The al­ways-on tech­nol­ogy which has fu­elled culture of nar­cis­sis­tic anger

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - FEATURES -

“The de-thron­ing of King Nar­cis­sus is fun­da­men­tally more im­por­tant than the de­mot­ing of the hap­less Mrs May. Dis­cuss

Well now we know. Govern­ment cuts to the po­lice “may have en­cour­aged” vi­o­lent of­fend­ers and have “likely con­trib­uted” to a rise in se­ri­ous vi­o­lent crime on the streets of London.

The news was con­tained in leaked Home Of­fice doc­u­ments. The tid­ings are hardly sur­pris­ing.

But while more po­lice pa­trolling neigh­bour­hoods might help, it would be a mis­take to think that that is the an­swer to the so­ci­etal prob­lems we are wit­ness­ing right now.

As I sug­gested in last week’s col­umn, the is­sues we are cur­rently en­coun­ter­ing are much more deeply rooted than that.

There are, of course, some se­ri­ous of­fend­ers who need to be taken off the streets for pub­lic safety rea­sons; but we need to move away from sim­plis­tic, knee-jerk re­ac­tions and ex­am­ine the deeper, longer-term fac­tors in play.

Here’s one trend that needs ex­am­i­na­tion: why is there so much rage around?

Some of it springs from a sense of in­jus­tice about the state of the world.

When dis­ad­van­taged peo­ple look around and see how those at the top of the eco­nomic heap man­age to re­ward them­selves for fail­ure, it’s lit­tle won­der that the re­sponse is anger.

But this busi­ness about rage goes even deeper. You see, it’s not just de­prived peo­ple who are angry. Most of us aren’t starv­ing – though too many peo­ple still de­pend on food banks.

We aren’t cur­rently at war, and many of us have a rea­son­able stan­dard of liv­ing.

Com­pared to other eras, we are priv­i­leged be­ings. We have bet­ter health, and we live longer.

Yet hardly a day goes by with­out some alleged celebrity be­ing not just angry, but “in­can­des­cent” with rage – par­tic­u­larly if some other alleged celebrity has slighted them. The souls. So what lies be­hind all this? Fol­low the foot­prints and they will come to a shrine. It is a shrine to a god, one who de­mands inces­sant wor­ship.

His name is King Nar­cis­sus.

The per­va­sive nar­cis­sism of our times is killing us. It is turn­ing us into “me” peo­ple – per­pet­u­ally self-ab­sorbed, ob­sessed with our self-im­age and in con­stant need of af­fir­ma­tion.

The per­fect tool for pro­mot­ing this hy­per­indi­vid­u­al­ism is the mo­bile phone. The end­less need for af­fir­ma­tion is sat­is­fied by the beeps which in­di­cate that yet another mes­sage has come through.

The incoming mes­sage has the power to make the re­cip­i­ent ei­ther very glad or ut­terly de­pressed. The men­tal health im­pli­ca­tions of this mod­ern phe­nom­e­non are in­cal­cu­la­ble.

Now, am I ex­ag­ger­at­ing? Prob­a­bly – that’s what colum­nists do.

Is this a rant by an old cur­mud­geon who cannot cope with bril­liant new tech­nolo­gies? There’s at least some truth in this ac­cu­sa­tion.

Nev­er­the­less, there are con­tem­po­rary is­sues here that must be faced. Ad­dic­tive so­cial me­dia is by no means un­re­lated to the cur­rent spike in men­tal health is­sues and the ris­ing rate of sui­cides among young peo­ple in the north of Scot­land. This is a ma­jor cri­sis of our times. It is star­ing us in the face ev­ery time we look in the mirror (which is another es­sen­tial nar­cis­sis­tic tool). Our ten­dency nowa­days when fac­ing ex­is­ten­tial crises is to blame it all on the govern­ment of the day.

But gov­ern­ments can’t fix this problem. Of course, they have a role to play; the pro­vi­sion of much more ad­e­quate men­tal health care is an ob­vi­ous need.

But dump­ing these in­ter-re­lated is­sues on the govern­ment is an ab­di­ca­tion of re­spon­si­bil­ity on the part of the wider elec­torate.

So is the ex­pec­ta­tion that the groan­ing NHS has the ca­pac­ity to put right the abuse of our bod­ies.

There was a per­fect ex­am­ple of this last week. BBC Ra­dio Scot­land ran a pro­gramme about the health dan­gers of fizzy drinks full of sugar.

The ev­i­dence about the sharp rise in cases of di­a­betes has been around for quite some time.

Some of the re­sponses were de­press­ing. Many of the re­ac­tions seemed to run along this track: “This is all about choices, and no­body is go­ing to tell me what to do.” What was patently miss­ing was any ref­er­ence to the com­mon good.

In other words, even though we know that cer­tain life­styles lead to obe­sity, di­a­betes and other ill­nesses that can kill us, we de­mand that the NHS sort out the prob­lems we have cre­ated. As an elec­torate, we have be­come in­fan­tilised. Now all this might seem far away from vi­o­lence on the streets of London. It’s not re­ally.

The rev­o­lu­tion we need is cul­tural and spir­i­tual, as well as po­lit­i­cal.

The de-thron­ing of King Nar­cis­sus is fun­da­men­tally more im­por­tant than the de­mot­ing of the hap­less Mrs May. Dis­cuss.

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