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Covid-19 won’t change this narcissistic generation The panic from millennials in the face of a little adversity troubles me

Sam Smith's stages of self-isolation stress. Credit: Instagram

Sam Smith's stages of self-isolation stress. Credit: Instagram


March 23, 2020   5 mins

A week ago this virus was fodder for beer-themed memes. Now it’s given us a proper kick in the pants. It has exposed a painful truth: our civilisation is not permanent, we are not untouchable, and we do not have as much power as we like to think.

Like any other civilisation we will disappear, and a few thousand years from now, there will be a new civilisation, and we will be thought of as a blip. A very stupid blip.

We have accomplished a lot. Perhaps too much. We have built a society so full of abundance that we have lost sight of what matters.

Some of us — those who view themselves as “political” — are relentlessly squabbling online, fighting for political purity rather than policy change. Others have made a decision to focus on their pronouns and sad selfies. By doing so they are signalling the opposite of that which they wish to convey; rather than suffering from a myriad of problems, trials and tribulations, and endless oppressions, they suffer nothing at all. They have so much privilege, they have been forced to invent problems, for the sole purpose of strong arming the world into paying attention to them.

Last week, “non-binary” singer Sam Smith posted a series of photos on Instagram, titled, “Stages of a quarantine meltdown”. The apparently distraught celebrity had staged a visual breakdown, having been contained to his mansion for four days. And what do we do in the midst of a global crisis, when there’s no opportunity to go out in ballgown and sparkly lip gloss? We fake cry, take a selfie, and post it on the internet for likes.

It turns out we have all been worrying about the wrong things all along. We are more likely to be taken out by the flu than a terrorist attack or, God forbid, an accidental “he-ing” of a “they.” This should be an opportunity for a community to take a good look at itself. There are a number of lessons we could learn from this pandemic. Yet based on my observations, to date, I suspect we will absorb none of it.

A key message is surely that we do not have as much control as we would like to think. We cannot control the circumstances of our lives (and death) in many ways. We can make good choices, try our best to take care of our health but, at the end of the day, the economy could crash, and you could lose everything; or a virus could jump from a bat to a human, wreaking havoc.

This is not to say that we should resort to hedonism — Well, we’re all going to die, we may as well devolve into a writhing orgy of narcissistic gluttony and depravity. It is only to suggest we stop trying to control the things we cannot and start to try to take hold of the things we can.

Here are some things that you cannot control: how others view you; how others treat you; how others behave around you; and what others think. Here are some things you can control: how you behave; how you treat others; how you respond to those around you; how you react; and how you analyse situations, systems, and people.

How do you respond to challenging times? Faced with isolation for a number of weeks? What choices do you make, knowing that they can have a major impact on all of our futures? What do you focus on, what do you prioritise, how do you treat those around you? What policies and actions are you supporting and advocating, with this new and frightening reality check? These are the important things, right now.

And here is what I’ve seen, in terms of human response to a global pandemic: swathes of financially privileged people buying up all of the groceries and toilet paper, leaving nothing for those who cannot afford to drop $400 on meat to store in a deep freezer they don’t own, because they also don’t own a house.

I see groups of people striding casually around my neighbourhood in Vancouver, in vast numbers, looking like amused tourists, thrilled at the image of themselves out on a Thursday afternoon (!!), in leggings (!!), carrying a badminton racquet (!!). Look at us! Drinking beers on our front lawns with the neighbours! How cute we are. #Quarantinelife.

“GO HOME, YOU FOOLS,” I want to shout at them. Three days into a state-ordered social distancing, and these people can’t manage to find ways to amuse themselves at home.

I’ve also heard endless whining about the challenges of working from home, as though the blessing of not having to put on pants and join the daily commute on a germ-ridden bus has gone completely over the heads of these unimaginative cogs.

Complaining that you have been released from the chain tying you to an office, five days a week, eight hours a day, and no longer have to suffer cubicle life is a privilege only the dull and mentally insufficient could manage. Meanwhile, countless people have no employment at all, with no future prospects, and no knowledge of how badly this situation will devastate their industries and opportunities for survival.

Of all of this, the under-40s have been the worst. A stream of mental-health-themed posts have flooded my social media feeds: how to cope with “symptoms of cabin fever”? What of my anxiety?! How can I fill my time, now that an external force is no longer dictating the parameters of my life? The lack of self-sufficiency astounds me, as someone who spends every day alone in her small apartment, trying to learn as much as I can, produce quality work, and take care of my health — physical, emotional, and mental.

I feel blessed, every day, by my freedom, despite not owning a home or having any savings or financial security to speak of. Why are so many unable to manage being alone with their own selves and minds? Why are capable human beings so incapable of productivity, when left to their own devices? The panic in the face of a little adversity troubles me.

I do understand that many, many people will suffer terribly from this outbreak. And that many of us are actually, really, alone. We are social creatures, so this is nothing to scoff at. But my point is that it is also impermanent, and it is something we will get through.

What the world will look like when we recover from this will depend so much on the choices we make as individuals, right now — as well as the decisions made by our government. And instead of doing the bleeding obvious — staying home, strictly distancing ourselves from others, and thinking of the community beyond our own families and desires — we are hanging out at the park with our friends and their kids, and behaving as though the true threat to our lives lies on our couches, as if to re-watch The Sopranos or read a book will send us into a pit of depression, so dark we cannot reemerge.

On Friday’s episode of “Making Sense,” Sam Harris explained that “this is an emergency in which the most effective contribution you can make, to your own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others, is to stay home”. And those of us who can — who are privileged to be able to work from home; who are not the grocery store clerks, the healthcare workers, the bus drivers — are not. Those of us in a position to be considerate of others, are choosing not to be.

Humans, for all their genius and capability, appear to be rather useless, unable to take direction, unwilling to make rational choices, and unfit for a level of hardship that is nothing compared to what their ancestors suffered. “Stay home,” should not be a hard ask. Do not hoard food, toilet paper or hand sanitiser, as it is unnecessary and harmful, should not be either.

“Be mindful, be grateful, be considerate, be strong and be creative” are some other achievable asks I would add.

If you can’t count your blessings during a time like this, perhaps you don’t deserve those blessings at all. And if you cannot view this pandemic as a reminder of what is valuable and important in life, and an opportunity to consider a better social and economic model, perhaps you don’t deserve those things either.

We are lucky to be such over-privileged narcissists, but that luck is wasted on us: the greedy, self-interested masses, clinging to things that are not real, material only until they slip away, and you are left with nothing but a weak and uninspired mind; a fake anxiety disorder (resolvable not through lengthy self-indulgent social media posts, but by going for a walk) and a closet full of toilet paper.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Meghan Murphy is a writer in Vancouver, BC. Her website is Feminist Current.

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Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
4 years ago

Sam Smith, it should be noted has expressed his apparent pride that he is too boring, sorry bored, to read a book. Any book. Because books are, like, so dull and so much effort.

That’s a modern role model, folks.

loula-rae.barnard
loula-rae.barnard
4 years ago

Idol…not role model i think, it is very rare for people to admire people for their charactor anymore.Long gone is the belief in being the best person we can be only that some have more or the patriarchy prevents ones agency . So many at a loss and possibly the need that the lost need for a Jordan Peterson

Robyn Lagrange
Robyn Lagrange
4 years ago

Alone is a physical state.

Lonliness is a state of mind,
you can be lonely in a crowded room.

natalie
natalie
4 years ago

It would be the greatest gift of all , from this virus, if the narcissistic generation learnt the truth about life

dormantdragon
dormantdragon
4 years ago

I am very grateful that I still have a job, that I have worked from home for the past six years, and that this is business as usual for me – these things are privileges indeed when so many people are finding themselves jobless and bereft of income. The only time I actually have to leave my house is to shop for groceries – and I am doubly grateful that there are people who are keeping supply chains going as best they can under the circumstances.

kateyare
kateyare
4 years ago

“…my point is that it is also impermanent, and it is something we will get through.” Is it impermanent? What is the quarantine exit strategy? With our basic freedoms curtailed we are under the government’s thumb. No government will give that up unless it has to.

sarah hubert
sarah hubert
4 years ago

Kate, remember ‘the government’ has children, families and friends as well, everyone is effected, maybe trusting that the advice being followed by governments from experts, is in good faith is better than fearing that they will abuse their powers.

J Cor
J Cor
4 years ago

Celebrities are by nature narcissists in some ways, so it seems likely that they’d react poorly to things like this. I feel like judging by social media will skew you towards people exhibiting stupid coping habits because they are less likely to be the sort of people who are used to being anxious all the time and can spend healthy time alone with themselves and not freak out. I think what we’re learning here is that in times of ease, introversion and anxiety are seen as mental illnesses, but in times of pandemic crisis, they are actually adaptive “Š and not often found in the social media uber alles set.

In other words, you’re not seeing the selfies of people who are not compelled to take selfies because we’re just indoors and solitary as usual. 🙂

Kathryn B
Kathryn B
4 years ago

I really love this article and agree with so much of it. I want to share it, but I just can’t with that title and tag line. Those aren’t the key points. From my experience, every generation is creating good and bad. Over 40 seems to be complaining the loudest that this is overblown which is causing the biggest issues.

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
4 years ago

The advice at the end about going for a walk looks odd, given the main thrust of the article is to stay at home. Maybe walk around the house? I agree that there are plenty of people who don’t know they’re born really, but I do wonder whether this is a generational thing. I’d at least like some statistical evidence, not just personal anecdote, to make the case that millennials are especially selfish and generally hopeless in a crisis.

loula-rae.barnard
loula-rae.barnard
4 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

Honestly my observation is that individuals have been seeking more and more only for themselves ( agency) since the mid 1970s and got progressively worse

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 years ago

Sam Smith are some right twats.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 years ago

Sam Smith are making some right t1ts of themselves aren’t they.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 years ago

Sam Smith are making some fools of itself.

Alana Clarke
Alana Clarke
4 years ago

Much of what you write I agree with. Very sad that you had to have swipe at the trans community, a very vulnerable minority – the “Celebs” aside.

Paul T
Paul T
4 years ago
Reply to  Alana Clarke

Minority being the operative word, although thanks to the BBC you’d think they made up half the population.

loula-rae.barnard
loula-rae.barnard
4 years ago
Reply to  Alana Clarke

I agree with every that Megan Murphy writes on Trans issues…your opinion does not represent me nor every Trans . Megan Murphy does not take swipes…..you simply do not like what she says..she is careful and articulate and factual .The truth can uncomfortable.

Alana Clarke
Alana Clarke
4 years ago

I never claimed to represent the trans community that’s your assumption. The Trans community is not a homogenous group so your views are not representative either!