Tuesday, January 05, 2010

On the narcissistic modern individualist, or how liberalism creates consumerism

Deciding to end his career early, Thomas H. Benton spoke honestly about the state of current students -- reflecting, in turn, the mentality of the moderns:

I see too many students who are:

  • Primarily focused on their own emotions — on the primacy of their "feelings" — rather than on analysis supported by evidence.
  • Uncertain what constitutes reliable evidence, thus tending to use the most easily found sources uncritically.
  • Convinced that no opinion is worth more than another: All views are equal.
  • Unable to follow or make a sustained argument.
  • Increasingly interested in the social and athletic above the academic, while "needing" to receive very high grades.
  • Not really embarrassed at their lack of knowledge and skills.
  • Certain that any academic failure is the fault of the professor rather than the student.

And this, my friends, is the end result of 1789.

When we declare context to be irrelevant, and ourselves to the ends toward which civilization is a means, we divide every society into as many tiny semi-autonomous nations as it has people. There is no unity. In fact, anything that requires us to bend our minds to reality is frowned upon, because we'd rather do otherwise (anyone else think of Melville's arch-parasite Bartleby the Scrivener?).

With liberalism, or focus on the human individual, comes the legitimization of the denial of reality -- and from that comes our modern narcissism and solipsism. We choose to believe the world is part of us, or originates in us, and so we can simply prefer to ignore certain facts and tendencies. Opinions, feelings, social connections and advertising take precedence over realistic pragmatism and realism in the scientific method sense of paying attention to reality and figuring out how it works.

Of course, Christopher Lasch predicted this in his excellent book Narcissism nearly forty years ago, and Ted Kaczynski alludes to it in Industrial Society and Its Futures, and Plato outlines it in Chapter 8 of The Republic, while Nietzsche describes its originating psychology -- removing truth from a correspondence to reality -- in On truth and lies in an extra-moral sense.

But still our people resist the idea. Total individualism, which was the liberal revolution from 1789-1968, causes us to become shallow materialists, greedy capitalists, ignorant polluters, media sheep who believe whatever's convenient, solipsists who deny others exist, selfish drivers who ignore the process of getting everyone there on time in favor of lazy oblivion, narcissists and reality denial fiends. Liberalism causes every problem it claims to solve through this mechanism.

But still our people resist -- because, of course, to see this problem makes us to blame, instead of continuing to blame big corporations, Hitler, Jesus, government, CIA, UFOs, etc.

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Subvert the dominant paradigm, don't be a solipsist.

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