"The Protean Self: Human Resilience in an Age of Fragmentation"
by Robert Jay Lifton, M.D. (New York: Basic Books, 1993)
"... My own view is that the protean self can help people renew their relationships to cultures, Western and non-Westnern, that are now under duress." -- ix
THE CHANGING PSYCHOLOGICAL LANDSCAPE
"We are becoming fluid and many-sided. Without quite realizing it, we have been evolving a sense of self appropriate to the restlessness and flux of our time. This mode of being differs radically from the past, and enables us to engage in continuous exploration and personal experiment. I have named it the "protean self" after Proteus, the Greek sea god of many forms.
The protean self emerges from confusion. ..."
But rather than collapse under these threats and pulls, the self turns out to be surprisingly resilient. It makes use of bits and pieces here and there and somehow keeps going. What may seem to be mere tactical flexibility, or just bungling along, Turns out to be much more of that. We find ourselves evolving a self of many possibilities, one that has risks and pitfalls but at the same timeholds out considerable promise for the human future." -- p.1-2
"... I was also interviewing Vietnam veterans and participating in rap groups with them. They, too, underwent impressive personal transformation. Young men who had volunteered for the Vietnam War out of near-automatic patriotism, intense forms of male machismo, and attraction to violence could, within a brief period, condemn that form of patriotism and change not only their worldviews and political beliefs but their attitudes and behavior in their intimate relationships as well. They could develop a new freedom, as one put it, 'to just move anywhere and feel anything.'" -- p. 2
HISTORY AND THE SELF
"Myths reveal psychological, and historical possibilities, as bequeathed by human evolution. Myths do not dwell on what we now call our inner life, but tell stories in which psychological traits are transfigured into concrete actions of gods or mortals. We hear nothing about Proteus's feelings about changing: we are simply told about the changes he undergoes under certain pressures. Proteus suggests, in fact, a particular human evolutionary achievement, the capacity for flexible imagination and action. ..." -- p.13
"... culture is inseparable from symbolization. ..." -- p. 13
"All this suggests that the phenomenon of worldwide media saturation is both new and crucial to the late-twentieth-century self. While that self invokes defenses of withdrawal and numbing, it remaiins continuously bombarded by ideas and images and is in some measure recast by them, made more fluid in response to the surrounding fludidity." -- p. 21
"... Rank ... denounced approaches that rendered therapy a 'repetition of the past instead of ... a new experience in the present,' and thereby ammounted to 'a denial of all personal autonomy in favor of the strictest possible determinism, that is to say, to a negation of life itself.'" -- p. 25
"Commentators on the heresies of Adler, Jung, and Rank have tended to neglect their common concerns with autonomy and mutability. ... " -- p. 25
AMERICA, THE PROTEAN NATION
"During the Vietnam War, the media influenced the function of the self in differing, even antithetical ways. On the one hand, violent images — of bombings, burnings, and deaths — could become so routine as to resemble a John Wayne film or a a police-and-criminals television series, thus further numbing people toward the events of the actual war. On the other hand, once significant doubts about America's involvement in Vietnam set in, these same television images could be a constan source of discomfort, of guilt and shame, anger, and deepening opposition. So much so, that it was generally believed, certainly by American military and political leaders, that journalistic coverage of the war, both print and electronic, played a major part in the eventual disenchantment of the American public in general. It was not so much a matter of journalists turning critical of the war — only a few did and usually belatedly — as of their gradually increasing capacity to gain access to, and record, what was actually taking place."
"In any case, American military officials took as their lesson for future wars the importance of preventing any such on-the-spot reporting of extensive death and suffering. They applied this principle during the Gulf War of 1990 in the form of extraordinary new regulations regarding censorship and restrictions on coverage. The policy was greatly enhanced by the high-tech nature of the war, which imposed its own separation betweeen the operation of the weapons and their human effects. The result was that newspapers, radio, and television coverage of the war, at least for Americans, was dominated by displays of the technological brilliance of the weapons, by discussions of demanding tactical and organizational arrangements, and by continuous geopolitical and military commentary by "experts" (often retired generals and admirals). Yet at the same time there took place a quantum jump in media function, as epitomized by American Cable News Network's (CNN) twenty-four-hour coverage of the war, disseminated throughout the world. Viewers could feel themselves to be in the war zone as they witnessed its sights and sounds at any moment, night or day. But with death and destruction mostly filtered out of available images, the war seemed to have little unpleasantness."
"Yet here, too, some truth made its way into these media images. ... That fear bespoke two forms of recognition: first, that the war was dangerous and people were getting killed; and second, that the television set, around which American families spent long hours, was a central actor in all these events. Adults were not immune from these more troubled perceptions. ... Once more, people experienced the media in very different ways: a viewer's self could be numbed, or opened to fear and questioning." -- p. 46