Manufacturing Generation Me
April 2, 2012

Cover of "Generation Me: Why Today's Youn...

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Two intellectual trends dominate the burgeoning, nonexistent field of Millennials Studies: one is a few years old, but the other one seems to just be catching on. The older trend is, of course, the growing body of work in social psychology purporting to demonstrate that kids these days are more narcissistic than their parents or grandparents. The younger trend is the growing body of work purporting to demonstrate that kids these days will spend the rest of their lives being fucked sideways by the unsustainable economic consumption and political myopia of the Boomer generation. There are reasonable critiques you can make of either of these theories, but I find them both provisionally persuasive — that is, enough to at least entertain the possibility that my age bracket is, statistically speaking, both uniquely solipsistic and uniquely screwed. Which is enough to make a body wonder if there’s any connection between the two phenomena.

So what follows is a blog-sized sketch of how one might go about marrying the two theories. It’s crude, but I think it carries some conceptual force.

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Whose Fault is Generation Me?
October 20, 2010

My introductory post is up at the League. It’s about us crazy Millennials, and whose mistake we were.

It seems like every month brings news of the latest study confirming that Americans in my age bracket are compassion-stunted narcissists. The newest entry in the series, via Campus Progress’ Simeon Talley, comes to us from the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.  The findings? “[C]ollege students today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were in 1979, with the steepest decline coming in the last 10 years.”

I’ve heard plenty of friends and peers angrily dismiss studies like this, but I’m not so sure dismissal is warranted. If it were just one case study, then sure, I might buy accusations of flawed methodology. But the mound of concurring research is getting pretty hard to ignore. Plus, though I’m reluctant to say it, anecdotal experience says we can be a pretty self-absorbed bunch. (I can’t exactly exonerate myself from charges of narcissism, either. You might have noticed that I’m a blogger.)

The big question is why. Talley and Michael Tomasky lay the blame largely with what the latter calls: ”the modern era of conservative dominance.” Talley writes: “A worldview that idealizes rugged individualism and atomistic, selfish existence could be the culprit.”

That explanation is far too elegant and appealing for it to be correct. Not that I don’t think there’s some truth to it; take a good long look at the Tea Party and then tell me that modern American conservatism hasn’t fostered an atmosphere of aggressive nihilism and self-interest. But sweeping cultural shifts like the one I fear we’re witnessing rarely happen because of a single culprit, especially in a society as large and pluralistic as ours. Blame belongs not to a single cause, but to a cloud of interconnected factors.

I’ve got my thoughts on what a short list of those factors might look like, but for now I’ll stick to the overtly political and suggest that we on the left aren’t entirely blameless.

You’ll have to read the rest to find out why not.

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