Monday, November 28, 2011

Narcissism: the new black

Forget all you've read by sociologists and historians determined to identify various generational groups with clever monikers like "baby boomers," "gen x-ers," and "generation y." It's poor thinking, weak analysis disguised by terminology, the worst kind of pop history. People are not conditioned by the year of their birth, anymore than they are conditioned by the stars in the sky. And while there certainly are identifiable social trends  at various moments in time, the moments vary by location and the trends, themselves, vary as well. So just because someone was born in 1965, it does not follow that the person is a some sort of slacker, with no knowledge of or interest in things like politics or the economy.

It would be great if things were this easy, if we could identify what moves people, what they care about, how they behave solely on the basis of when they were born. But we can't. The generalizations fall apart in short order. For instance, many would argue that "generation y," now becoming young adults, are the driving force behind the Occupy movements and that this reflects a selflessness uncommon among the previous generations like the x-ers and the baby boomers, yet harkening back to the "greatest generation" of the War years. There's even a book that advances the theory: Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. But it's based on assumption after assumption and supported by cherry-picked data, as are the arguments for all generation-based groupings of this sort.

The fact of the matter is that people are individuals. Group-think is a reality, no doubt, and individuals can sometimes find themselves swept in cultural zeitgeists (some individuals, anyway), but such things are not pre-determined by the year of one's birth. And significant trends in social behavior--regardless of the source--cut across generational lines. They always have. If they didn't, they couldn't be significant. We like to think this isn't the case, to romanticize about the past to create a narrative with identifiable heroes. For the youth are always excellent choices for such a role.

The Civil Rights Movement, for instance, is portrayed this way. Yet, the participants were not all college kids and the like. Remember too, that forms of participation can vary, based on a host of factors. A housewife living in Cleveland simply could not contribute in the same ways as a college student going to school in Georgia. But it does not follow that the latter cared more or was more significant. The Abolitionist Movement of the 19th century--being more distant in time--perhaps makes this issue more obvious.

So, lets look at an obvious social trend in today's climate that knows no generational bounds: narcissism. From YouTube videos to Tweets, to Facebook status updates, to arrogant blog posts, the 'net has proven to be a bastion of self-promotion. Or as some would say, a bastion of "freedom." For what else is more indicative of unfettered freedom than a platform from which to exclaim "me, me, me"? No group is unaccounted for here. True, younger people are more plentiful, but again this is partly a consequence of specific circumstances and opportunity.

There is place, however, where equality of opportunity exists for most all adults: the roadways of the nation. And it is here that this profound cult of narcissism is most evident. Cars today come equipped with many features; every new model comes with even more. But some features--like a braking system--have been around for a long time and are unlikely to go away anytime soon. Every driver has to learn how to use the brakes. It's just something so basic and--obviously--so necessary, from the standpoint of safety and courtesy. After all, allowing yourself to coast into the car in front of you in order to stop would just be downright rude.

How about turn signals? They've been available since 1940, or so. Prior to that--and even after turn signals became standard features--drivers were instructed to make hand signals when turning. Turn signals are safety features: they alert other drivers of a coming change in course, of a likely decrease in speed. There's no reason--ever--to not signal when making a turn. And yet...WHY IS IT THAT NOBODY BOTHERS TO USE THEM ANYMORE?!? I'll tell you why: because they're so wrapped up in their own little world that they can't be bothered which such mundane activities that provide them with no clear benefits.

So, the next time you're out for a drive, use your stinking turn signal. Ass.

Cheers, all.

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