Generation Why: The Millennarians

I see that one half of the team of Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, who together authored the book The Narcissism Epidemic, has now released her own study of “Generation Y” or “Generation Me” (the “Millennials” born after January 1, 1982) and has, not surprisingly I suppose, discovered that GenY is even more self-indulgent, aberrant, and narcissistic than its post-War predecessor generations: the Boomers and Generation X. Presumably Generation “Z” will be the Omega Generation, since we will have run out of alphabet and, perhaps, also out of time therewith.

That would be, indeed, the ironic and unintended realisation of Mr. Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis.

Jean Twenge’s very brief summary statement of her findings about so-called “Generation Me” is posted here. I do not dispute those findings. They are fully consistent with what I have observed around me and which I have recorded extensively through two incarnations of blogs, from The Dark Age Blog to the present Chrysalis. I retired The Dark Age Blog, and afterwards launched The Chrysalis, because I felt I needed to proactively affirm and consciously acknowledge the truths of cultural historian Jean Gebser’s conviction, stated in his great book The Ever-Present Origin, that “the traits of a new reality” and a new world were already emerging “amidst the decline of our age” — that is, a new consciousness, a new truth, and a new reality he perceived as “irrupting” from amidst the detritus, and the flotsam and jetsam that was the looming shipwreck of the Modern Era, and of everything that had defined that era.

Or, as Bob Dylan once put it equally in a song, “Everything is Broken“.

I have become, however, increasingly pessimistic about the human capacity to outrun the signs of immanent catastrophe and to escape the completion of that logic of decadence and nihilism that Gebser (and Nietzsche, too) foresaw as a distinct possibility for our times — global catastrophe: “Either we will be disintegrated and dispersed, or we must resolve and effect integrality. In other words, either time is fulfilled in us — and that would mean the end and death for our present earth and (its) mankind — or we succeed in fulfilling time; and this means integrality and the present, the realization and the reality of origin and presence. And it means, consequently, a transformed continuity where mankind and not man, the spiritual and not the spirit, origin and not the beginning, the present and not time, the whole and not the part become awareness and reality. It is the whole that is present in origin and originative in the present.”  For it is quite evident that the Pied Piper of that unwelcome fate, former neo-con and Project for a New American Century signatory, Mr. Fukuyama with his “end of history” thesis, still retains a trance-like grip on the imagination of our contemporary reactionaries, and represents Gebser’s (and Rosenstock-Huessy’s) foremost concern that time will be fulfilled in us, rather than by us as conscious agents of human history and of evolution realised as our own work of autobiography.

If the incipience of the new “integral” or fulfilled consciousness that Gebser foresaw as being a distinct alternative for mankind in these times is not to be found in the upcoming generations, then where is it to be found at all? The dominant and ascending trends of our time are not those that Gebser foresaw, but have become instead destructively narcissistic and nihilistic.

No, I don’t dispute Twenge’s findings (as also reported in The Toronto Star). My objections to her findings and research lies in her apparent ignorance of what I have previously referred to as “the political economy of the culture of narcissism” and her apparent ignorance of, or unwillingness to confront, the roots of the culture of narcissism and the nihilism of our times in what is portrayed in the revealing BBC series The Century of the Self, and which demonstrates that, contrary to the self-aggrandising attitudes of narcissism, the narcissist, far from being authentically “individual”, is an automaton mass produced to satisfy the requirements of corporate capitalism and of ruling elites, and is not simply the result of “bad parenting” or of a dysfunctional family life or a predilection towards mass mental illness.

Mental illness it may be (and is epidemic today) but not because of bad parenting or dysfunctional families which are themselves embedded in a socio-historical milieu which has been re-worked to shape (to culture) precisely this human type — the archetype of The Fool — in order to ensure its own survival — the self-aggrandising narcissist as mad and aberrant “shop-till-you-drop” consumer who has been completely compromised, consumed, and ultimately destroyed, like the mythical Narcissus, by his or her own self-image and bad act, oblivious to, and mystified by, the sources of their own impulsive behaviours.

“The sins of the fathers shall be visited down to the third and fourth generations”, or so says the New Testament. That is not a religious dogma so much as a sociological principle that is actually revealed in action by following the logical sequence of events (and of the generations) surveyed in this four part series on The Century of the Self. There is a cogent reason why this series required four parts to convey its message, too.

I suspect this much — that the reason Twenge’s and Campbell’s “research”, inadequate as I find it to be, on the causes of the narcissism epidemic remains popular with the mainstream punditocracy and the pols is finally owing precisely to this avoidance of questions of political economy and to the evasion of political controversy. It’s diversionary, and ultimately misleading.

Towards the end of his life, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger commented in an interview, “only a god can save us now”. Perhaps he is right after all. But it’s a futile and vain hope that is hopelessness by any other name. Perhaps our fate lies ultimately not in the hands of a god or aliens from outer space, but in the hands of “Generation Z”?

Because Generation Y is apparently useless.


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