YANSS 127 – How we became self obsessed

In this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast we sit down with my friend and one of my favorite journalists, author Will Storr, whose new book just hit the shelves here in the United States. It’s called Selfie: How We Became so Self-Obsessed, and What it is Doing to Us.

The book explores what he calls “the age of perfectionism” — our modern struggle with our many modern pressures to meet newly emerging ideals and standards that tell us if we are falling short of the person we ought to be – and how that struggle to be that person is an impossible task. As he says in the book, “perfectionism is the idea that kills,” and you’ll hear him explain what he means by that in the interview.

In the book, Will embarks on two investigative journeys. The first is an examination of the self as a psychological mechanism. He digs deep into what science has to say about where our concept of self originated and how it operates so that he can understand how perfectionism causes that mechanism to malfunction.

The second is how the cultural concept of self originated and then evolved over millennia. The very concept of a self has changed many times, as have the pressures that concept has endured, and depending on where you live today, the lineage of your culture’s idea of the ideal self will strongly differ from people who live elsewhere, surrounded by different cultural norms and expectations that change what it means to be fully realized and unique individual.

As he writes, “it is the self that wants to become perfect, and it’s our culture that tells us what perfect actually is.” It’s a great book, and I hope you check it out.

For this episode, Will and I just had a conversation about it, and there’s some great prescriptive advice near the end involving a lizard on an iceberg.

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Great Courses PlusThis episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with Your Deceptive Mind taught by neurologist Steven Novella. Learn about how your mind makes sense of the world by lying to itself and others. Click here for a FREE TRIAL.

Links and Sources

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Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes

Will Storr’s Website

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