THE AWARENESS TRAP: Self-Absorption Instead of Social Change by Edwin M. Schur

THE AWARENESS TRAP: Self-Absorption Instead of Social Change

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A sociologist's shake-down of what he terms the ""new panacea"" in America--the ""cult"" of self-awareness, as represented by such divergent systems as Transcendental Meditation, Primal Scream and Gestalt therapy, Transactional Analysis, ""Open Marriage,"" etc. Self-help for personal growth has long American roots--from Emerson through Norman Vincent Peale--reflecting what Schur feels is an excess of aggressive laissez-faire individualism. The author clusters the systems in three main areas: ""Expressivists"" (encounter groups and ""let it all hang out"" variants); ""Detachers"" (Yoga, TM); and ""Communicators"" (from Berne through Julius Fast by way of Thomas Harris, George Bach, the O'Neills). Although he feels there's more than a grain of good in some forms of personal liberation, Schur is wary of the undue emphasis on inwardness and bio- or psycho-physical concerns, which treats the individual as a closed entity and does nothing to change the social structure within which he really functions. There is also a middle-class bias in awareness literature and practice; the real plight of the poor will not be changed by consciousness-raising. Expressivists discard intellect, values and goal-seeking action; Detachers withdraw from the world; Communicators teach us how to manipulate others. All ""mask a failure to confront the very real evils of our society."" Although Schur perhaps overstresses the influence of the movements (particularly in the schools), this is a tough, stimulating dissection of an increasingly popular preoccupation.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1976
Publisher: Quadrangle/New York Times