One of Britain’s royal princes has revealed to tens of millions of his closest and dearest friends and acquaintances, via an interview in a newspaper, that he found the period after the death of his mother difficult. He was widely praised for his openness when, of course, he should have been firmly reprehended for his emotional incontinence and exhibitionism. Alas, this kind of psychological kitsch is fashionable, with all kinds of princely personages—footballers, rock stars, actors, actresses, and the like—displaying their inner turmoil, much of which, unlike the actual prince’s, is self-inflicted. They parade that turmoil as beggars in some countries display their amputated stumps.
Perhaps this is to head off the envy that otherwise might attach to them. See, they seem to be saying, “We too suffer, despite our wealth, privilege, and fairy-tale lives, which you falsely imagine to be enviable and without blemish.” At the same time, we turn sufferers and victims into heroes merely on account of their suffering or victimization, so that those celebrities who confess to misery, drug addiction, alcoholism, etc. are even more to be adulated than they already were.
One might have thought that people did not need to be told that children who lose their mothers early in life quite often have difficulties getting over it. The British prime minister, Mrs. May, immediately spotted an opportunity to demonstrate to her sentimental electorate (just ahead of the election she was soon to announce) how much she cared for even the least of them by announcing, in the wake of the prince’s banal revelations, that she wanted to put a mental health professional in every secondary school so that the little ones should experience distress no more.
The cultural triumph of psychobabble, that type of psychologese that allows people to talk endlessly about themselves without revealing anything of their inner life, and certainly without the painful necessity of true self-examination, is thus now complete. There will be a new social contract: I will listen to your shallow clichés about yourself if you will listen to mine.