Friday, March 2, 2007

Hey MySpace narcissist!

The Christian Science Monitor called you out today, in Has Generation Y overdosed on self-esteem?:

The "all about me" shift means much more than lots of traffic at self-revelatory websites such as YouTube and Facebook. It points, says the study's author, to a generation's lack of empathy, its inability to form relationships – and worse ...

For some, the study validates their suspicions of educational and parenting techniques that put undue emphasis on the positive: tot-level self-esteem boosterism, luxury-as-necessity entitlement, and what one calls "instant fame-ification ...

... feeling good about oneself without demonstrating competence, he adds, does lead to narcissism.

Damn those tot-level self-esteem boosters. I knew it would come to a generation of virtual mirror gazers and instant celebritites when they could say nothing but "Good job!!!!" to their tots.

Is narcissism a new thing? The eponym comes from a classical Grecian prettyboy, so it's been around awhile, and all the holy books specifically reference social networking. The Koran says, "surely Allah does not love any self-conceited boaster on Facebook" (Luqman 31:18), the Bible says "In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a MySpace fool" (NIV, 2 Corinthians 11:17), and the Bhagavad-Gita says, "Shameful and vain. Existing for himself, Self-concentrated, serving self alone, No part hath he in aught; nothing achieved, ever gazing at his own Friendster profile pics" (Chapter III, 56).

Has it been a generational thing before? Consider the timeless prose of Kraftwerk from 1977, back when Generation Y were being conceived: "The young man stepped into the hall of mirrors / Where he discovered a reflection of himself / Even the greatest stars / Discover themselves in the looking glass ... We are showroom dummies". Right?! "Trans Europe Express ... Trans Europe Express ..." I think that's relevant, but I'm thrown off by their unwitting parody of German philosophy.

While online tools have given the anyman an edge in the pursuit of self, a quick survey of history's rulers confirms the long, winding chain of tot-level self-esteem boosters. King David, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Attila the Hun, Napoleon, Hitler — good or bad, I think they were all enabled by a parent who told them they were capable of anything. Narcissism is certainly a driving factor, but it's a free moral agent, guided by the principles of its carrier.

I've come to wonder if even art and love amount to narcissism. With art, we produce essentially a graphic profile of ourselves and our thoughts for all to see ... throughout history. More of ourselves to admire throughout the centuries. In the case of love, we search endlessly for what? Someone who thinks, loves, and appreciates just like we do. We want a mirror in a partner. What the Bleep Do We Know? pointed out the irony of falling in love with someone else: we're falling in love with ourselves — which we see in that other person.

The real question is, should we be concerned at the toxic levels of self-love brewing on social networking sites? I don't think so. It says in Proverbs, "Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control" (NIV 25:28). But my profile pics are pretty good, and as of today my profile has had 18851 views. I see no downside to this equation. Wait, what were we talking about?

Oh yeah, Kraftwerk. They were so awesome. "Endless endless ..."

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