The other day I was chatting with a friend of mine who commented on some article he had read on vice dens of the 1930s-1950s. He remarked that popular perceptions of the era as culturally conservative are out-of-whack since people then plainly engaged in precisely the same shenanigans they do today. This is true – and not. There is always vice. Yet there is a difference across time and cultures including in what things to designate as vice. Actually, “across time” is “across cultures.” LP Hartley: "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."
The difference lies in the centerline of the bell curve. In any era there are folks on one tail of the curve who are more dissolute than the norm and there are folks on the opposite tail who are more reserved than the norm. So, you can find a wild child and a puritan in any time and place, but the central bulge of the curve, where most folks reside, really does shift one way or the other over time. The 1970s really were wilder than the 80s (I remember both decades well), which in turn were both more liberal and more conservative than today, depending on the particular vice in question.
Whatever one thinks of the events of 2016, one vice which almost everyone agrees was much in evidence was incivility – in particular a demonization of anyone with opposing views. We tend to see the flaw primarily in those on the opposite side of any issue from ourselves, but we all see it at least there. Yet, to demonize others, we have to be pretty sure of ourselves as being on the side of the angels. For this reason, I can’t help wondering if such demonization somehow related to the so-called “narcissism epidemic,” which is also widely acknowledged as a feature of our time: see The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell. We (and our compadres) are extraordinary, are we not? Counterintuitively, a search of the term “low self-esteem epidemic” turns up as many hits as “narcissism epidemic.” Perhaps this is not so strange. The effort to maintain an image of oneself as extraordinary is bound to run aground on the shoals of reality with some frequency, so perhaps the two are natural partners. If you want to test your own narcissistic tendencies by the way, a test for them can be found at http://personality-testing.info/tests/NPI/. A score over 20 (out of 40) indicates a need to bake some humble pie.
Of course, maybe we are extraordinary people and you’re not. The odds are against it though. Maybe this is one bell curve on which one should flee the bulge for the cautious tail. I feel a New Year’s resolution coming on: I’ll try more often to cultivate the notion that I could be wrong – including about everything in this particular blog.
Garbage – Not Your Kind of People