Carl Elliott, ?Three Ways to Feel Homesick,? Chapter 6 of Better than Well (or, Three Motives for Using Enhancement Technologies) Thesis: The use of psychoactive drugs to cope with ?the anxiety and depression of everyday life? (130) is a consequence of our seeing ourselves as ?objects of therapeutic control? (158), as lives that are in need of self-satisfaction, and not seeing ourselves as persons with ?existential problems? related to our being persons who will die (157). That predicament is our mortality, and our failure to confront that predicament has, for many of us, led to a vague feeling of ?homesickness? or ?homelessness.? That feeling might be overcome by ?opting out? (i.e. avoiding the causes of ?homelessness?), which involves ?a willingness to court disorder? and aspiring ?less to control than to clarity?.? (159). Elliott sets up the metaphor of ?homelessness? by pointing out the roughly simultaneous birth of anxiolytic drugs (e.g., Miltown) and suburban homes. What does Elliott say ?the home? symbolizes for late-modern Westerners like us (133)? Why is a ?home? in suburbia not a home? What is a ?home? in suburbia, and what has it come to symbolize (132)? Home is where the meaning is. Read the full paragraph on 133. Three causes of homelessness (and motives for using enhancement technologies): (1) Expressive individualism (which has replaced the old ?ties of community? (142)) ? In Richard Ford?s Independence Day, the Markhams are trying to buy a home, but they can?t decide? Why not? What is it that keeps them paralyzed? ?A new house is a new life, and the Markhams can?t bear the thought of making a new life?.? (136) They are frozen by their dependence upon expressive individualism, which requires that they commit to a home as a lifestyle/identity. (137) What is ?expressive individualism?? It is the idea that each person has a core of feelings unique to herself, the expression of which is necessary for her to realize her individuality (138). This is a key part of a consumptive culture and lives that are detached from socially-grounded and historically-rooted narratives (138). Read the first part of the paragraph that spans 138-39. For a person who lives by the ethic of expressive individualism, how does it affect his/her decisions? He or she makes decisions with the primary aim of self-satisfaction (140). This point is illustrated with the decision to buy or build a house as an effort to stand out, to achieve uniqueness. What?s the connection Elliott sees between expressive individualism and enhancement technologies (141)? The self-fulfillment language of therapy is used in connection to both. (2) Vertigo ? Richard Yates?s Revolutionary Road: Self-oriented lives are often built on a charade of appearances, and even the search for authenticity (i.e., a way out of mere appearances) can lead to ?vertigo,? which is the experience of not knowing what kind of life to live, and not knowing what, if anything, can tell you (147). In discussing the novel/film, read from 145 and 146; connect this to ?instrumental rationality? on pages 147-48. Uprooted from any social or historical narrative that could give meaning to their lives, self- oriented persons are concerned only about appearances (i.e., maintaining the ?image? that pleases them because it pleases others), and they deceive themselves by trying to convince themselves that the ?image? is real (146). But when persons are able to see this charade for what it is and feel dissatisfied, how do they respond? They might have a sense of ?vertigo? because they want to ?opt out,? but they might turn to enhancement technologies to ?fix? their unease. (147) (Remember Gus in Lars: ?Can you fix him? How do we fix him??) What?s the difference between a ?thing? and a ?device?? (148-49) Read the first full paragraph on page 150. How does this relate to the second cause of homelessness? (3) The scientific/functional view of the self ? Walker Percy?s Love in the Ruins: In regarding ourselves biologically (i.e., foremost as an organism with needs to satisfy), we have come to see ourselves as scientists?perhaps, especially, physicians?tend to see us. That is, we see ourselves as persons in need of therapy/treatment when our well-being falls below a certain level. Read the top of 157. So, we turn to enhancement technologies and treat our consciousness as a tool/instrument of self-satisfaction. We are concerned with functioning well, not with the content of our lives. If we are to avoid homelessness, what can we do? What does it mean to ?opt out?? (158-59) Would such a life be better than a ?project? life oriented around self-satisfaction? Catherine Nash August 28, 2007
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