The end result is a new generation invited to focus more on their navels, on their apparently fantastically interesting inner selves, rather than on the world around them; a generation encouraged to see any kind of challenge to their self-esteem, whether it’s a tough exam, a presumed slight or a difficult, controversial idea, as an intolerable assault on their inner god. As the late American philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain said, the era of therapy has created a “quivering sentimental self that gets uncomfortable very quickly, because this self has to feel good about itself all the time.”
We see this everywhere today. We see it in university students who want to ban everything that they think harms their self-esteem, because they’ve been educated to see any attack on what they think and how they feel as utterly unacceptable. We see it in the growing cult of self-revelation and the search for validation on social networks like Twitter, where individuals’ frenetic tweeting and their desperate desire for that all-important retweet speaks to the reorganization of society around the need for recognition, the need for an “admiring audience” to make the self feel puffed up. And we potentially see it, in its most extreme form, in Elliot Rodger, the son of therapy, who appears to be the ultimate “quivering sentimental self” made “uncomfortable very quickly” when he didn’t feel good about himself.
It is striking how therapeutic is the language used by Rodger in his videos and his murder manifesto. He talks about how people’s attitudes towards him “really decreased my self-esteem.” He clearly sees such assaults on his self-esteem as unacceptable, saying “if they won’t accept me… then they are my enemies.” In short, fail to offer recognition to this damaged creature and you will pay the price. And then he makes the key cry of our therapeutic era: “It’s not fair. Life is not fair.”