I got a bit self-involved in reading this volume discussing about human beings' low self-regard and its puzzle, thereby turning the reading into a quite exhausting and low-efficient one. So far I have only finished three chapters, which means later on I have to grasp the major arguments more quickly in order to save time for understanding and reflection.
Why did I start reading this book? At the beginning it was the call from my observation and empathy for people who feel bad about themselves. The sense of worthlessness, the sense that one should not and does not exist in the society, the desire to withdraw despite the longing for participation, and the perception that one deserves no equal human status, no sincere love from others, and no value at all. I saw all these attributes on some Chinese students studying abroad who are so beaten by constant frustration, those women in relationships, those from relative socio-economic deprivation who seek for a more dignified life, but only end up in a more depressed, isolated and meaningless state. And the moment I decided to read something was when I found out that to some extant I am shaped that way as well. So this is mostly a selfish attempt, to restore myself in the face of degradation.
Why is this important? The way how people perceive themselves in a society inevitably affects that way they interact with people, the way they choose their life paths and partners, and the way they work. At the societal level, this is crucial for developing a truly inclusive society whereas everyone feels like a part of it, instead of finding it impossible to fit in and position the self.
How does self-esteem work? There are two theories which are essential in understanding the issue of self-esteem, or rather, two widely accepted hypotheses, according to the authors. The first one is that human beings tend to improve their self-image. The second one is that they are deeply inclined to be consistent in terms of self-regard. It is a sign of ill-health when this two aspects are in conflict with each other. Those who suffer from LSE evidently show a lack of confidence, consistency, coherency and stability in describing themselves. And those high in self esteem are more likely to describe themselves in a certain, positive and assertive way.
As suggested, low self-esteem people constantly fall prey to the intense cognitive-affective crossfire, extreme conservativism, downward social comparison, steoretypical thoughts, modest self-degradation, excuse-making via self-handicapping (creating barriers that would decrease the likelihood of one's success), and visciously circular career and life choices. In a long-term, this could lead to disempowerment.
LSE is a syndrome, and those who carry it are victims or patients who need help and rehabilitation. The thing about this book that makes me highly uncomfortable is that it taps so deep into the mentality of these people's struggle without yet pointing to the way out. Yes yes, it is so problematic that whatever they do, they can't find themselves and they can't like themselves. Whatever they do, they are the vivid embodiments of anxiety and unhappiness, just because the self is non-existent, absent, or degraded. And part of me desires to stop reading how messy they are and start taking actions by embark on my real occupation: political theory. I do believe that such suffering is of the highest political importance, and yet when thinking about these people from a political perspectives I cannot help but think, the damage has been done, it is not a choice between the good and the evil, but between the evil and the less evil. In this case, it is between the disempowered and the less disempowered. Thinking it this way, I feel better than when I forced myself to think about the obviously idealistic and naive notion of "self-empowerment", or empowerment at all.
The dystocia, the abortion, the distortion, and the premature mortality of the self, which are the operational premises of the power system. Death is no longer a physical one, and such deprivation of self-esteem that makes people unable to be a self should be traced and accused.
Hereby, I should stop reading this book in details. But I will still spend 5-10 min for each chapter to get a basic outline of the rest. Scientific and rigorous as it is, it in no way ask the questions of more pressing values and provides the insights that I concur with. I will give it a three stars, for its academic rigor and humanistic motive.
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