THE COOL MODERN AND THE COMMERCIAL SPIRIT OF INTIMATE LIFE
Cool modem advice books reveal a newly unfolding paradox that is reminiscent of an earlier paradox. In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber describes a set of beliefs held by a variety of Protestant sects—a belief in ascetic self-control, frugality, hard work, and devotion to a calling. He traces the way in which these religious ideas were adapted to a material purpose. The idea of devotion to a calling came to mean devotion to making money. The idea of self-control came to mean careful saving,
spending, and capital reinvestment. The Protestant Ethic “escaped the cage” to become part of a new hybrid “spirit of capitalism.”
Comparing the origin of these motivational ideas and their ultimate destination, Weber made this significant comment:
Today the spirit of religious asceticism—whether finally, who knows?—has escaped from the cage. But victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical foundations, needs its support no longer. The rosy blush of its laughing heir, the Enlightenment, seems also to be irretrievably fading and the idea of duty in one’s calling prowls about in our lives like the ghost of dead religious beliefs.14
The original religious ideas jumped the churchyard fence to land in the marketplace. Luther and Calvin would have been aghast at the leap their ideas took. As Weber notes, wryly:
… it is not to be understood that we expect to find any of the founders or representatives of these religious movements considering the promotion of what we have called the spirit of capitalism as in any sense the end of his life work.
We cannot well maintain that the pursuit of worldly goods, conceived as an end in itself, was to any of them of positive ethical value.20
Work devoted to a calling as the religious fathers originally intended it was a task set by God, and it led to salvation. In Benjamin Franklin’s capitalist hands (his 1736 advice book was called Necessary Hints to Those Who Would Be Rich), a calling led elsewhere.
Now, has another set of beliefs jumped another fence? Is a more marginal belief system, feminism, escaping from the cage of a social movement to buttress a commercial spirit of intimate life? The feminism represented, for example, by Charlotte Gilman or Lucretia Mott, or by the mid-1970s second-wave feminists whose thinking is reflected in the best-selling advice book Our Bodies, Ourselves, has “escaped the cage” into a commercial arena. Like Calvin, the feminist founders might have worried at the cultural trends weaving themselves around their core ideals, “Equality, yes," they might say were they alive today, “but why allow the worst of capitalist culture to establish the cultural basis of it?” “Autonomy, yes,” they might say, “but the standalone cowgirl—why?”
The analogy, then, is this: Feminism is to the commercial spirit of intimate life as Protestantism is to the spirit of capitalism. The first legitimates the second. The second borrows from but also transforms the first. Just as certain prior conditions prepared the soil for the spirit оf capitalism to take off—the decline of feudalism, the growth of cities, the rising middle class— so, too, certain prior conditions ripen the soil for the takeoff of the commercial spirit of intimate life. The preconditions now are a weakening oi the family, the decline of the church, and loss of local community—traditional shields against the harsher effects of capitalism.
і діуеп this backdrop, a commercial culture has moved in, silently borrowing from feminism an ideology that made way for women in public life. From feminism these books draw a belief in the equal worth of men and women. Modern books begin with the idea that women think too little of themselves. Their human needs are not met. The authors of these books genuinely seek, I believe, to uplift women, to raise women’s worth in their own eyes and the eyes of others. This idea is what makes cool modern books modern. This idea of equality makes them a powerful challenge to Marabel Morgan; it’s what makes her advice seem old-fashioned, invalid, silly.
What advice books blend with feminism, however, is a commercial spirit of intimate life. And here I move well beyond analogy, I’or, it seems also true that part of the content of the spirit of capitalism is being displaced onto intimate life; this is, in fact, partly what the commercial spirit of intimate life is. The ascetic self-discipline that the early capitalist applied to his bank account the twenty-first-century woman applies to her appetite, her body, her love. The devotion to a “calling,” which the early capitalist applied to earning money, the latter-day woman applies to “having it all.” The activism, the belief in working hard and aiming high, the desire to go for it, to be saved, to win, to succeed, which the early capitalists used to build capitalism in a rough-and-tumble marketplace, many advice books urge women to transfer to love in a rapidly changing courtship scene.
The commercial spirit of intimate life is made up of images that prepare the way for a paradigm of distrust. These are images of “me” and “you” and “us” that are psychologically defended and shallow, і t is also made up of a way of relating to others associated with the paradigm, a spirit of instrumental detachment that fits the emptied slots where a deeper “me,” “you,” and “us” might be.
Cool modem books prepare the self for a commercial spirit of intimate life by offering as ideal a self well defended against getting hurt. In Dowling’s worst magnified moment, she leaps away in fright from her own desire to be “safe, warm, comforted.” She ardently seeks to develop the capacity to endure emotional isolation. Parallel to the image of the low – needs self is the image of the self that ministers to itself. Who helps the self? The answer is the self. In appendix 4 of Who Love Too, Robin
Norwood offers private affirmations: “Twice daily, for three minutes each time, maintain eye contact with yourself in a mirror as you say out loud, ‘(your name), I love you and accept you exactly the way you are.’”-1 The heroic acts a self can perform, in this view, are to detach, to leave, and to depend on and need others less. The emotion work that matters is control of the feelings of fear, vulnerability, and the desire to be comforted – The ideal self doesn’t need much, and what it does need it can get for itself.
Added to the idea of a curtailed “me” is the idea of a curtailed “you." So a no-needs me relates to a no-needs you, and a paradigm of caution is stationed between the two. A woman who loves a man may have a “need to con – tror or be a “man junkie.”" In many cool modem books, the author prepares us for people out there who don’t need our nurturance and for people who don’t or can’t nurture us. Norwood catalogs cases of women who love men who drink too much, men who beat them up, men who run around, men who use them and leave. Drawing a general picture of the dysfunctional man and relationship, she proposes a general paradigm of caution. If we accept the cases, she implies, we should accept the paradigm. 1 f we take the position that some men hurt some women, a position many of us, including myself, would take, we find ourselves on a slippery slope sliding gradually down to a paradigm of caution.
While books like Women Who Love Too Much focus on therapy, ironically the actual process of healing is subtracted from the image of normal family or communal bonds. The women in Norwood’s tales seem to live in a wider community strikingly barren of emotional support. Actual healing is reserved for a separate zone of paid professionals where people have Ph. D.s, M. D.s, M. A.s, accept money, and have special therapeutic identities. While psychotherapy is surely a help to many, it is no substitute for life itself. In the picture Norwood paints, there is little power of healing outside of therapy. In the stories Norwood tells, love doesn’t heal. When you give it, it doesn’t take. When another offers it, it may feel good but it’s not good for you. In fact, in the second paragraph of her preface, Norwood declares that if “we try to become his [a loved one’s; therapist, we are loving too much.”- If the word “therapy” conveys the desire to help another to get to the root of a problem, this is a very deep subtraction from our idea of love and friendship. It thins and lightens our idea of love. We are invited to confine our trust to the thinner, once-a-week, “processed” concern of the professional. This may add to our expectations of therapy, but it lightens our expectations of lovers, family, and friends. Cool modem books put a value on this lightness. The idea of liberation and independence that early feminists applied to the right to vote, to leam, and to work, the cool moderns apply to the right to emotionally detach.
Given these images of “me” and “you,” we are more prepared to accept die spirit of commercialism. This spirit instrumentalizes our idea of love. Го be sure, nothing is new about instrumentalism. As The Total Woman shows, under patriarchy women learned to “catch their man in the right mood to ask for a new hat." They used flattery and feminine wiles.
The decline of patriarchy has not eliminated instrumentalism. It has recast it into a new, commercial mold. The people in stories similar to The Cinderella Complex and Women Who Love Too Much tell us to “stop acting,”-1 to value honesty and authenticity, and this is part of what makes them feel “modem.” But ironically, what many are honest about is authentic instrumentalism. For example, Norwood tells readers honestly how to shop
around for a less needy guy, preferably a man with nonalcoholic parents. Just as characters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice shrewdly appraise the bank accounts and social lineage of their suitors, so Norwood urges women to consider their suitors’ psychological capital. The difference is more than an update. Norwood’s attempt to give her readers a “clear head” about love goes with a readiness to detach, to leave, to turn inward toward oneself. For Jane Austen, family and community are confining whereas, for Norwood, they are barely there at all.
Each cool modem book offers a slightly different version of the commercial culture. Some express a theme of production, others a theme of consumption. In Having It All, Helen Gurley Brown does both, by focusing on the production of the body she displays as a ware. In the nearly one-third of Having It All that she devotes to the female face and hair, she proposes a policy of “investment” in the bodily self.-"’ Brown tells women what to do: Dye your hair. Get a face-lift. Diet. Dress frilly. These practices should be done neither in the spirit of a purification rite, nor in the spirit of devotion to a particular person, but to look good to an anonymous market of men within a thirty-yard radius. She helps women advertise themselves to a diversified market. The light office affairs she recommends are those of a
sexual venture capitalist, a diversified, high-risk, high-opportunity portfolio.
In Women Who Love Too Much, Robin Norwood expresses more the theme of consumption. She advises women how to “spend” their nurturance in the relational marketplace. Although the language is therapeutic, the spirit is that of a shrewd investment counselor. Don’t waste your love, Norwood warns, on a poor investment. In her cautionary tales, stories of unhappy patients who “loved too much,” one woman after another “wastes” her love and lacks a return commensurate to her devotion and attention. “Divest,” she cautions. “Cut your losses. Invest elsewhere.”
In The Cinderella Complex, Colette Dowling takes yet a third tack. Instead of focusing on women who love too much, Dowling concentrates on women who need too much. Displacing the spirit of capitalism onto private life, cool modem advice books for women both reinforce and create a commercial culture of intimate life. As a result, we may have global warming, but we have a cultural cooling.