Will Storr (@wstorr) is an award-winning investigative journalist and author of Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us.

What We Discuss with Will Storr:

  • What is the neoliberal self?
  • Are we born with innate self-obsession, or is it picked up along the way?
  • What happens when our fictionalized sense of self clashes with reality?
  • Why do we overprivilege and credit select individuals for the accomplishments of many while blaming ourselves for not living up to their impossible examples?
  • The dangers of perfectionistic thinking.
  • And much more…

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Is self-obsession intrinsic to human nature, or is it a quality acquired from constant exposure to the vapid media darlings of the moment — magnified by modern methods of comparing ourselves against them?

Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us author Will Storr joins us to examine the origins of this phenomenon, its societal consequences, and what we should be doing to address it. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

Please Scroll down for Full Show Notes and Featured Resources!

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More About This Show

In Western culture, we idolize and idealize the concept of the individual. But as hard as we might try to deny it (even to ourselves), we really do care what others think about us. We want to be like the people we see in the movies and on TV — successful, charismatic, and powerful — and we want others to see us in this way as well. We play the leading role in the story of ourselves so fully that we’re disoriented when we catch a glimpse of reality at odds with this fantasy we’ve constructed.

But we’re not even confined to just one story. As Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us author Will Storr explains, “We have a self for work and a self for home, a self for lonely restaurants and a self for roadside diners; a self for Twitter and a self for Facebook, a self for the plumber and a self for the mayor…”

But is this constant need for external validation coded into our human DNA, or is it something we picked up along the way?

The Neoliberal Self

In the 1980s, world leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher began pushing for a societal shift away from collective and cooperative toward individual and competitive — a neoliberalism that prevails today.

“It really was kind of a victory of money over politics,” says Will. “It was this idea that politics should be as small as possible and we should allow the money markets to rule the world.”

On paper, the neoliberal self — which is our modern Western cultural construction of what a person should ideally be under these circumstances — might look pretty heroic. Will describes him or her as “an extroverted, slim, beautiful, individualistic, optimistic, hard-working, socially aware yet high-self-esteeming global citizen with entrepreneurial guile and a selfie camera.”

What’s wrong with this? “If it’s true that we hold within us all the power we need to succeed, then it naturally follows that if we fail then it’s our fault and our fault alone,” says Will. Boiled down, the neoliberal story of the self and its limitless potential is ultimately antisocial.

“Who you have to be in order to get along and get ahead in a neoliberal environment is a hustler,” says Will. “You’ve got to push yourself forward. There’s no union to help you out, really. There’s no job for life anymore. There’s no great pension scheme for you; you’ve got to push, push, push — and of course that creates a world of pushy people for want of a better word.”

Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about the upsides to individualism and neoliberalism, how we overprivilege select individuals by crediting them for the accomplishments of many (e.g., Steve Jobs, Beyonce, etc.), the dangers of blaming ourselves for not living up to the impossible (and inaccurate) standards of these individuals, the dangers of perfectionistic thinking, the universal preoccupation humans have with status (and how this preoccupation differs across cultures), how social media weaponizes our tribal instincts, why self-esteem makes a poor social vaccine, and lots more.


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