than satisfying what Martin Luther King Jr. called the Drum Major Instinct. The Christians of Caesarea Philippi, Scythopolis, Caesarea Maritima, and hundreds of other places may be forgotten, but their lives are a reminder to remain content with a life that is anonymous except to a very few, a life whose significance doesn’t lie in who praises me now or who remembers me when I’m gone.

I’ve been reflecting recently about my recent trip to Israel. As I’ve written, I gained  greater appreciation for the contexts which frame the Biblical story. Tim Keiper, who guided our tour,  talked extensively about the geographical, historical, and cultural contexts of various Biblical customs and stories. As insightful as his comments were, they wouldn’t have had the weight they did had he not carefully chosen the settings where he said what he did. In this post, I’m going to describe a few points he made, the settings where he made them, and the conclusions I drew.

We started the tour in the Shephela, the area of low hills between the coastal plain to the west and the mountainous region to the east. The Israelites occupied the mountains and the Philistines occupied the coastal plain. Battles between the two occurred mostly in the valleys that punctuated the hills and thus were the easiest routes for incursions by the Philistines or other peoples who lived in the plains from time to time, including the Egyptians and Phoenicians.

At the City Gate, Tel Gezer

At the City Gate, Tel Gezer

On our first day, we went to the Aijalon Valley and climbed Tel Gezer, site of several ancient cities that were occupied by various civilizations over thousands of years. One city constructed on the site was built by Solomon. From the top of the tel we could see both the Mediterranean to the west and the hill country to the east.

Early the next day, we climbed another tel (a tel is a hill made by layer upon layer of ruins, one atop the other), this time Azekah, guarding the next valley, the Valley of Elah. This was where the Philistines sent out Goliath, their champion, to challenge any Israelite who was willing to fight him. There were no takers until a shepherd boy named David decided that Yahweh would protect him against this mountain of a man. It took faith to accept the challenge of someone who seemingly  outmatched him so completely! “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine, (I Sam. 17:37)” David told King Saul, and so it was.

Archeological Dig, Bet Shemesh

Archeological Dig, Bet Shemesh

What stuck with me most that day, though, was the next site we visited, Tel Bet Shemesh, which has both Jewish and Canaanite ruins. Samson’s hometown of Zorah was located across the Valley of Sorek; Delilah was “a woman in the Valley of Sorek (Judges 16:4).” Samson’s exploits occurred up and down this valley. Tim described both Samson’s mighty acts and his egregious failures to follow Jewish law. He didn’t excuse  Samson’s shortcomings, but he did note that it was more difficult to live in the Shephela, surrounded by temptations to immorality, than to live in the protection of the mountains. He said “the Shephela is the area of conflict and danger, and it’s easy to get tired when we are there.” He invited us to think of how that might apply to us.

I have always thought–simplistically as it turns out–that the Israelites and their neighbors were segregated by something like modern national boundaries and that conflicts between them occurred only during periodic military engagements. If there was instead an area of overlap where there was constant tension between different Weltanschauungs, or world-and-life-views, that provides a useful metaphor for our modern situation. We live in what Charles Taylor has dubbed “a secular age,” meaning not that everyone is irreligious but that religion is under constant pressure from the secular (and vice versa). In other words, our Shephela is not a geographical but a psychological region and, as Taylor explains, there is no moving away from it, though some try to do so by creating Christian enclaves. More than just a troubled figure driven by his passions, Samson may have been a victim of the struggles that accompany life in the Shephela.

Another example of how physical setting enhanced Tim’s teaching pertains to Herod the Great, ruler of Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth. On our fourth day we visited Masada, a huge mountaintop fortress by the Dead Sea that Herod surrounded with a wall and equipped with mammoth cisterns to supply water (capacity 10 1/2 million gallons, per the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible). He built an opulent three-tiered palace there, complete with a swimming pool. I couldn’t help but wonder what it cost in terms of human life (slaves were pretty expendable at the time) to provide such luxury in an arid wilderness. Several days later we visited  Caesarea Maritima, another of Herod’s huge construction projects, complete with artificial harbor, hippodrome, theatre, and mammoth palace. Finally, two days before our trip ended, we visited Herodium, Herod’s fortress and palace atop the highest mountain in the Judean wilderness.  The palace consisted of four towers of seven stories each along with a bathhouse, a theater, gardens, courtyards, and extravagant living quarters.

 

Herodium

Herodium

So, by this point, I was impressed by Herod’s building projects. Which of us will produce anything that will be so imposing after two millennia? If being remembered by history was his goal, he certainly achieved it. Yet, what did Herod really accomplish? The stones of his fortresses and palaces remain, but two of the three Herod-built sites we visited were abandoned within a century of his death (Caesarea remained a prominent city until the 7th Century, and later was a Crusader port).

At Herodium, Tim talked about Herod’s end. He died in 4 B.C. after an excruciating illness featuring intolerable itching, abdominal pain, and gangrene of his privates. He died within a year or two of Jesus’ birth. The book of Matthew reports that Herod was disturbed when the magi appeared looking for the newborn king (Matt. 2:3). Why would Herod have been troubled, since he was unlikely to live long enough to be challenged by a newborn? Possibly because he had built a kingdom that he thought would last long beyond his death. The prospect of another king threatened his dynasty.

Now, here is where physical setting comes into play. Herodium is just seven miles from Bethlehem. Much of the modern city is visible from the fortress. Tim imagines Herod looking down from his palace during the slaughter of the innocents, watching as his soldiers tried to eradicate the threat this tiny village posed to his kingdom. Whether or not Herod was there at the time (it was a favorite site of his and he was probably buried there), he was deeply affected by what he had heard. Approaching death, he was a troubled man.

So, the question that comes to mind is what kind of kingdom is worth building? A political and military kingdom like Herod’s, the ruins of which still inspire wonder today? Or the kingdom that had its start just a short distance from the fortress Herod named after himself, the kingdom of a carpenter whose woodwork has long turned to dust but who continues to build something more impressive than any of Herod’s projects? Christ builds his temple in human hearts. May his construction project never end.

On a recent lengthy car trip I decided to get caught up on current pop music trends. I listened to most of the Sirius XM Weekend Countdown and a little of the Billboard Adult Top 40. Yeah, I’m too old for this sort of music. I listen to it because I’m interested in the themes of pop songs–they reveal much about the dreams, fears, and preoccupations a sizable segment of our culture.

As usual, there were plenty of songs about romantic relationships, ranging from lust (Selena Gomez – Hands To Myself) to yearning (Tryon – Somebody To Love Me)  to lovemaking (Zayn Malik – Pillowtalk) to disgust (Selena Gomez – Same Old Love). Justin Bieber apologizes to one mate (Sorry) and walks away from another (Love Yourself). What really interested me, though, was not the relationship songs but the ones that portrayed how the artist perceived him- or herself. Our self-concepts are key to our identity, and culture provides templates for possible selves (my grandchildren can choose to be sullen rebels or competitive achievers, but identities like gentleman of leisure or devotee of the goddess of reason are no longer in the catalogue of potential selves). From this listening, I concluded that contemporary songs contain views of the self ranging all the way from grandiose self-sufficiency to anxious inadequacy.

Grandiose self-sufficiency is represented by  “Me, Myself, and I” By G-Eazy with Bebe Rexha. Here’s the chorus:

Oh, it’s just me, myself and I
Solo ride until I die
‘Cause I got me for life (yeah)
Oh I don’t need a hand to hold
Even when the night is cold
I got that fire in my soul

The video shows G-Eazy at a party surrounded by adoring fans but miserable about his lack of privacy. He raps about what he needs–privacy, space, to be alone–and what he wants:

A Stella Maxwell right beside of me
A Farrari I’m buyin’ three
A closet of Saint Laurent…

He thinks he is a self-made man, a trendsetter who is reaping the fruits of his efforts, “swimming in money, swimming in liquor.” Yet  success has brought too much attention. There’s a segment in the video when he’s divided into three images, two of which are telling the third that he shouldn’t complain: he wanted success and adulation of the masses comes with the territory. Then, near the end, there is this:

Yeah, lonely nights I laid awake
Pray to lord, my soul to take
My heart’s become too cold to break
Know I’m great but I’m broke as hell
Having dreams that I’m folding cake
All my life I’ve been told to wait
But I’ma get it now, yeah it’s no debate.

The grandiose self is shut off from others, “too cold to break.”  In splendid isolation it knows it’s great–I thought here of Satan isolated in Dante’s deepest level of hell–but, paradoxically, at the same time it’s broken (the “broke as hell” here seems to refer not to lack of money but some sort of inner impairment). Some identity-seekers perusing the catalogue of possible selves might find grandiosity appealing. Wittingly or not, G-Eazy shows that such a self-concept won’t make you happy.

An elevated sense of self is also in evidence in Demi Levato’s “Confident,”; in which she sings again and again (ad nauseum):

(Ah ha) What’s wrong with being, what’s wrong with being
What’s wrong with being confident? (Ah ha)

And being confident is pretty much all the song is about. She’s responding to criticism:

(Oh oh, oh) So you say I’m complicated
That I must be outta my mind
But you had me underrated
Rated, rated.

But, like her confidence, the criticism she’s received is amorphous, unlike the comments that Taylor Swift was shaking off a couple years ago. So, should you define yourself via your high level of confidence? Sure, if that confidence reflects particular abilities or knowledge or effort. Otherwise, maybe not.

Another song asserting a strong sense of self (“Take or leave who I am/cause this is me.”) is “Pride” by  American Authors. The self in question is, not surprisingly, defined by a sense of pride:

I ain’t never giving up, I ain’t never ever, I ain’t never ever giving up my pride
I ain’t never letting go, I ain’t never ever, I ain’t never ever gonna sell my soul
I-I-I-I got this feeling
I-I-I got this feeling
I ain’t never giving up, I ain’t never ever, I ain’t never ever giving up my pride.

Why such insistence on holding onto pride? Has the singer done something to be proud of? The lyrics don’t mention anything. Instead, they portray a diminished self, one for whom things aren’t going well:

My home don’t feel the same
Last year flew by; goodbye to the good vibes
What we thought were the best times
Nights out with the people I love
Now I’m lost in the neighborhood

Why has life turned sour? Maybe it’s the booze (“Another drink down the drain/Ten more before I get on the plane”). Maybe it’s rejection by family (“Pushed out of the family tree/Upside down”). Somewhere around the edges there is a suspicion that he’s responsible (“Maybe I’m the one who’s changed or the one to blame,” “wish I was good enough for anyone”). I wonder if holding onto pride of this sort–not justifiable good feelings about one’s accomplishments, but pride in the service of stubborn defiance–is a defense against becoming too aware of our role in our problems. It’s a way of adapting, but not a particularly good one. This sort of self-concept isn’t likely to foster healthy relationships or emotional well-being.

There are other interesting songs that have implications about how to view ourselves–I like Panic at the Disco’s “Victorious,” which seems to be a tongue-in-cheek take on the glories of winning, subtly suggesting that victors aren’t that grand after all. I’m most fascinated with Twenty-One Pilots’ “Stressed Out.” Whereas most song lyrics portray the singer expansively or even heroically, these lyrics are about a diminished self who can’t seem to get anything right:

I wish I found some better sounds no one’s ever heard,
I wish I had a better voice that sang some better words,
I wish I found some chords in an order that is new,
I wish I didn’t have to rhyme every time I sang.

What’s the problem? The singer has left childhood behind but hasn’t yet figured out how to handle what comes next. He’s become even more insecure than he was as a child:

I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink,
But now I’m insecure and I care what people think.

He’s left reminiscing about the joys of childhood play:

We used to play pretend, give each other different names,
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away,
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face,
Saying, “Wake up, you need to make money.”

Returning to the womb of parental protection sounds pretty good:

Wish we could turn back time, to the good ol’ days,
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out.

This is the opposite of G-Eazy’s grandiose self–a self diminished, not expanded, by growing up, a self plagued by insecurities and perceived inadequacies. The video shows the members of the group riding tricycles, suggesting they aren’t even mature enough to drive cars. In the catalogue of available selves, this is not a model that anyone would choose. We are in an age of limited prospects for all but a minority of high-achievers, though, and this is a self that many people will be saddled with.

 

I was walking on Bridge Street in Grand Rapids yesterday and was startled to see a huge banner under the US-131 underpass proclaiming “Shame on Ritsema.” It’s not every day that I see my name (or, in this case, a variant spelling of my name: Ritsema rather than Ritzema) openly shamed. What had the Ritsema in question done to deserve such approbation?

There were two people by the banner, a slight woman and a tall, muscular man, and I stopped to ask them what they were protesting. They said they weren’t permitted to discuss the matter, but they did offer me a flyer, which I later scanned into my computer. Apparently the Ritsema in question is a business named for some distant relative in the construction industry, whose alleged offense is failure to pay employees the area standard wage. The flyer is illustrated with a picture of a rat chewing an American flag, pictorially representing “desecration of the American way of life.”

img001

I am more amused than disturbed by having my name maligned publicly. I react as most members of modern Western societies probably would—that this matter has nothing to do with me, that I personally did nothing wrong. That reaction is characteristic of a culture that is much more guilt-based than shame based. In centuries past, and in some cultures to this day, such a public denigration of one’s name would have been much more distressing. In a shame-based culture, the possibility that others could see such a sign and think ill of anyone who bore that name would bring distress and a sense that one is somehow less than others. In such a case, to dishonor the name I carry is to dishonor me.

I’m glad that the sign didn’t cause me to feel shame or dishonor. I’m not sure, though, that indifference to such aspersions on one’s name makes life any easier. We are still being evaluated by others, though the basis for such evaluation is not what someone says about our names but our words and actions. The onus is then on us to create a positive impression. Just as we don’t bear much shame from the reputation of our families, we don’t get much benefit from their reputations, either. Few of us anymore get a pass for our transgressions because, after all, we come from a good family. We’re responsible for what others think of us. So we worry about how we’re coming across to others. We may not feel much shame, but we have enough anxiety to take its place.

overwhelmedThe recently published Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Washington Post writer Brigid Schulte has received a good deal of attention. The Atlantic’s Rebecca J. Rosen interviews Schulte about gender aspects of busyness, reasons we are so heavily scheduled, and strategies for moving from complaints to action (or is it inaction?). Marilyn Linton blogs at The Huffington Post about Schulte’s methods for coping with time pressures. And at Slate, Hannah Rosin picks up on the curious phenomenon of people bragging about how busy they are. If it is miserable to be so busy, she asks, why call attention to it?

Why, indeed. Rosin describes Schulte’s interview with Ann Burnett of North Dakota State University, who has analyzed people’s annual holiday letters for themes of busyness. The letters seemed to represent competition over being busy. Burnett suggests that statements about busyness are also claims to be important. Schulte gives a telling antecdote during her Atlantic interview. She worked through the night to complete an urgent work project, and complained about the loss of sleep when she got to the office the next day. The person to whom she was talking responded, “Oh yeah? Well I’ve been up for two nights!” At that point Schulte realized the absurdity of one-upmanship regarding how snowed under one is. She suggests that busyness has become a cultural norm that we feel compelled to adopt.

Overscheduling ourselves just so that we can convince ourselves we are important suggests that we don’t really think much of ourselves in the absence of constant reminders of how much we have to do. Slowing down means confronting the awful truth that none of us is really all that important. I’m not essential to the social order or to the well-being of humanity, and neither are you. The world will have no problem getting along without us some day. All the meetings I schedule, emails I answer, clients I see, and commitments I make won’t make it otherwise.

Do we do it to ourselves? Do we create heavy burdens for ourselves, then complain about them? Not entirely, it seems. Schulte explains to Rosen that many nations in Europe have labor laws mandating family leave time and paid vacations, but America lacks corresponding requirements. In many professions, working long hours and then being available evenings and weekends is the norm. Our plague of busyness won’t be healed by better time management or developing the capacity to say ‘no’ if we don’t also change both the systems in which we operate and the norms we heed.

Then again, at least some of us can escape the trap of busyness. I’m semi-retired and, though I help care for my parents, I’m less busy now than I was for any protracted period of time during the last 40 years. I’m trying to keep it that way. I’m more than willing to join the ranks of the unimportant. I invite those of you able and willing to shuck the overcommitted life to join me.

One topic that I’ve had particular interest in has been how our selves are shaped by culture, particularly how cultural developments are changing our sense of self.  I’m planning to write more about that topic; this will be the first in a series of posts about 21st Century selves.

Question-mark-faceFirst, a word about what I mean by the term “self.”  William James gave a decent definition when he wrote that “[A] man’s self is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes, and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his land and horses, and yacht and bank account.”  We have self concepts—ideas about who we are.  We also have self-awareness—we reflect on who we are and recognize that we are separate from others.  Finally, we engage in self-presentation—intentionally presenting ourselves in a particular way to others.

Here are a few things I’ve written about cultural influences on self-concept, self-awareness, or self-presentation.   In The Facebook Self I described a friend who, as she goes about her day, often reflects on how she will write on Facebook about what she’s done.  I noted that social media have intensified our use of self-presentation strategies and have made what we present to others more central to ourselves than ever before.  I noted that, as we reveal less to others, our self concept is likely to become more constricted.  At the extreme, we end up thinking that we are nothing more than the selves we present to others.

In another post about social media, I wrote in Facebook, Depression, and Community about the association between heavy Facebook use and increased levels of depression.  I looked at how social media profiles are designed to be clever rather than genuine, and asked whether authenticity and community are possible on Facebook.

In Anxiety and Meritocracy, I looked at the effects that the American belief that the hardworking and talented will be the most successful have on our self-evaluation.  I described Maura Kelly’s argument that we are likely to blame ourselves and see ourselves as having little worth if we make poor decisions or don’t achieve at a high level.   I suggested that the high levels of anxiety characteristic of our society are due to our selves constantly being threatened by the negative self-evaluation that results from less-than-stellar achievement.

Finally, my last post was about substance abuse in privileged youth as being related to a lack of character development.  I cited Liz Kulze’s comment that those who have been protected and coddled fail to develop an adequate sense of self.  Such thinly developed selves seem particularly prevalent among young white males from wealthy homes.

So, that’s a summary of what I’ve written so far.  I hope to make more posts about 21st Century selves in the coming weeks.  I welcome any thoughts that you the reader have about how changes in culture are affecting the selves that we construct.