The Age of Individualism

Will the millennials come back to community?

I'm going to defend Douthat's piece as I don't understand your logic here. You admit that in the aftermath of WWI there was "social" chaos, and a general decline in "cultural, social and religious institutions". But then you dismiss individualism, the pathology that necessarily follows from these forces, as being merely tangential to totalitarianism? Nazism caught like wild fire, and sweeping through the country, developed the mass of citizens needed for totalitarianism to take hold. That it began as a mere "insurrectionary movement" is precisely the point: individual atomism is inherently unstable, and people deprived of their traditional social and cultural moorings will jump at the opportunity to submerged themselves within a mass. I guess I'm just surprised that you call this "a stretch"; I thought that this narrative was commonly accepted. What's your alternative? Off the top of my head, I can think of a number of thinkers who offer some version of this argument. On totalitarianism specifically: Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir. On this phenomenon generally: Alexis de Tocqueville.

0 2016-07-02 21:42:01 - Patrick Smith
some might become more conservative as they age (realizing they were naive)
0 2016-07-01 21:03:23 - a

There's a lot of great NYT readings this Sunday, including yours, Ross. Personally I don't think we talk about them enough other than seeing them sing and dance on TV. I used to measure my life by each decade of succession but I think the Age of Information and Instant Communications, arriving soon after the Age of Mass Transportation, will rev things up. Perhaps cultural dynamics will change every 2-4 years. For those boomers from the 60's, it was every 30 years. For us 80's-Xers, it feels more like 10-15 years. If you couple the facts of living longer in a denser one big melting-pot kind of globe, you realize that perhaps "Individualism" is a reaction, a reflection, a "selfie" of truths and honesty, in a world full of digital anonymity and incognito corporate political influence. Before they were labeled "Millennials," they were "Programmed Sheeps" - by whom? Us, we - the 80's-Xers. If this were the year 1940, we would have already been in "Positions of Influence" by now. But we'll all live to our 90's, currently deferring power to the AGE (Am.'s Greatest Elders), our Congressmen and their constituents, our bosses, company's major shareholders, etc. We are faceless, not represented by popular media except by the NYT and "Modern Love," with high risks of no employment if were being laid off, of divorce, of retiring without a pension, So we hedge the future by looking backwards, placing our hopes on our "sheeps." "Individualism" is really their "Looking Forward" reaction.

3 2016-06-23 14:02:03 - Nguyen

I could spend countless hours dissecting all the problems with this column, so instead I'll just focus on one.

As a graduate student in physics, I work on one of the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider, the biggest machine and scientific experiment in human history. This project requires the collaboration of dozens of nations, and thousands upon thousands of highly intelligent people. This gives rise to a terrific community spanning the globe, of people working together to solve science's most profound questions. This community has all the qualities Ross looks for and pontificates about.

However, there's one problem. This community is centrally located at the Swiss/French border. It would have been in America, the community focused here and the brilliant minds coming to the States en masse, a shining example of what can happen when people work together rather than alone. Unfortunately though, Ross and his Republican buddies have waged a decades long war against scientific funding, assuring that projects like this can't happen within our borders. And why would they do this? Because of budgets or efficiency of money spent? No, they do it because some of that research might lead to the not so desirable conclusion that their favorite 2000 year old stories about zombie jesus and his despotic virgin loving father are in fact what they seem like at first glance, fairy tales.

9 2016-06-20 15:01:50 - Stephen

Why should they trust anyone? Their elders have destroyed the economy and the environment The colleges have sold them a false bill of goods. The government has lied about surveillance. Companies have sold their information. Religion promises love and acceptance and teaches hate and rejection. Political parties have been sold to the highest bidder.

They were told that if they worked hard and succeeded, they'd get jobs and become successful. Instead, there's a world of unpaid internships and temporary jobs at minimum wage waiting for them.

There is nothing to trust. This society is broken and it is YOUR fault and the fault of your parents.

35 2016-06-20 09:57:31 - Dr. Meh

The privacy that is being surrendered to the on line panopticon is not the result of individual decisions. It is the result of the coporate stategy designed to monitize data and interdependence created by social media.
To restore control over a public self, individuals will first need to become clear on the stealthy methods that have resulted in the present state, and then use the political process to constrain coprorate confiscation of private data.
So, the concluding paragraph in this essay reaches the right conclusion even though the diagnosis of the problem as being the consequence of individualism is not correct. What we see is the redefiniton of privacy as whatever is profitable for oligarchy.

1 2016-06-12 02:35:43 - mwnl

Ross, could it simply be a matter that you are afraid?

8 2016-06-11 09:04:09 - claire

LOL. Individualism, is now to be disdained and repudiated by the liberals.

Self reliance is to be rejected in favor of the womb to tomb great society Nanny State. No thank you.

2 2016-06-08 11:54:14 - Canis Scot

The "human desire for...authority"? That's a new one. There's the desire to BE the authority, but where are your studies on the desire to be a slave?

8 2016-06-08 02:09:04 - Gene

"Tune out" isn't what Leeary advocated. It was "Turn on, tune in, drop out." The change of minds with drugs allows access to truths about our actual life situations which leads to rejection of lies and false life, and beginning again as sacred individuals in VW buses. What he said.

0 2016-06-05 08:19:47 - John Crowley

Look at some of the recent democratic contests: Rick Scott vs Alex Sink I for FL governor in 2010; David Jolly (lobbyist) vs Alex Sink II for FL House seat in 2014; Jon Corzine vs Chris Christie for NJ governor in 2009.

When the system churns out this type of candidate consistently, is it realistic for the ordinary citizen to expect a different result? Or is it insanity?

0 2016-05-30 22:01:27 - Michael D'Angelo

I agree with a couple of commenters, it is not individualism, it is atomization and minionism. Young millennials are being transformed by shallow and destructive ideas in faceless humans which only true goal is to consume things that have no value. Many unfortunately are self-centered narcissists, automats, robots at the service of the big corporations that offer all sorts of products that “satisfy” their collective short term needs.

0 2016-05-29 13:18:31 - esojnauj

Cribbing from 1st Corinthians chapter 13, the "love chapter" of the New Testament? Really??

0 2016-05-28 23:59:48 - Bill

Wait until the millennials have to pay the IRS for not obtaining a Pelosi-approved comprehensive medical insurance policy (as opposed to major medical, which is all they really need).
They may decide to vote differently, after they shake out the parents' sofa cushions for some spare Obamacare change.

3 2016-05-27 05:09:50 - ed connor

The author can't have it both ways. His party (GOP) for years has preached "rugged individualism" don't lean on each other, don't help each other out, cut programs for the poor, push away anyone who is not rich, white, and elitist. Gated communities, golden parachutes for the men's club, but not allowing minorities to rise up.

Now he changes his tune behind the guise of church and community? Don't be fooled by the author's rhetoric. The GOP and Baby Boomers (my generation) has been individualistic/selfish/narcissistic long before the latest generation.

14 2016-05-25 20:55:58 - TRS
A kvetch-a-thon that seems engendered by wanting to be stuck in the mud forever!
1 2016-05-25 13:27:46 - Darker

Millenials as in many past generations are the ones who are called upon to sacrifice themselves in wars that are seen more and more as senseless and inhumane. They have watched their older generation water board and torture as well as create great recession that has left the rich flying high in new wealth while they have been unable to find good entry level employment Many live with their parents and barely get by. Is it any wonder that many of these talented but left behind young people become cynical or retreat into the false community of the internet which seems to offer closeness but where personal contact is lost. Young people often have trouble finding their way into society and in finding personal value, but for this recent generation the support of their society has failed them. We do not even give them the possibility of affordable higher education which leaves them with huge debt and extremely uncertain futures. I fear for our entire society unless we do better for these young people.

2 2016-05-25 09:16:32 - Robert Demko

Sapienti sat...Thanks for your input ...with experience. I'm in my 70's, retired Lutheran pastor, and marriage an family therapist. I had a Stroke a few years ago...and have trouble understanding and expression. (Sort of "lost my mind" before I was done with it.) We need words from people like you in these current discussions....for the balance of personal wisdom. I fear for what we are leaving to our Grandchildren (and beyond). in the pride of Selfishness we've seen take charge. I agree with your word "Innocence" regarding the young. Their silence may be too easily analyzed and categorized. Please appreciate the power of your presence.

2 2016-05-23 13:40:56 - R.deforest

These world-weary, old-before-your-time pronunciamentos don't quite achieve gravitas, Ross. Poignancy, maybe. Even in your relative youth you affect the air of someone sitting on the porch with your pals pietas, dignitas and virtus as a parade of passes by.

Perhaps if you saw clan, church and guild not being left behind, but evolved, you'd be more chipper. Modernity isn't what's loosening their grip. It's fact and factuality in an era of empiricism that are requiring the local, personal forms of fellowship to become something more than teleological cults. The facts about marriage suggest that it's not under siege from gays. The facts about patriotism require it to me more than just jingoism. No, it's not superficial narcissism to ask for factual rigor as one makes one's decisions and forms one's character, and it's not nihilism to question the inherited wisdom from prior generations and find it wanting. I'd suggest that it might well be hard fact that blind adherence to clan, church and guild is a greater enabler of fascism and Communism than modernity. Surely I don't need to point out the examples that we see every day on the Right of people who want to legislate reality and penalize the dissenters.

I don't share your pessimism. I don't respect it. It's easy and self-indulgent. I don't see embracing technology, empiricism and fact as conformism, submission and control. I see a better America taking shape before us.

114 2016-05-15 03:24:02 - Empirical Conservatism

It is curious that Ross is blind to the fact that the conservative message is to raise the individual over the majority and the community. Libertarians and other semi-devotees of Ayn Rand certainly espouse selfishness as a proper driving force for action, but the whole anti-government, anti-tax, anti-regulation thrust of conservatism itself urges people not to get involved in governing themselves, let alone reforming the excesses of government and politics to make them serve the greater good more effectively.

The liberal element in this country that favors community over corporation, social engagement over greed, has also become strangely muted, making a poor counterbalance to the rugged individualism of the right.

Then there is the rampant hypocrisy in the self-dealing of people like the Koch Brothers who espouse or fund causes that benefit them personally by protecting their own economic interests and wealth. No wonder there is a lack of trust.

Ye reap what ye sow.

7 2016-05-13 02:11:48 - Tom Beeler

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