Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The "Self-Absorbed" Generation

An OpEd by William Klemm, a professor at Texas A&M, in Sunday's Chronicle declares that today's youth are "self-absorbed" because of technology. According to the article, developments such as cell phones, Facebook, and text messaging breed laziness, narcissism, and a sense of entitlement:
The most egregious consequence is a growing collective feeling of entitlement. This manifests itself in many ways, from expectations of better grades for less effort in school work to political beliefs that there really should be a “free lunch” of government social programs. As one example of a common attitude of middle schoolers, I know of one student who, when being pressed to study, actually said unabashedly, “I don't need to learn. Somebody will always take care of me.”
While I would agree that today's children to have a sense of entitlement, it isn't because of technology and it certainly isn't a manifestation of self-love. Indeed, the root cause is selflessness, which is precisely what these children have been taught.

Self-love (that is, self-interest or rational egoism) requires that one first identify one's interests. It requires that one identify the long-term requirements of one's life and the values one seeks. It requires that one recognize the fact that life is not a series of disconnected days, but a continuum that spans decades.

Contrary to what Klemm implies, self-love is not the pursuit of any whim or momentary desire, nor does it lead to a sense of entitlement. Neither is truly in one's self-interest. The momentary "pleasure" of taking heroin or engaging in indiscriminate sex or ignoring one's education is ultimately destructive to one's long-term well-being.

In contrast, consider that we are continually told that we must serve others, that we must place the needs of others before our own interests. Morality we are told, demands that the renunciation of our own interests and values, that is, our own self-interest. To do otherwise is selfish and immoral.

The advocates of altruism--the creed of service to others--presents a false dichotomy. Either we must sacrifice for others, or sacrifice others to ourself. Life requires sacrifice, they claim, and the only issue is the victims and the beneficiaries.

Faced with this false alternative, the "self-absorbed" generation is choosing to sacrifice others for their own momentary pleasures. Others will take care of them--others will assume the responsibility of providing the values that life requires. And what if others refuse? What if others decide that they will not support these parasites?

Well, the little tykes haven't thought that far ahead. They believe that food, clothing, and shelter, along with I-Pods, cell phones, and flat-screen televisions will fall from heaven. And when they aren't deluged with such material goods, their "self-absorption" will not have served them well. Their wasted hours sitting in a classroom will have prepared them for wasted hours sitting in front of the television whining about how unfair life is.

The fact is, an entitlement mentality is not in one's best self-interest. It is an abnegation of self-responsibility. It is a declaration that one will place his life in the control of others and all that that implies. If someone wishes to live off of me, he better be prepared for crumbs.

Those who refuse to take responsibility for their own lives should get exactly what they deserve--misery. Unfortunately, most Americans believe that the mere fact that someone is born entitles him to food, clothing, education, transportation, and perhaps health care. They ignore the fact that someone must pay for these values. They ignore the fact that someone must create these values. They ignore the fact that someday their meal ticket will expire.

If today's youth truly wishes to be "self-absorbed", they must reject altruism and the cult of sacrifice. They must embrace the morality that holds that life does not require sacrifice--whether of others or of oneself. They must embrace rational selfishness.


Rational Jenn said...

Nice post! One of the things I'm trying to do as a parent is not quash my kids' sense of selfishness, but rather help them recognize that others have rights, too, and that taking care of themselves in the long-run is a good thing to do. In other words, I'm trying to help them put the "rational" into rational self-interest. :o)

Because my husband and I think that it's okay for our children to have selfish needs, we parent a little differently from many parents we know. We don't force sharing (but we do help negotiate turn-taking). We don't force someone to play a game they don't want to, using guilt as the weapon (but we do ask that they let the other kid know if there's a change of mind). We don't set arbitrary time limits on the use of toys or tools (but we let them know someone else is waiting for a turn, so to be sure to let someone know when they are finished).

Those are but a few examples of how we aren't modeling/forcing altruistic sentiments and behaviors on our kids. At the same time, they aren't unaware of the affect their actions have on others. The difference is that there's no guilt trip or actual forcing to do something (or give up a toy, etc.) because of someone else's wishes.

Hoping it pays off! :D

Brian Phillips said...

Jenn--Thanks for your comments. I do not get much exposure to young children with parents who aren't cramming altruism down their throats. I suspect that your methods will result in children who are properly "self-absorbed".