Simon and Schuster £12.99
The Selfish Society, By Sue Gerhardt
Sunday 11 April 2010
Sue Gerhardt's polemic is an unusual thing: it not only pinpoints what is wrong, but also suggests ways to put it right. Her argument is that society has created "selfish" beings of us, and not, as some evolutionary theorists might assert, that we are genetically selfish. By lightly tracing the history of capitalism, she shows how we have arrived at the present condition, where we shop to make ourselves feel less lonely, change our bodies to feel more loved, and reach for fame to give our lives a sense of purpose.
Our natural instinct is to be connected to others. If we watch how a baby behaves, Gerhardt argues, we see how our survival instinct incorporates a desire for communication with others, particularly those others who are meant to look after us. We never lose that early need to be loved and cared for, but, now that we increasingly live apart from our family and friends, capitalism has exploited and channelled it into a desire to shop and buy things.
The substitution of money for relationships is even affecting our brain development, according to Gerhardt: "Our pressurised way of life alters the behaviour of the brain's neurotransmitters," she writes. I suspect that, however readily we tend to accept arguments when they are couched in scientific terminology, this is the weaker part of her reasoning.
But, just as her allegiance to Penelope Leach's child-development theories will align her against Gina Ford's followers, Gerhardt knows that she is taking on long-cherished beliefs. Not least in her favouring of Scandinavian-style working patterns for new parents. If we don't change the way we bring up children, beginning from the moment that they are born, we will stay depressed and in debt, Gerhardt says. I think I believe her.
Is the comedy album making a comeback?comedy
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Secret Cinema: Why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
- 2 Christians: The world's most persecuted people
- 3 Israel-Gaza conflict: The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
- 4 Thatcher ‘was warned of Tory child sex party claims’
- 5 The Simpsons Family Guy trailer: First look at crossover episode after Comic-Con debut
Secret Cinema: Why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
Game of Thrones season 4 blooper reel unveiled at Comic-Con 2014
Fifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral backlash from US parenting groups
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Doctor Who series 8: Watch Peter Capaldi in new ‘Listen!’ teaser trailer
The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Were 'Poor Doors' added to mixed developments so wealthy residents don't have to go in alongside social housing tenants?
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace
A new Russian revolution: The cracks are starting to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc