Vol. 45 No. 3 1978 - page 345

exa lted notion of self and leads to an inherent contradiction. It is this
inherent contradiction which has been instrumental in the retreat from
preoccupation with political freedom which we cannot effectively
con trol to a preoccupation with personal freedom over which there is
at least the illusion of control.
Thus, while the retreat from an insistence on political freedom to
an insistence on personal freedom is adaptive in resolving a feeling of
individual impotence, paradoxically, it is also instrumental in increas–
ing the burden on the self. In other words, the temporary cure for the
disease aggravates the disease. The belief that man is master of his fate,
a somewhat dubious proposition to start with, has now been elevated
into an even more subversive proposition, namely the belief that
human nature is infinitely malleable and that the self can be endlessly
recreated, and in fact ought to be-a proposition which defines self–
actualization as the supreme good.
The attempt at transformation of the self ranges from physical
interventions (plastic surgery, hair color, exercise regimes) to psycho–
logical interventions (all modalities of therapy and the experimental
movement, particularly the search for transforming experience) as well
as the high valuation on changes in life situations-institutionalized
in the high incidence of divorce and midlife career changes. Werner
Erhardt, the man who changed his name and founded EST, is a
prototype of self-invention. The symbol, par excellence, for self–
invention is the transsexual. Despite the driven nature of the transsex–
ual, the transsexual image depicts ultimate freedom; not even the
confines of one's genetic sex and physical being need dictate the limits
of one's life; neither geography nor anatomy is any longer linked to
Although the exaltation of the sense of self lends itself to certain
psychological gratifications, it imposes the enormous burden of inter–
nalization of responsibility for life's failures and deficiencies. This is a
burden to which the individual's real capacities, self-esteem and need
systems are seldom equal, particularly in view of the attenuation of
traditional support systems, such as family and community. Even
though we are describing an historical sequence which is pervasive in
western civilization, Americans are particularly vulnerable since great
expectations for personal performance are intensified in what has until
quite recently been a relatively mobile society. Additionally, the
influence of psychological thinking in this country lends a ready
rationalization for failure ; the individual sees himself as an underachi–
ever, not as ultimately lacking in endowment. Limitations are not
acceptable. Consequently, desp ite the apparent feast of gratifications
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