I keep reading stuff about how narcissistic we have become, especially young people. Things like Myspace, Facebook and YouTube (and commentators at blogs) are always cited as examples of this dangerous phenomenon that threatens the very foundations of society. It seems to me that these things are symptomatic of the opposite - a craving for connection, commonality and community. What do you think?
Curious in New Mexico — where the chilies are hot and the women are hotter
(This is a reader submitted letter taken from the comments.)
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What I find to be particularly absurd is how often these expressions of grief about the Internet’s alleged adverse impact on the purity of America’s soul come from major media pundits — you know, the folks who so love to look down their often very long (in the Pinocchio sense) noses at bloggers and other “new media” commentators for their alleged narcissism: Seriously, do these folks not own mirrors?
Take a look at this definition: Narcissism: Excessive love or admiration of oneself.
Now, ask yourself to whom this applies more: A teenage girl who likes to post links to her favorite musicians and actors on her personal webpage or, say, Christopher Hitchens, Chris Matthews or Howard Kurtz?
Not a particularly tough call is it?
Let’s just take the case of Hitch the Snitch, the former “liberal” columnist for The Nation turned neoconservative-warmonger: Here’s a man who literally perspires arrogance (or is it Johnnie Walker Black?), this despite having been wrong just about every time he’s opened his mouth in recent years, especially on the subject of Iraq. The same can be said (except maybe for the Johnnie Walker Black part), of course, for pretty much the entire editorial staff of the Washington Post and most of the rest of the DC punditry.
I must confess to harboring a secret wish that one day the density of the combined narcissism of these professional gasbags will become so great that it will curve in upon itself producing a singularity — a black hole whose gravitational pull will be so strong that not even Bill O’Reilly’s ego can escape.
Besides, if blogging and otherwise posting on the Internet is narcissistic, doesn’t the same conclusion naturally follow for all other forms of writing?
In terms of the human motivation at play — which, of course, is what we’re concerned with in discussing narcissism — there’s really no difference between John Updike penning a Pulitzer Prize winner and Jake the used car salesman down the street pecking away at his PC preparing a post for his sports blog that’s been visited a grand total of 17 times (it was his mother, but even she lost interest eventually). Both are writers. Both are spewing their souls into the great meat grinder of public judgment — even if the most common judgment returned for the Jake’s of the world is simply that of being ignored.
Actually, the way young people tend to use the Internet in their personal lives today is the complete antithesis of narcissism. Try spending an evening at the home of a teenager — let’s make it a boy: There he’ll be sitting, staring at the computer screen, with message after message popping up as he carries on real-time electronic conversations with at least a half a dozen friends simultaneously: More often than not, he’ll also be talking on the phone, maybe on two phones — one cell and one hard-line.
It can certainly be argued whether all of this sensory overload is really the best way for kids to seek out companionship. But it sure as hell isn’t narcissism.
Now, I don’t doubt that computer use can sometimes become a harmful addiction, with virtual chatting taking the place of direct human contact (remember, virtual sex is never going to get your parents those grandchildren they want). And by the same token, one spouse spending too much time at the computer is a very common complaint at marriage counseling. But in many other situations, Internet relationships provide people with an important sense of community they may otherwise lack. Spend a little time rummaging around the Democratic Underground website, especially in its largely nonpolitical lounge forum, and you will see this very clearly.
I’ve largely stopped posting at DU (I never did much), although I find it, along with BuzzFlash, to be among the best sources for breaking news. I think, to some extent, DU has become a victim to its own success. With so many thousands of people posting, it can be almost impossible for anyone other than one of the very regular participants to get noticed enough to actually become part of the conversation.
Still, I’ve been amazed by how often, during my occasional visits to the site, I’ll find meaningful acts of community support — one might even say humanity — among DUers: People are encouraged in illness and comforted in death. Birthdays, graduations and other milestones are celebrated (along with the somewhat more, yes, narcissistic celebration of rising post totals). It’s also obvious that DU provides an important source of human contact for politically minded people who, because of advancing age, physical disability or for whatever other reason, find themselves limited in there ability to “get out there” among other people.
A virtual hug can’t compare to a real one, but it’s a hell of a lot better than no hug at all.
Every new technology brings with it at least a few unwanted side effects. This has certainly been true in the case of modern Internet communication: But surely no one can doubt that the good has massively outweighed the bad.
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What’s your take on Justice Department official Monica Goodling taking the Fifth Amendment in the US attorney purge investigation? I know she’s entitled to the presumption of innocence, but it’s pretty hard not thinking that she has something to hide.
What do you think, Winston? Is it wrong for me to feel that way?
Suspicious in St. Louis
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Thanks for the letter. You’ve given me the opportunity to address a common misconception about the Fifth Amendment. Contrary to what many people assume, the right against self-incrimination applies (with some exceptions) only to potential criminal prosecutions. So while it’s true that taking the Fifth can’t be used against a person in a criminal trial, in many other facets of life it can and often is used against people, sometimes with devastating consequences to the person in question. For example, under federal law if a defendant in a civil lawsuit (as opposed to a criminal prosecution) refuses to answer relevant questions because doing so might tend to incriminate him in a separate criminal prosecution, this refusal to answer can be introduced into evidence at the civil trial and the court and jury are free to draw adverse inferences from it.
In the specific case of Ms. Goodling, some interesting issues have been raised as to the validity of her invocation of the privilege. For example, her lawyer’s explanation for why the Fifth Amendment supposedly applies seems to have more to do with fear she will be treated “unfairly” by the Committee, than with any actual concern over possible prosecution for past law-breaking. This doesn’t even come close to stating a proper basis for refusing to testify.
Likewise, as many others have noted, Goodling may not legally refuse to testify simply because she’s afraid she may say something in her testimony that will get her charged with perjury (another basis at least implied in her lawyer’s letter). The way to avoid a perjury rap isn’t to take the Fifth — it’s to tell the truth.
Still, whatever the validity of Goodling’s claim from a technical legal standpoint (and I personally doubt Congress will try to force her to testify over her Fifth Amendment claim), the fact remains that a highly placed official in the Department of Justice has now refused to give truthful testimony before Congress regarding her official duties based upon the claim that doing so may tend to incriminate her.
There is no Fifth Amendment privilege applicable to the courtroom of public opinion. We as citizens have every right, if we deem it proper, to assume the very worst — and not just about her, but about the entire den of thieves we euphemistically call the leadership of the executive branch of the United States Government.
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Here’s something for you pathetic liberals to think about. George W. Bush will leave office on Jan. 20, 2009. So, have you given any thought to how you crybabies will fill your time come the morning of Jan. 21, 2009 when you no longer have Bush to kick around?
Pissed Off in Peoria
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Dear Pissed Off,
Actually, I expect to be so hung over then that I won’t have much chance to worry about it.
More updates of Dear Winston will be coming. Feel free to post questions to Winston in the comments.
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