From Communal to Individual. From Future to Present.

Two paragraphs that I think capture the current milieu quite nicely, by Lionel Shriver in the book of essays Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed.


To be ridiculously sweeping: baby boomers and their offspring have shifted emphasis from the future to the present, from virtue to personal satisfaction. Increasingly secular, we pledge allegiance to lowercase gods of our private devising. We are concerned with leading less a good life than the good life. In contrast to our predecessors, we seldom ask ourselves whether we serve a greater social purpose; we are more likely to ask ourselves if we are happy. We shun self-sacrifice and duty as the soft spots of suckers. We give little thought to the perpetuation of lineage, culture, or nation; we take our heritage for granted. We are ahistorical. We measure the value of our lives within the brackets of our own births and deaths, and we’re not especially bothered with what happens once we’re dead. As we age–oh, so reluctantly!–we are apt to look back on our pasts and question not did I serve family, God, and country, but did I ever get to Cuba, or run a marathon? Did I take up landscape painting? Was I fat? We will assess the success of our lives in accordance not with whether they were righteous, but would whether they were interesting and fun.

If that package sounds like one big moral step backward, the Be Here Now mentality that has converted from 60s catchphrase to entrenched gestalt has its upsides. There has to be some value in living for today, since it any given time today is all you’ve got. We justly cherish characters capable of living “in the moment” — or, as a drummer might say, “in the pocket.” We admire go-getters determined to pack their lives as much as various experience as time and money provided, who never stop learning, engaging, and savoring what every day offers — in contrast to dour killjoys who are bitter and begrudging in the ceaseless fulfillment of obligation. For the role of humble server, helpmate, and facilitator no longer to constitute the sole model of womanhood surely represents progress for which I am personally grateful. Furthermore, prosperity may naturally lead any well-off citizenry to the final frontier: the self, whose borders are as narrow or infinite as we make them.

3 Responses to From Communal to Individual. From Future to Present.

  1. Andy says:

    Part of it is that so many in the past who were attempting to serve some larger noble purpose were really seeing the interests of entrenched powerful people. I think it was Vietnam that awoke people to the idea that they need to develop their own ways of helping and leading a fulfilling life because the powers that be are corrupt and incompetent.

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  2. Chris Yeh says:

    As we discussed on the Playa, on the one hand, I admire the self-abnegation of our forebears, but on the other, I have no desire to live in a world of original sin and submission to church or state.

    It strikes me that we need not choose between a false dichotomy of selfless and selfish; rather, we should find a balance between the two. Sometimes it’s okay to eat dessert first, or to do something just for fun, other times it’s important to defer gratification in service of a larger, loftier goal.

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