Self-Absorbed Is the New Normal

Illustration for article titled Self-Absorbed Is the New Normal

Three years ago, Ron Mwangaguhunga wrote about the Rise of the Assholes (Bill Maher and Ann Coulter were mentioned.) Today, in a piece for The New Yorker, titled "Spoiled Rotten," Elizabeth Kolbert seems convinced that we're breeding a whole new crop of assholes right here in America: Our kids.


Kolbert writes about anthropological field work done by Carolina Izquierdo and Elinor Ochs:

In the L.A. families observed, no child routinely performed household chores without being instructed to. Often, the kids had to be begged to attempt the simplest tasks; often, they still refused. In one fairly typical encounter, a father asked his eight-year-old son five times to please go take a bath or a shower. After the fifth plea went unheeded, the father picked the boy up and carried him into the bathroom. A few minutes later, the kid, still unwashed, wandered into another room to play a video game.

In another representative encounter, an eight-year-old girl sat down at the dining table. Finding that no silverware had been laid out for her, she demanded, "How am I supposed to eat?" Although the girl clearly knew where the silverware was kept, her father got up to get it for her.

Izquierdo had previously spent time with the Matsigenka, a tribe of about twelve thousand people who live in the Peruvian Amazon. While there, she went with local family on a leaf-gathering expedition; a member of another family, Yanira, tagged along. According to the piece:

Although Yanira had no clear role in the group, she quickly found ways to make herself useful. Twice a day, she swept the sand off the sleeping mats, and she helped stack the kapashi leaves for transport back to the village. In the evening, she fished for crustaceans, which she cleaned, boiled, and served to the others. Calm and self-possessed, Yanira "asked for nothing," Izquierdo later recalled. The girl's behavior made a strong impression on the anthropologist because at the time of the trip Yanira was just six years old.

But you know, you don't need Kolbert or Izquierdo and Ochs to tell you self-absorption has gotten out of hand. Just look around: Between Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest, the whole ME ME ME thing has swept the nation. Here are MY thoughts, MY pictures, MY shopping wish lists! We call it sharing, but it's just egoistic self-indulgence, usually. LET ME TELL YOU WHAT I WANT. But wait: Enough about me… what do you think about me? Talk about the rise of the assholes. Self-absorption is the ultimate assholic behavior, because the subtext of "What I'm saying is important" is "I don't give a fuck about you." Worrying about others has to come second in a world where Facebook asks, day in and day out, "What's on your mind?" If you attempted to count every sentence on the internet that begins with the word "I" your brain would fucking explode.

There's no question that individualism, independence and self-reliance are admirable traits, and Lord knows American kids aren't afraid to stand up for themselves: They're confident, assured, and won't let anybody put them in a corner. But doesn't it seem like a nation of Yaniras would be a nicer place to live?


Spoiled Rotten [The New Yorker]

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