I picked Campbell, or Camp to all his regular customers, up at his bookstore because I was early. He closed up and we sauntered down to ‘Gramma’s Pub’ on our lovely Gibsons harbour. Before we were even seated, he had something on his mind that he wanted to talk about.
“I have just read a review of a book ‘Stand Firm’by Swend Brinkmann, a Danish psychologist, who claims that all these self-help books are inefficient and leave us worse off, confused and inadequate. They are no help at all,” Camp said. “He has some interesting points. People are fed up with self-optimisation and the constant pressure to better oneself, to change, to be flexible, creative, to learn new things, to be a better version of yourself, to fulfill your potential. He points out that all these goals are laudable but they are concentrated on the individual and therefore have lost any kind of ethical foundation.”
“Why? Because we should focus on reaching out and being inclusive rather than self absorbed navel gazers.”
“Yeah, something like that. Self-realisation was the big demand of the youth revolt in the late sixties but today this alternative culture has segwayed into the consumer society of today. Of course it was necessary to revolt against the static and old fashioned societal structures of the forties and fifties , Brinkman claims; to fight for freedom of expression, sexual liberation and emancipation but now that opposition has become the foundation and legitimizes the same old system. Today it’s fashionable to be conservative.”
“Self-realization as an integral part of the market and consumer economy?”
“Exactly, society today wants us to be flexible, adoptive and mobile. Maximise your potential and you are a good worker bee.”
We both took a long swig and thought about all those changes in the past fifty years. Music, attitudes, values.
“I remember being fascinated by all this lore and spiritual smorgasbord coming out of the east and India in particular,” Camp said. “That whole fad about the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles and transcendental meditation. Let go of your material attachments and embrace the inner light.”
“Exactly, give him all your money, close your eyes, add some incense, sitar strumming and hashish and float away into blissful oblivion. Except I never bought into the craze, it just didn’t seem very, how should I say, adventurous. And besides I liked rock’n roll and the blues and could never get excited about eastern music.”
“You mean to say, you didn’t want to give up your worldly belongings.”
“Which consisted of a record collection, some books, an Omega watch and a cool leather jacket,” I said, laughing at the memory. “But I thought the self-help section is the best money maker in any book store. Anything from the idiot guides to the Venus and Mars books to yoga and diets,” I said. “This Danish guy’s book might cut into your profits.”
“What profits? But you’re right, without the self-help section there would not be a bookstore. Autobiography of a Yogiby Yogananda is still a bestseller, even though it was published in 1946. It kind of started the whole fascination with eastern mysticism. Meanwhile I’ve come to view Hinduism as the dogma to uphold the fascist cast system and Buddhism in it’s latest brutal incarnation in Maynamar isn’t very inspiring either. And then there is the other side of the self-help spectrum like ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ by Norman Vincent Peale. He was the pastor at the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan, the church Trump attended as a boy. Peale’s main ideas are: Believe in yourself and everything that you do; never accept defeat and when the reality is different then refuse to believe it. “
“Basically a blueprint for Trump’s philosophy if you want to call it that.”
“Yep, he got it from the master of persuasion. But I do agree with Brinkmann. We’re much too self-absorbed and are constantly checking ourselves for flaws in the proverbial mirror of vanity. He states that it is more important to be a sincere and polite human being than a self-improved version of yourself.”
“Speak for yourself,” I said. I’m quite happy with myself and instead of a mirror I have Clare to point out my flaws. They don’t change much either. They’re pretty consistent and reliable.”
“Let me guess: opinionated, impatient, a worrier and drinking too much.”
“Did you and Clare make this list together?” I protested just in time for Vicky, who overheard this last comment, to add her ten cents.
“You guys don’t drink too much but you both worry and talk to much but hey, there is always room for improvement.”