How Therapy Culture Suffocates Us 

Despite his immeasurable good fortune in once swimming around inside the testicle of a future British king, Prince Harry now works at a Silicon Valley start-up selling hokum to gullible people.

The former prince last week treated us all to a podcast. Harry, as he is now known, lamented the cultural differences between his new home, California, and his former Great Britain.

Harry is unhappy. His former kingdom teems with repressed souls who, unlike Angelinos, neglect to examine the provenance of our every biographical misfortune and attribute some cosmic meaning to often trivial happenings.

Speaking of the animated desert to which he scuttled, a mecca bouncing with silicon-infused arse cheeks, Harry said: “You talk about it here in California: ‘I’ll get my therapist to call your therapist.’”

“Whereas in the U.K., it’s like, ‘Therapist? What therapist? Whose therapist? I don’t have a therapist. No, I definitely don’t. I’ve never spoken to a therapist.’”

Harry is a true believer, his eyes burning with the conviction of a ginger jihadi issuing a fatwa against those obstinate girls who would sooner opt to lower themselves into a vat of sulphuric acid than entertain his paltry desperations.

Harry is right. British people aren’t yet as open as Angelinos, though that is changing for the apparent better. Never have we been so self-absorbed. Never have we been so depressed. Never so anxious. Never so miserable.

He went on. “Ninety-nine percent of people on planet Earth are suffering some form of loss, trauma, or grief.” He warned: “The body doesn’t forget,” paraphrasing five words that adorn the front cover of a popular book on trauma, The Body Keeps The Score. I suspect the cover is where Harry’s reading of the book both birthed and died.

Of course, Harry believes everyone has ailments that soothsayers like himself are paid handsomely to salve, yet seldom solve.

Life-Changing

Harry earns funny money as “chief impact officer” for BetterUp, a “mental fitness” start-up that promises to drive whole-person growth and sustained organizational outcomes. Quite what any of that gobbledegook means is beyond my comprehension. I did try to find out, but BetterUp asked for my personal details. Given I’m familiar with the sustained organizational outcome of whole-person growth at Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978, I humbly declined.

The worker bees at BetterUp are warring with the management, whom they claim pay VPs like Harry obscene salaries to do a great deal of sweet Foxtrot Alpha. Meanwhile, sneaky changes to the ratings system through which coaches get paid could slash their wages by one-third.

“There’s really questionable ethics going on,” said one. “They’ve turned us into a commodity.”

Like most Silicon Valley start-ups, BetterUp dresses Gilded Age-style capitalism in the cloaks of New Age compassion.

Clientele will now offer feedback on how “life-changing” their coaching experience proved to be. Some coaches suspect the whims of their clientele will hold the coaches’ livelihoods hostage.

Like anything that painfully misreads human nature, such changes will incentivize bullshit.

If your rating and pay packet depends upon the graces of your client, you’d better pretend that their every neurotic indulgence is empowering, and that their habit of masturbating on public transport is just a rather committed form of self-care.  

Contrary to the popular wisdom of this famished time, changing one’s life is rather hard work. For this reason, most of us shuffle into the black having achieved little more than a gravestone.

BetterUp is a pristine illustration of therapy culture: the trivial tramples the true.

Perhaps I’m in denial, harboring some genetic trauma, or I’ve internalized my whiteness. Yet I cannot help but notice that our therapeutic obsession, and its bonkers sister wokeness, is most pronounced among the ruling class.

This noisome culture seeps into the water supply. Online, a quarter of people I know self-diagnose as depressed. An aversion to often loathsome gatherings is now agoraphobia; a mild misfortune is now the wellspring of post-traumatic stress. Those infidels disbelieving of our bullshit are gas-lighters or toxic or guilty of shaming. Self-care is a counterfeit license to be utterly selfish.

The richest and safest people in human history pay therapists hundreds to thousands an hour to discuss their climate anxiety, a problem that flares within moments of reading the New York Times. Such an affliction appears remarkably infectious.

Why the ruling class would seek to imprison and immiserate the lower orders into a state of perpetual victimhood is not too deep an intellectual river to wade. The urge to save humanity is almost always the urge to rule over humanity.

Luxury Problems

The greater our comfort, the greater our malaise.

In his soul-affirming book on solitude, late British psychiatrist Anthony Storr suggested our “divine discontent,” that “dissatisfaction with what is,” remains an inescapable feature of human nature. If too comfortable, man seeks problems to overcome. Storr observed: 

What Samuel Johnson calls that ‘hunger of imagination’ is also a necessary feature of human adaptation. Man’s extraordinary success as a species springs from his discontent, which compels him to employ his imagination. The type of modern man who exhibits more discontent than any other, Western man, has been the most successful.

And now he’s the most miserable. Freed from daily struggle, we now fashion luxury problems in lieu of real problems.

Not so long ago, daily reality—and still the daily reality for the vast majority of the planet—was precarious, each day governed by essential tasks the fulfillment of which determined survival. Eritreans are too busy hustling for something nourishing to place into theirs and their children’s mouths to indulge in the follies of Western affluenza.

Among the Western working- and middle classes, we’ve little time to do “inner work” as we’re  too busy grafting away for wages that haven’t budged since the 1970s, to pay rent on houses we’ll never call home. Our compassionate betters are loath to mention such real problems.

The symptoms of our malaise are of puzzling provenance to the other 6.5 billion people on this planet.

Colin Wilson, the late British philosopher, said that civilization had replaced precarity—the default state of mankind—with a security so lavish and so leisurely that we have forgotten what true hardship looks like. He wrote:

This is one of the most urgent problems for civilized man. He has created civilization to give himself security. Security for what? For boredom? His chief problem seems to be that most human beings need a certain amount of challenge, of external stimulus, to stop them from sinking into the blank stare and blank consciousness of the idiot.

That blank consciousness is our culture of looking at things on those magical time-wasting machines stitched psychically to our palms.

In those two months per year, on average, we drain away scrolling through little to nothing, what do we discover? The luxury problems of a culture obsessed with progress, yet petrified of the discomfort essential to all progress.

As always, modern soothsayers promise to fix every human imperfection, if only we first hand to them the power to perfect what can never be perfected.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared at Oxford Sour. Subscribe to Christopher Gage’s Substack here.

About Christopher Gage

Christopher Gage is a British political journalist and a founding member of the Gentlemen of the Swig. Subscribe to his Substack, "Oxford Sour."

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

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