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The International Writers Magazine: The Rise of the Selfie Generation (From Our Archives)

•Tom Kilcourse

Every action has consequences, some good, some bad and many unforeseen. Those consequences do not always occur in the domain where the action was taken because, in a sense, everything is linked to everything else.


We define specific fields to enable clearer focus on an issue, but the price can be diminished foresight. The lines we draw between economics, politics, philosophy and society though useful for study, can blind us to the interconnectedness of these areas. Many of the changes in our society, and there have been many over the years, are the direct result of political or economic decisions made in the past.

Until about forty years ago people were regarded, and regarded themselves, as belonging to a fairly cohesive society. Many expressed that sense of belonging through membership of a club, union or church. For others, the family was thought sufficient to define one’s identity. The expression ‘no man is an island’ was considered self-evident, an undeniable truism. So how did we arrive at the present state where society is like an archipelago in which so many individuals fail to acknowledge their dependence on others?

The focus has moved from society, nation, or even family to the individual. We have allowed a cult of the individual to displace other values. Self is now the centre for so many, a sacred plot upon which others must not intrude. Responsibilities have been displaced by ‘rights’ of self-publicising ‘victims’ who see society as some amorphous oppression. We are constantly presented with others’ aberrations in a world where it appears obligatory to ‘come out’, demanding that others understand their pain. Failure to empathise is invariably branded as a ‘phobia’. More stoic characters who choose not to parade their problems are presumed to be pain free.

Narcissism is now a universal phenomenon, displayed by the most mediocre in our midst. It was announced recently that the estranged wife of a British MP is to judge a ‘selfie competition’ in which photographs taken with use of a ‘selfie-stick’, that must-have piece of equipment for the egotist about town, are compared. The winner shall be judged the least mundane of those offered. The elevation of vanity knows no limits it appears.

Ironically, in this theatre of obsession with self, individuals are becoming increasingly powerless to influence the environment in which they exist. A conspiracy theorist might suppose that the weakening of family and other social ties was the result of a conscious scheme to centralise power into ever fewer hands. Suspicious minds might suggest that the globalisation of the economy and the centralisation of political power into supra-national organisations were the products of great minds bent on world dominance. Sadly, that would be to flatter the intellects of our leaders.

The truth is much more mundane. We live in a world of unintended consequences, a world where power, whether over self or others is largely an illusion. It is a world in which politicians posture and individuals self-regard in a pantomime that is not going according to the script. The good intentions of fools combined with ambitions of the vain to destroy a stable society. Misplaced egalitarianism failed to see practical distinctions created by wealth, so the indulgences afforded by money became the ‘rights’ of people without it.

This last point is exemplified by the ubiquitous ‘single mum’, a woman who has produced children without going through the ritual marriage, or even living with the father. A few days ago one of these characters appeared on television decrying the effects of reduced tax credits on her three children. She told us that their father gave her no financial help and clearly thought that the taxpayer had a duty to take on the responsibility. While I am sorry for her and the children I feel obliged to mention a very old point of view. If you produce the children they are your responsibility. By having them without the security of the father’s income you have made a lifestyle choice, and it is a lifestyle you can’t afford. It may be unfair that a professional woman with a high earning capacity can do what you have done without great difficulty, it is pure fantasy to think that you have a ‘right’ to do the same without penalty.

I do not mean to attack this woman, or any of those many others who have made similar decisions. My scorn is reserved for the political leaders who promoted this fantasy. Though they acted with good intentions, often presuming exclusive occupation of the high moral ground, their actions, which included giving ‘single mums’ the right to social housing, have led to the weakening of family ties, an impoverished population of dependent women, and the production of children who have no paternal role model. The cultural change that brought these things about has been pursued now for at least three generations. The mother mentioned in the preceding paragraph is possibly, if not probably, the product of a casual arrangement herself.

Just as social identity is diluted at the local community level, so is it under attack much higher up: at national level. With the growth of supra-national organisations decision making over our lives is becoming increasingly remote. In this process too, our leaders are culpable, good intentions or not. By engaging in the supra-national process they claim to strengthen national influence on the wider world, but such influence has a price. Influence is exchanged for sovereignty, and the decisions taken are less sensitive to cultural peculiarities of the different nations. Governance becomes ever more nebulous.

These changes have come about largely because leaders at national and local level have focused narrowly on the social or economic aspects of life. Our ties with the European Union, for example, are usually justified by the supposed economic benefits with the negative effects on our society and national identity being minimised, if mentioned. The decisions to house and financially support single mothers was made on ‘moral’ grounds, with little consideration for economic and social consequences.

A common effect of these processes is a diminished social identity for many individuals, and identity is an essential part of our being. If it is thrown into doubt we see a rise in anxiety, a pervasive sense of unease. That feeling is exacerbated by a growing belief that our leaders do not understand the likely effects of their actions. Consequently, we see a resurgence of nationalism at one level, and a growing obsession with self at another. Perhaps those selfie-sticks have prosthetic value, the equivalent of a walking stick for the lame.

© Tom Kilcourse Oct 9th 2015

Tom Kilcourse

There was a time, not so long ago, when a British bank had a manager who was integrated into the community that he or she served.

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