AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
If modernists are right, the family must be in fine shape: sexism and patriarchy are waning, freedom and equality growing. Yet `progress' has its price: stability and security are also waning, while consumerism, delinquency and divorce continue to grow. Lasch's defence of the family has won him little praise from university circles, but it does shed much light on the forces eroding the family as a building block of a stable society(2)
Lasch points to consumerism as a major factor in this decline. Many voices of course now deplore overconsumption. In a speech to the nation in July 1979, President Jimmy Carter said it was Americans' obsession with `things' that lay behind their malaise. But such pleas turn consumerism into merely a moral failing. At the same time, they often attack it merely to "make America great again" through more production and dedication to work. Both the consumer and the producer societies, Lasch argues, undercut self-help, independence and initiative. Like the TV zombie, even the worker becomes passive, a spectator rather than a craftsman, a machine minder or paper pusher rather than a creative worker.(3)
We should not misunderstand consumerism merely as hedonism. It creates not only greed and pleasure-seeking but, more importantly, dissatisfaction and anxiety. Market researchers and industrial psychologists find ways to make consumers `need' ever more things, while pollsters and the media show them what they will have to buy to keep up with the Joneses. The auto gives a good example: Henry Ford mass-produced autos, but Alfred Sloan of General Motors added new models every year, a whole range of colours, and appealed to power and status. "Modern industry", as Lasch puts it, "came to rest on the twin pillars of Fordism and Sloanism. Both tended to discourage enterprise and independent thinking and to make the individual distrust his own judgement, even in matters of taste."(4)
Advertisements glorify this uncertainty as "freedom of choice", and the majority of academics share that view. As one leading sociologist put it, women no longer need be chained to the drudgery of housework and the demands of children. Enjoying many career options besides the family, they are freed from parents looking over …