Narcissism: The New Norm?
By:: Tyler Colborn
“Who wants to be a Protestant?” asked the Catholics of the 1520’s. “Who wishes to be free the British Crown?” asked the Tories of the 1770’s. Who doesn’t like segregation?” asked the apostles of Jim Crow in the 1960’s. “What’s wrong with this generation?” ask the elders of every generation.
Inter-generational scorn has seemingly increased in recent years; old people actually live older, and blistering advances in technology have led to blistering changes in societal norms and culture.
So, blame it on the nature of society, right? Everything’s changing too much for our grandparents to keep up with, and it’s as simple as that. If you want to get political about it, you can repeat a modern mantra: “Society marches on.” That is, progressivism will always beat conservatism in the “culture wars.” Should we accept that the young majority is always right?
I have a different idea of what’s behind the issue, or perhaps, a more specific idea; the inherent values of society have changed as a result of the aforementioned technological advances. However, they haven’t changed for the better, and this isn’t just something to blame on children or on parents.
Society used to be based on kindness and courtesy, uniquely human traits. Kindness and courtesy are the easiest ways to get people to like you in a hypothetical “small town,” where everyone is seeing all aspects of your personality at all times. But in the modern age, where people can put on a digital face, and are increasingly isolated by this digital technology, it’s extremely easy to rely on ‘charisma’- the third value to base a culture upon.
Charisma isn’t like kindness and courtesy. While it has its place in society, it can never be purely for the benefit of other people; it will always be a selfish skill, intended for one’s own benefit. However, the ideal of ‘charisma’- of being liked by other people for one’s personality and not necessarily one’s actions- can be used for the betterment of society. When people feel they’re respected by society for being themselves, they’re more likely to give back. Charisma offers more rewards than simple kindness and courtesy.
It’s the same reason that some people give to support capitalism. When some people can gain wealth, power and social status so easily (if they’re smart and/or hardworking), they’re much more inclined to do things that can advance society technologically.
However, this encroaching of charisma as a value at the forefront of society has had consequences on the mindsets of modern youth. Everyone wants to work for their own gain- not society’s, not other people’s- and the increasing idolization of simple celebrities is to blame. More and more, everyday people are looking to famous people as paragons of virtue. And the “#metoo” movement’s exposure of Hollywood’s underbelly is telling us what that can cause.
In the old days, there was never even a hope that a commoner could become royalty. Certainly the occasional fairytale would entertain the idea, but deep in most peasant’s minds, they knew they were stuck at their station. This wasn’t a good thing, per se, but the opposite, aiming solely to become notable or rich, is much worse, and it’s happening today. Celebrities are treated as royalty, but American society acts as if anyone can become one. The resulting paradox produces overly-ambitious Americans, unsatisfied with the average lives they can realistically lead. When success is valued above simple living, satisfaction among normal people takes a nosedive.
Yes, the ‘American Dream’, as many people interpret it, has had a bad impact on society because the “American Dream” isn’t, at its core, about being anything or anybody that you want to. It’s about being happy and free, but if you can only be happy while you’re successful, it can’t do anything for you.
This new dynamic of personal motivation can’t maintain itself and caught in the crossfire are modern children and young adults, trying to find their own identities in a world of idealized egotists and scummy celebrities. So, the people who can live up to society’s new, unrealistic standards of unfettered charm are pushed up on a pedestal, and the average-day people of yesteryear are pushed down. What has happened to the middle class has happened just as readily to people, because society has become an economy of coolness.
This is happening in developed nations across the world; young people, especially men, are being pushed to the periphery. Technology doesn’t make people cold because they’re ‘always looking at their phones’- it’s never as simple as that. The culture that modern technology breeds doesn’t want anyone to be ‘boring’ or even just ‘normal’. Even living a simple life has become a game of politics, and everyone is suffering for it.
Society furthers itself with selflessness, but it has become selfish. The things that make humanity unique aren’t like the “alphas of the wolf pack.” Humanity is based on true cooperation, with its unique values- kindness and courtesy- taken to their greatest extremes. No other species has the mindfulness to be truly courteous or kind. This unorthodox self-awareness yields a responsibility to do what’s best for everyone, even when it may not benefit oneself.