Blackburn and Me, Me, Me


Simon Blackburn gives us his version of a “kids, these days, let me tell you” cranky rant about selfies, which he rescues from crankyland only by saying we should respond to the vanity and conceit and narcissism encouraged in today’s society with mockery. Seems to me, though, that only someone completely full of himself would attempt such a sweeping characterization of contemporary culture. I mean, someone who is practically a baby boomer is calling someone else vain? Seriously? Right, Blackburn, I’m sure no one was ever narcissistic before today, especially not the folks who lived over 2000 years ago when the Narcissus myth was written! But seriously, inferring increased vanity in a population because they now have the technology to quickly take and widely share photos of themselves, and so take and share those photos, is like inferring a better sense of humor from a set of people because they are currently being told jokes, and so laugh.

Oy, what am I doing? Sorry–just look at me spout off. No seriously, look at me. Look at me!

Daily Nous Editorial Team Selfie

 

Or look at a review of Blackburn’s new book, Mirror, Mirror: The Uses and Abuses of Self-Love, in The Chronicle, by Clancy Martin.

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Matt
6 years ago

Well, that is obviously one of the most vain goats I have ever seen. You can tell by that smug look in its eye. Did it even ask you before it took its picture with you?Report

Marcus Arvan
Marcus Arvan
6 years ago

There’s a lot of empirical research showing that narcissism *has* dramatically increased among college students, as well as related findings of steadily decreasing levels of empathy and empathetic behaviors:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2008.00509.x/abstract;jsessionid=A7FAC6305157CC855A57DC3716E86070.f01t02?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

http://spp.sagepub.com/content/1/1/99.short

http://psr.sagepub.com/content/early/2010/08/04/1088868310377395.abstractReport

anon
anon
6 years ago

As we all know, because older generations have a tendency toward unreasonable, self-flattering criticism of the characteristics and interests of younger generations, it logically follows that none of those criticisms can be true, and everything new is good.Report

Justin Weinberg
6 years ago

“But perhaps, above all, we should encourage the joyous, subversive spirit of mockery.” So, that’s the spirit, anon.Report

Oscar
Oscar
6 years ago

I love this blog, which I why I am surprised at this shockingly poor summary of Blackburn’s article. Selfies seem to be a symptom of the disease he wants to diagnose, not a culprit. Nor does he infer increased narcissism from any premise about technology. Finally, nothing in his piece suggests that he would exempt the baby-boomer generation from the basic criticism, which concerns a general prioritization of wealth and celebrity over any of the virtues. I’m often amazed that people are so uncharitable to Blackburn… if this were Parfit or Nussbaum, I seriously doubt this post would have even appeared. Something worth thinking about.Report

Justin Weinberg
Reply to  Oscar
6 years ago

Hi Oscar. I am glad that, normally, you love Daily Nous. I think perhaps I was not as effective in this post as I had hoped. Blackburn’s essay struck me as rather humdrum declinist complaining based on the currently most visible bits of society and an idealization of the past, rather than on a fair or comprehensive understanding of contemporary culture. It takes a good bit of the very traits Blackburn complains about to make such grand generalizations about hundreds of millions of people, without bothering to countenance the ways in which the changes he dislikes might be good for many of them in many ways, and I thought that was kind of ironic and funny. And so I set out to follow his advice, and use mockery as a response. As you noticed, this involved some caricature, but that was part of the mockery. I mean, he practically laid out the red carpet for this kind of response, and, having read what he has dished out over the years, I figured he could take some ribbing. I imagine that his book deals with the issues much better than his 2100 word essay at Aeon. The review of it I linked to recommended it “with enthusiasm.”Report

Anon
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
6 years ago

You’re reading it as a cultural critique. But this is mainly the beginning of a philosophical analysis of different mental states that have some relation to self-love and societal norms. At any rate, that’s how I read it. Anyway, if it’s a cultural critique you’re taking it too seriously: Blackburn probably had in mind starting a debate or presenting the reader with some questions to think about, not airing his own cultural views.Report

Jim
Jim
6 years ago

I bet you think this song is about you, Justin.Report

dt
dt
6 years ago

I for one am glad that Blackburn is (or, at least aims at) contributing to philosophical moral psychology. I share some of the worry about sweeping generalizations, though wonder if it’s only accidental that some of them coincide with the evidence that Arvan points to above…Report

Kris McDaniel
Kris McDaniel
6 years ago

Selfies are harmless. What’s really wrong with the kids these days is their fixation on possible worlds semantics for counterfactuals. Nothing good will ever come from that.Report

Justin Weinberg
Reply to  Kris McDaniel
6 years ago

Don’t worry, Kris. There is a possible world in which the kids get off your damn lawn.Report

anon young woman philosopher
anon young woman philosopher
6 years ago

I haven’t read the Blackburn, but the question of whether or not kids these days are more narcissistic aside, selfies give women (and especially minority women) a way to represent themselves in photographs that is removed from the way the media represents women as overly sexualized/ airbrushed etc. Selfies give the subject/photographer ultimate control over how they want to represent themselves and be seen by others, and I think that’s important.Report

anon
anon
6 years ago

Okay, here’s my additional “kids these days” bit. Why the hell do the kids these days give such a damn what old people think of them? When I was a kid, old people criticized us and that’s the way it was and we liked it–we loved it! (That’s an SNL reference for old people, by the way).

It was a badge of honor to be misunderstood by an out of touch generation. But this generation has to have mommy and daddy’s approval and gets all sniffley and righteous when some old guy tells them to get off his lawn.

Here are the rules, kids. I didn’t make them, they’ve existed as long as humans have. That old guy? It’s his damn job to yell at you when you’re on his lawn, so stop expecting him to stop. Your job? Your job is to laugh at the old guy, not cry about him. He doesn’t matter anymore. And until you stop worrying about what he thinks, you’ll never start mattering.Report

Alan White
Alan White
6 years ago

I’m an older guy and you know what? Sharknado 2 is on, and my priorities are straight.Report