Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Susman and Myers on Personality and Culture

In the 19th century, character was key, but other key words related to the concept of character: citizenship, duty, democracy, work, building, golden deeds, outdoor life, conquest, honor, reputation, morals, manners, integrity, … and above all: manhood, virility.

Early 20th century, accompanying material change, we move from a production-oriented society to a consumption-oriented society, and character disappears and what becomes key is personality: personality used to mean the qualities that were universally shared by all persons – the things we had in common. Personality was then changed to describe the attributes or qualities that make you unique. So the advice is on how to build this sort of personality or image. Here are the new key words from advice manuals: fascinating, stunning, attractive, magnetic, glowing, masterful, creative, dominant, forceful. [these words were almost never used to described character – character is either good or bad, not glowing. The quality of being ‘Somebody’ is emphasized. We live constantly in a crowd [basically strangers who will never have time to know your character], how can we distinguish ourselves from others in the crowd? ‘Crowd’ is the most commonly used word. The new personality literature stressed items that could be best developed in leisure time and that represented in themselves an emphasis on consumption. The social role demanded of all in the new culture of personality was that of a performer. Every American was to become a performing self.

"Personality and the Making of Twentieth-Century Culture."

- Warren Susman

Sussmen argues that “the most important aspects of a culture are not those that are expressed directly [quotable from its books or great leaders] – but they are the assumed aspects of a culture – the unconscious culture - the deep, buried, invisible presuppositions of every worldview. [We have these deep assumptions about reality that are imbedded in cultural conventions and we have to figure out – not just what people are saying – but where their words fit in a configuration of communication and social structure] A careful study of the conventions – the unassuming everyday acts – the rhetorical devices in speech and song – the unconscious pattern of behavior – all help to uncover that implicit knowledge and those fundamental assumptions that members of those cultures share. [ I think it’s absolutely imperative for the church, as it’s trying to minister and encourage not just belief but faithfulness, to be aware of the deep assumptions about reality that we are all subject to and recognize where those deep assumptions are incompatible with Christian understanding. ] ...

Some of those assumptions are evident when we consider cultural change. Or transition. [see above]

- Ken Myers quoting Susman

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