Kit Wilson identifies the leading cultural disease of modern times.
We seek to make society blinkered, mindless and immature. Look at the way todayâ€™s businesses choose to market themselves. They invent names that imitate the nonsense words of babies: Zoopla, Giffgaff, Google, Trivago. They deliberately botch grammar in their slogans to sound naÃ¯ve and cutesy: â€œFind your happyâ€, â€œBe differenterâ€, â€œThe joy of doneâ€. They make their advertisements and logos twee and ironic â€” a twirly moustache here, a talking dog there â€” just to show how carefree and fun they are.
Those in our society who actually still have children have them later and in smaller numbers than ever. Many simply choose to forego the responsibilities of parenthood altogether. Marriage is an optional extra â€” one from which we can opt out at any point, regardless of the consequences for the children.
Students expect to be treated like five-year-olds: one conference recently prohibited applause for fear it would, somehow, trigger a spate of breakdowns. Many of my fellow twentysomethings reach adulthood believing they can recreate in their everyday lives the woolly comforts of social media. They discover, with some surprise, that they cannot simply click away real confrontation, and â€” having never developed the psychological mechanisms to cope with it â€” instead seek simply to ban it.
The effects of social media donâ€™t end there. A Pew Research Centre study last year found that regular social media users are far more likely than non-users to censor themselves, even offline. We learn to ignore, rather than engage with, genuine disagreement, and so ultimately dismantle the most important distinction between civil society and the playground â€” the ability to live respectfully alongside those with whom we disagree.
Social media assures us that the large civilisational questions have already been settled, that undemocratic nations will â€” just as soon as theyâ€™re able to tweet a little more â€” burst into glorious liberty, and that politics is, thus, merely a series of gestures to make us feel a bit better. Hence the bewildering range of global issues we seem to think can be somehow resolved with a sober mugshot and a meaningful hashtag.
In reality, our good fortune is an anomaly. Weâ€™ll face again genuine, terrifying confrontations of a kind we can scarcely imagine today. And weâ€™ll need something a little more robust than an e-petition and a cat video.
Sadly, our philosophical approach seems to have been to paper over Nietzscheâ€™s terrifying abyss with â€œKeep calm . . .â€ posters. If one were to characterise the Westâ€™s broad philosophical outlook today, it would be this: sentimental nihilism. We accept, as â€œrisen apesâ€, that itâ€™s all meaningless. But hey, weâ€™re having a good time, right?
This is gleefully expressed by our societyâ€™s favourite spokespeople â€” comedians, glorifying the saccharine naivety of a culture stuck in the present. When the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat asked the comedian Bill Maher to locate the source of human rights, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said, â€œItâ€™s in the laws of common sense.â€
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