The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution

“Triumphs of the Revolution”

Part Four (the final) discusses the cultural triple triumph of the revolution described through the history traced through this book.

The first triumph is the triumph of the erotic. This explores the sexualization of popular culture in the past half century. It also explores the way sexually explicit material has become acceptable within the broad daylight of mainstream society. Truman details the way this has been done via surrealist art and high culture, and through Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine at a popular level. The chapter also includes a fascinating analysis of a fashion magazine by George Orwell (author of dystopian novel 1984) in 1946, and the reactions of certain strands of feminism against the rise of pornography on the grounds not or morality but on its inevitable exploitation of women. This chapter also spends time discussing some points of social significance of pornography – the separation of sex and real physical encounter with an other; as well as that of sex from future consequences.

The second triumph is that of the therapeutic. Although the “triumph of the therapeutic” was noted as far back as 1966, the near-absolute priority that can be given to self-identified psychological needs has become a marked feature of early 21st century western cultures. Earlier he had mentioned “that sense of inner well-being that is the basic moral imperative of the therapeutic age” (p. 294). Trueman highlights how this is so by pointing to developments in three arenas of American society: 1. law, in the rulings of the US Supreme Court; 2. ethics, in the thought of moral philosopher Peter Singer; and 3. university campus culture, in the phenomena of protests, de-platforming, and the growing preoccupation with power and marginalization within the discipline of history. All the developments noted are related to therapeutic concerns and how they protect psychological well-being.

The third triumph returns to the question that Truman raised at the beginning of this book: the triumph of the “T” for transgenderism from LGBTQ+. This chapter investigates several matters relating to the LGBTQ+ movement. To begin with, Trueman describes the manner by which the differing groups represented by the LGBTQ+ acronym have come together in an uneasy coalition. I was surprised to discover that these groups are unlikely bedfellows (excuse the pun) with some very real tensions between them, but are held together by their common status as sexual minorities and by their grounding of identity in psychological and sexual categories. The conflicts caused by the refusal to accept that surgically altered men can be deemed women are also outlined. In essence, the included within the “L” are those who assert that female biology, history, and experience matters, and that these cannot be appropriated by “T” men who are none of these things but nonetheless wish to take on a female identity.

A final section of this chapter explores the document named The Yogyakarta Principles (2006), after the Indonesian city where it was created. These principles aim to prescribe legislation to national governments for sexuality and gender identity issues, connecting LGBT issues to the more general concept of human rights. Trueman explores some of the principles and asks some probing questions about the definitions used and bases for its assertions, and demonstrates how they flow on from the history of the expressive individual that his book has traced.

A concluding section to this chapter situates the LGBTQ+ movement within the historical trajectory of the book and the analytical categories detailed at its beginning.