According to Lasch, the progressive cliche of the obsolete family is right, but it is right for the wrong reasons. The notion of the cloistered, nuclear family, the titular “haven in a heartless world,” was itself a response to the atomizing horrors of industrialization. Before industrialization, families were larger, multi-generational, and very much integrated into social, community, and economic life. For quite literally countless generations, children watched their parents work and usually the workplace was also home. Industrialization, among other factors, explodes this ancient version of the homestead, scattering large and highly self-sufficient groups into what we know as the atomic family. These sub-units were then, in the post-industrial West, no longer localized or very self-sufficient. Authority itself, as experienced by children especially, is transferred from the immediate environment to far-off abstract entities: “the state, the corporation, the medical and educational bureaucracies,” as Scialabba lists them.
This strange drift of authority away from the concrete and immediate surroundings makes it that much more difficult for the child to properly individuate and achieve something like emotional and psychological independence. The affection of the nuclear parents is not enough if they do not embody a real authority. In Lasch’s words, “Love without authority does not make a conscience.” What it does create is a narcissist, a personality type which Lasch defines as:
wary of intimate, permanent relationships, which entail dependence and thus may trigger infantile rage; beset by feelings of inner emptiness and unease . . . ; preoccupied with personal “growth” and the consumption of novel sensations; prone to alternating self-images of grandiosity and abjection; liable to feel toward everyone in authority the same combination of rage and terror that the infant feels for whoever it depends on; unable to identify emotionally with past and future generations and therefore unable to accept the prospect of aging, decay, and death.
This could also be the description of the emotional makeup of the ideal consumer.