The myth of self-esteem

This is one of the great mysteries of America. It’s the ultimate and perhaps defining American myth.

It’s curious that the self-esteem movement expanded with the rise in awareness of America as an Empire, as a bully. It grew in the mid 1960s and blossomed in the late 1970s. American kids were now aware of the horrors of the country they lived in, so let’s re-program them to like themselves.

This re-programming has several tragic consequences. One is that the people with the most self-esteem are those who are the most violent. The higher one thinks of oneself, the more favorable the response everyone else must give him. It’s difficult to calculate but it’s certainly fair to call any proponent of self-esteem an accessory to murder, since his belief increases the number of murders and other forms of abuse in the way that any other instigation does.

Another is that self-esteem is a panacea, a kind of false cure. It’s the equivalent of a happy pill – it changes the emotions but not the reality. Hitler had a lot of self-esteem. He needed to, after all, just look at what he was doing. The darker the American Empire, the more pills and love of self-esteem Americans needs to force themselves into happiness. Destroy the conscience so that one cannot witness the atrocities one commits.

Self-esteem is a form of salesmanship. Everyone is supposed to be happy. High self-esteem implies one is happy and a good person, thus in turn we are supposed to treat someone with high self-esteem well and another with low self-esteem poorly. After all, if someone doesn’t sell himself well why should we buy? Discover that America commits atrocities and smile all the wider.

The worst part about honoring self-esteem however is that self-esteem is the result, the surface reality. Let’s say someone is totally justified in having high self-esteem. What’s good about that person is not his high self-esteem but what underlies his high self-esteem. If he’s happy about himself because he cured cancer it doesn’t matter that he has high self-esteem, it matters that he cured cancer. A philosopher’s exciting ideas might lead to high self-esteem, but what matters is the ideas, not the esteem. Why honor the surface, instead of the substance?

It’s no surprise that self-esteem as a sales tactic gained it’s greatest foothold in a deeply capitalist society. Only in America do people say “appearance is reality”. Only in America is the creation and control and utterly morbid fascination with appearance complete. Only in America is it so important to destroy this myth.

Smile, Americans. Keep that fucking smile on your face.


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