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The "Me" Century

The late, great and (by me at least) lamented Tom Wolfe wrote a book, or perhaps more properly an essay, called The "Me" Decade and the Third Great Awakening.  The decade he referred to was that of the 1970s.  The "Third Great Awakening" he proclaimed was a jest he was making based on the (first) Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening, sadly real episodes in American history of Christian revivals led by Protestant Evangelical leaders.  Besides the preaching of hellfire and brimstone, our sinful nature and the need for redemption, the fear of divine retribution and protestations of piety, the Awakenings resulted in the creation of new sects and denominations and social movements and, in the case of the second one, the YMCA, later to be lauded so vigorously by the Village People.

As the quote at the head of this post reveals, Wolfe claimed that in the Third Great Awakening "Me" took the place of Jesus, and we became fervent in the worship our ourselves.  He provided various examples of our religious self-love.  

The argument can be made that we continue to worship ourselves, and in fact that we've always done so.  Since the 1970s, though, our ability to engage in self-worship has increased spectacularly.  Even more importantly, we now each possess the means to serve as our own missionaries, proclaiming our godhood and spreading our good news throughout the world.  We may expect that our technology will allow us to do these things more and more effectively.  

Each of us may transmit our thoughts, and expose our bodies and even souls to the view of all, and many of us do so.  Such is our self-regard that there is no practical limit to what we're willing to do or say, though we know in the back of our minds that all can be seen regardless of the fact that we seem alone in our room.  And it appears we don't care.  We feel neither shame nor concern; we have no responsibility, we're not answerable to anyone or anything when it comes to our opinions or our actions which we incessantly broadcast--or at least that seems to be the case.  There's no one to question our conclusions or rebut our claims unless we allow them to do so, except in the relatively few cases where law enforcement of those interested in shaming have reason to take notice of us.  The number of those of us interested in shaming is no doubt increasing, however.  It will be interesting to see whether this will lessen our exhibitionism.

That this is the result of our self-love, and even self-imposed godly status, is established by the fact that our unfailing efforts to expose and expound our every thought, opinion or feeling on any Subject to everyone and anyone can only be explained by our sense of our own importance.  What reasonable person would assume that these must be made available to the world at large?  A god might do so; also a lunatic, or egomaniac.  

Or can this be explained by another kind of religious or quasi-religious feeling?  Might we sons and daughters (or whatever we might think ourselves to be) of Adam and Eve, knowing that we're tainted by Original Sin, aware of our sinfulness, wretchedness and insignificance, be desperately seeking validation and redemption through use of the vast confessional of the Internet?  Are we Tommies, like the hero of The Who's rock opera, crying "See me, feel me, touch me, heal me" in the World-Wide Web?  Our PCs become pin-ball machines.  Do we think ourselves saviors of ourselves or others?

If we're not gods, we possess the tools to act as gods.  We're capable of making proclamations and expressing opinions on every subject, regardless of our abilities, education, experience and knowledge.  In a very real sense it doesn't matter whether our beliefs have been critiqued, verified, or made subject to peer review in order for them to be made available (so much more efficaciously than through publication) by use of a keyboard or camera.  We don't need such review of or limitations on our expression to be read, seen or heard, and therefore believe them unneeded.  

We can appear to be all-knowing, and act as if we're omniscient, always and with ease.  One doesn't have to be a god in order to act like one.

This post first appeared on Ciceronianus; Causidus, please read the originial post: here

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The "Me" Century


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