I did a presentation in my sociology of deviance class on the Self Esteem movement, and in doing research for it this paper came to my attention
during one of my researching sessions. The Social Importance of Self Esteem was a formal document highlighting the initial results and aims of the
California Task Force to Promote Self Esteem (established by a man who singlehandedly lobbied every senator in order to get it established) in 1986.
The rationale behind it was that having low self esteem "caused" you to go out and wreck havoc in society. I was only able to skim it, due to having
to make the presentation, but a lot of insights could be gleamed from perusing it. Here's a link:
"It is supposed that those citizens who appreciate themselves will cultivate their own personal responsibility and will attend to the tasks that are
necessary for the welfare of the community and the society. It is further supposed that those in society who are burdened with the conviction that
they are not worthy will take refuge in behaviors that are unproductive, costly, deviant, and dangerous to society and will, by that measure,
contribute disproportionately to serious social problems. Bearing these two propositions in mind, it becomes essential for the leaders of society,
first, to establish social conditions that will maximize the development of self-esteem among the population and, second, to establish social
arrangements that will rescue and rehabilitate those who have emerged from families and communities with a sense of diminished self-worth.
(emphasis is mine) [page 11, for those interested]
Out of context, that doesn't sound very nefarious at all, and in fact, would be quite the sensible thing to do if both of those propositions were true
in their most literal sense. A few more, before any conclusion is presented...
"A Plausible Case for the Link Between Self-Esteem and Social Problems
As an intuitive matter—based on our own personal experiences and our observations of others—we know what it is to experience high self-esteem. It
means, fundamentally, that we appreciate ourselves and our inherent worth... [goes on to list other traits] We also know what it means to experience
diminished self-esteem; it means the opposite of all those positive elements just described, and it results in self-deprecation, helplessness,
powerlessness, and depression. Also as an intuitive matter, we know how we are likely to behave, depending on whether we think well or poorly of
ourselves." [page 6]
initially, I was amused by the standards of evidence.
"As for the vicious cycle, we need consider only that dynamic described in this volume by Scheff, Retzinger, and Ryan: one partner in an interpersonal
relationship is subtly but tangibly shamed by the other and does not acknowledge this debasement but instead lashes out in a violent rage toward the
other person. The violence sets off a frenzy of greater shame and guilt, which can find expression only in another bout of destructiveness.
In this case, the causal link is clear: low self-esteem is the causally prior factor in individuals seeking out kinds of behavior that become social
problems. Thus, to work on social problems, we have to work directly on that which deals with the self-esteem of the individuals involved. Or, as we
say in the trade, diminished self-esteem stands as a powerful independent variable (condition, cause, factor) in the genesis of major social problems.
We all know this to be true, and it is really not necessary to create a special California task force on the subject to convince us. The real problem
we must address—and which the contributors to this volume address—is how we can determine that it is scientifically true."
The scientific rigor is a topic for another day. I'm here to discuss, in particular, social control. Even if the foundation on which the idea that low
self esteem causes social problems is only partly true, the conclusion can still be true. A few sentences down...
"We know equally well that diminished self-esteem is often the product of something outside the individual, something in one's personal and social
environment. If a child is singled out as the family dummy, is the one voted least likely to succeed, or is abused by parents and siblings, that child
is a poor candidate for having high self-esteem throughout any part of life." [pages 8]
"We are intuitively aware of what it takes to turn high self-esteem into low, and what it takes to turn low self-esteem into high. In the former
instance, constant failures and a constant bombardment with the message that one does not count as a person or with others gradually add up to the
feeling that one is a cipher in this world. In the latter case, the first step is acknowledging that one regards oneself as worthless or helpless or
in the grips of self-abasement, combined with a sense of personal suffering and a desire to drag oneself out of the hole. When this is linked with a
personally meaningful experience—perhaps finding a mate, perhaps getting a new job, perhaps entering psychotherapy, perhaps finding a new social or
religious identity—the individual finds a new sense of capability, power, and self-control; a liking for oneself and who one is; and a capacity to
get out of the realm of behavior that is damaging to oneself and to others and to reach toward the realm of responsible and pro-social behavior.
Moreover, it is this significant turnaround from low to high self-esteem—and its behavioral consequences—that allows the ebbing away of those
kinds of behavior that constitute social problems." [pages 6-7]
Can anyone else see how this would apply to social control? I don't want to just throw out a lot of things and not receive input (anymore than I
already have). One way to think of this is what happens with narcissists (people with "situational" self esteem) vs. other people.
If you want to see the surrounding context or read more into it, you can go here for the whole thing (260 pages).
edit on 3/10/2014 by zackli because: (no