American Hyper-Introspection

Postmodern insecurity always looking inward.

Photo by Michael Krebber, Respekt Frischlinge

Adbusters editor Kalle Lasn interviews Ethan Watters, author of Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche.


KL: There seems to be a massive increase in anxieties, mood disorders and depression. Are we in the middle of an epidemic of mental illness?

EW: Absolutely.

KL: So what is the root cause of this epidemic?

EW: If I had to put my money on one idea then it would be the American notion of the egocentric mind – the idea that you are the captain of your own destiny and that you should be able to chart your own path and find your own happiness and control your own destiny fundamentally without the need for others. I think that this idea in the West – and in America in particular – has led to a great deal of insecurity and a general loading of our psychopathology. I think that the human animal is much more of a group animal than the American idea of the mind suggests it to be.

And of course the ever expanding mental health profession is willing to take that insecurity in our lives and give it any number of different labels. It was anxiety in the 1960s and ‘70s, in the ‘80s and ‘90s it was depression, and who knows what it’s going to be in the next generation. I do think that especially for women, the quickly changing roles have caused a lot of stress. Modernization, breakdowns of kinship and community ties have all led to an increase in the general loading of our psychopathology.

KL: So, in a sense you are saying that instead of pills we need more connection.

EW: Yes. Absolutely. I think that human beings cannot feel at ease mentally if they are disconnected from their sense of a role within a group. I think that the human mind is deeply permeable to the goals and expectations of the people around us, and if we don’t pay attention to that, if we think of ourselves as the captains of our own destiny, always able to pick ourselves up by our own individual bootstraps, then we are likely to experience that sort of postmodern insecurity that leads us to a certain form of American hyper-introspection – always looking inward.