In his defining work On Liberty, John Stuart Mill praised the idea of varying “experiments in living.” In a society where “everything is allowed,” the Millian theory stipulates that the best will inevitably rise to the top. Whatever social arrangements produce the most prosperity will be adopted by the majority; or at least that’s the assumption.
With the internet revolution, and subsequent outlet for any no-name nitwit with a blog to share his feelings with the world, we are indeed seeing an experiment…in mediocrity. Popular culture is now defined by short videos and humorous pictures. Long, pondering thoughts on the nature of reality have been replaced with “listicles” of angry cat photos. Only the most vapid of self-aggrandizing sermons receive widespread attention. Banal egalitarianism is all the rage, with a good dose of sanctimoniously pro-infanticide stunts thrown in the mix.
If you think I exaggerate, think again. Recently a New Jersey woman made the news by filming her own abortions and reveling in the entire procedure. She described the murderous act as both “cool” and “positive.” Given that many abortions occur under duress, and are often sought by inner-city girls with little in the way of a community or family support system, describing the abortion operation as something to be revered is not just disgusting, but potentially harmful. Abortion stories shouldn’t be shunned, but they should provide a substantive lesson in the value of life. As Lauren Ely writes, the narratives behind each abortion should give insight into the circumstances that force such a heart-wrenching decision – and hopefully prevent them in the future. Instead, what we get is a sick embrace of an already wretched procedure.
This is only one of many examples of how, when pushed to low-level ostentatiousness, meaningful events are tarnished in the name of getting noticed. Resolving genuine conflicts of the human condition is no longer seen as an end. Now it’s a means to achieve celebrity status using the most outrageous tactics possible and posting them online. Everything is a desperate act for attention. And, even more worrisome, the future leaders of the world – popularly nicknamed “millennials” – are the biggest abusers.
Recently at Princeton, a top-notch University where it costs over $200,000 to earn a 4-year degree, undergraduates dressed in white masks and black outfits staged a “Day of Disruption” that consisted of sitting outside a student center while playing a recording of outcries over racism, sexism, and various “isms.” The demands of these oppressed Ivy League scholars? “De-gender” bathrooms on campus, ensure “gender-neutral housing” for all, and abolish all binary gender options on University forms, as they are form of “violence against people of diverse gender identities.”
That’s right: asking if you’re a boy or girl constitutes a physical assault. Pampered University students are now fighting for relief from the oppression of biological reality. Is it any wonder, then, why leftist politicians so easily capture votes from the young and educated by empathizing with hurt feelings?
It’s hard to see why a sit-in about pissers for people scared of their own genitalia would gather attention without social media. Once a protest hits one of the various portals for self-gloating, everyone wants to get involved and promote the affair. The great 20th-century libertarian writer Albert Jay Nock identified this trend as a kind of inverted form of Gresham’s Law. The economic law, which states “bad money drives out the good,” becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy when applied to political revolutions or the realm of ideas, the egalitarian movement being an iteration of both. In his time, Nock used Gresham’s Law to explain the abundance of trash literature over substantive writing. Today, we see the theory of Sir Thomas Gresham applied to popular uprisings and social media rants. Instead of celebrating beauty or ascetic behavior, materialism and selfishness are now lauded. In other words, the worst once again drives out the best.
There was once a time when college students protested the mass-bombing of peasants in a far-away country. Some were even killed for voicing their conscience. Would the childish swill that spends 6 years in the liberal incubation environment called “college” actually die for their beliefs? I highly doubt it; it’s much easier to live off mom and dad, drink heavily, and lament over the precious state of your feelings. The tiny, little snowflakes who dot our college campuses are so self-absorbed and obsessed with political-correctness, they melt away into narcissism before finding any meaningful truths to their actions.
In between the racist-of-the-week freakouts and the devolution of colleges into low-brow “ME” factories, the future of Western culture isn’t looking good. In a recent New York Times column, professional whiner David Brooks actually hits on a disturbing trend: college graduates are becoming more “utilitarian, streamlined and success-oriented,” while eschewing the search for the Good Life. According to 1966 polls data collected from the University of California, Los Angeles, “86 percent of college freshmen” agreed that finding “a meaningful philosophy of life” was very important. Less than half of respondents had the same answer when asked today.
As Brooks writes, young adults coming of age are “a group hardened for battle, more focused on the hard utilitarian things and less focused on spiritual or philosophic things.” In a materialistic, secular age, that may sound all well and good. But from a numinous perspective, it’s highly dismaying. The generation soon-to-be in charge will be highly groomed on the outside, but rotting from within.
Do the rise of the internet, celebrity obsession, and a perverted liberal view of fairness all play in role in this trail of corruption? I think it’s quite possible; and it’s frightening to think what kind of culture will emerge as the West becomes more self-obsessed and more politically-correct. In a saner era, throwing the corpses of dead infants into incinerators to warm hospitals would be widely seen as atrocious. Now it barely elicits an outcry. Pope Francis is absolutely correct when he says we live in a “throwaway culture.” We aren’t just throwing away our dignity at the shrine of internet narcissism, we are throwing away our very lives.
The focus on material success is why abortion is cheered on and fighting non-oppression is seen as some Braveheart-esque stand. Fake justice is being confused for real justice. The plight of the downtrodden has been replaced with the bellyaching of the spoiled. These are “experiments in living.” It’s a bloody sacrifice of meaning for fame. And it will keep going viral until it’s too late.
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