Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Greatest Generation II (GG2) hardens its heart

I had eluded to having this post in the hopper in comments:

Times of crises are times to pull together.  We can stand united or fall separately is a phrase that seems appropriate.   Of course preppers and apocolyptics are individuals who have a certain disassociation from the greater society: after all it is supposed to be collapsing.  But that does not make them anti-social per se.   Thus, if at some point there came to be a realization by the great masses that some drastic and immediate group action was required to avoid some impending doom, we would all pull together for the greater good.  We would be the new “Greatest Generation.”  After The Great War was followed by another Great War, they used Roman numerals:  so we would rename them Greatest Generation I (GG I) and we would be Greatest Generation II (GG II).
Unfortunately there is a slight bump in that rosy road ahead:
A recent study by Sara H. Konrath of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, found that college students’ self-reported empathy has declined since 1980, with an especially steep drop in the past 10 years.
[T]he new finding that empathy is on the decline indicates that even when a trait is hardwired, social context can exert a profound effect, changing even our most basic emotional responses. Precisely what is sapping young people of their natural impulse to feel for others remains mysterious, however, because scientists cannot design a study to evaluate changes that occurred in the past. As Twenge puts it, “you can’t randomly assign people to a generation.”
In the past 30 years Americans have become more likely to live alone and less likely to join groups—ranging from PTAs to political parties to casual sports teams. Several studies hint that this type of isolation can take a toll on people’s attitudes toward others.  From Jamil Zaki, What, Me Care? Young are Less Empathetic at Scientific American;  ht naked capitalism.

This study dovetails (as noted within the quote) with Jean M. Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, who in her recent book Narcissism Epidemic noted that although students test scores have hardly improved in the last 30 years, they feel pretty good about it.  Oddly enough, the group with the lowest self esteem (Asian Americans) scored the highest.
So we will not be the Greatest Generation II, but will like think we are, as we go flaming down  the tubes. 
Now there have been some tangentially related studies that show that it is Americans (aka citizens of the United States) are particularly prone to these trends.  The people of foreign countries are more humble and cooperative.   So it is possible they may have a greater likelihood of acting together to solve their problems.
Maybe so, but they won’t be calling themselves the Greatest Generation.
Dr. Jean M. Twenge

As a postscript note, my son (first grade) discovered that one of his friends did not have any Valentine cards to give out to his classmates.  This is a big deal in first grade.  So he got his "girlfriend" to give the young lad a quarter, and he has collected $6 of his own savings to pay for them.  Now Cupid (in the form of virus) has struck him down and he is home watching Star Wars DVDs on TV while he rides out the fever.  So I am not sure if he will be able to deliver the money:  but the effort is being made on the 4'tall front.  So may all hope should not be lost for the coming generations.


Waldow said...

As you mentioned in previous comments, a disadvantage to a large family is slicing the pie into too many pieces, and it follows a pretty precise pattern without conscious intent by parents. In fact your comments yesterday opened some nasty old wounds (good for thinking, bad for getting sh** done.)

My oldest brother is my best friend, responsible, educated, kind, and has a combined lift squat/deadlift/bench of 1900 lbs. I occasionally try to explain the idea of primogeniture to him (like when borrowing $20 for an oil change) and with some effort I get him to acknowledge that his individual strength is partly the result of a group effort (empathy). He in turn at one time wrangled me into a corporate job, and so I learned that the creatures in the hive have legitimate feelings too.

My point is that part of this decline in empathy comes from smaller family sizes where attention is focused on one precious child. It is quite natural to do so, but it can lead to narcissism. Other relationships besides siblings can serve this purpose, but not as well on the whole, as most friends and business associates fall away after 5-10 years in my experience.

Family size is not the only factor. There is also the pull of technology that encourages us to "spread the love" but it gets real thin (and there is a long history of conscious intent to encourage this effect by some like Andy Warhol and Jonas Mekas) If you know you can exchange some shallow empathy with just about anybody, why bother with too much with any one person? And then you are more dependent on the technological system that enabled and encouraged this behavior. A feedback loop. No accident that The Velvet Underground used feedback in their music, acid in their heads, and daisychains. All feedback loops. Conscious. (Did I spend a year of my life impersonating Andy Warhol, the ultimate imposter? Unfortunately yes. Ha!) Ever wonder why Bonobo Chimps are held up as the paragon of virtue? It is meant to domesticate us. Newsflash. We aren't Bonobos, and I for one prefer a few close relationships. More meat less fruit. Ha!

Ought to get into the cable company's box and turn the damn internet off so I can get something done.

Waldow said...

...and no offence intended, but my interest in this blog is a perfect example of technology encouraging shallow, flashly relationships. Damn it is fun though. In passing, I'd like to ask a nasty question of others that follow this here thread. What variety of feedback loop is important to understanding Micheal Jackson, certain elements of the Catholic Church, and early Jonas Mekas films? Nevermind. I take it back. Don't think about that. Look at these beautiful curtains:

Todd said...


I love it. In our now 15 year tradition of sharing thoughts and knowledge, read Hanta Yo by Ruth Bebe Hill.

Let me know what you think.

russell1200 said...

Primogeniture through first male is too extreme the other way. It tends to lead to linages dying out. Some have argued that the Church liked that because they got the land, but I doubt that is why they liked it. I think they were just looking for stability after all the chaos.

I think your point on family size has merit. Although I will say that all of the women I know seem to be able to keep up with their close friends for years. The drop off rate is much much lower.

IMO you would have to combine a number of factors: television, radio, even books. IMO the internet is a wash. Too easy to bind and break relationships. But at least it is interactive.

I had not heard of Hanta Yo. I guess the Sioux were not real thrilled with it. Of course Tribal Chiefs can have their own agenda too, but it does sound a little new agie. At 1000+ pages I need a little more incentive to start that spiritual journey:

From a blurb on the movie:

The five-hour miniseries The Mystic Warrior began life in 1979 when producer David L. Wolper announced plans for a ten-hour adaptation of Hanta Yo, an epic historical novel by Ruth Beebe Hill. Using as her main source a full-blooded Sioux named Chunksa Yuha, Hill fashioned what amounted to a Native American version of Roots, chronicling the history of the Matho tribe of the Ogala Dakota Sioux. Although Hill was briefly the darling of the literary cognoscenti, her book was ultimately attacked and discredited by a veritable army of Indian historians, teachers, and activists, who accused her of distorting and falsifying truths in order to promote her own (and Yuha's) sociopolitical agenda. Suddenly, all of the Native American support that had been promised to the miniseries version of Hanta Yo evaporated; even the filming location had to be changed from New Mexico to Thousand Oaks, CA, so as not to offend the Indian tribes in the former state.

Waldow said...


Todd, the commenter who plugged Hanta Yo, is an old friend of mine whom I've mostly had contact with over the internet for the ten years after university (yr point about the internet being a empathy wash is a complicated one, as this point illustrates.) If the book he recommends turns out to be New Age I'll be surprised as Todd is a former Marine Officer and Christian (in short his friends all wondered why he had the weird guy me around). He's also a historian, but I will definitely take it under advisement that this narrative might not be roundly accepted history.

It was great to have this post and its hard data on empathy trends. It was mentioned that isolating variables to identify a cause is difficult to impossible. Googled around myself and got nowhere.

I'd like to pick at the idea that radio and TV are much involved in the empathy decline found by these studies', because they each covered a specific time period, registered a decline, and TV and Radio where well established throughout both studies data set. (Not to say TV especially isn't alienating, but that would seem to be built into the baseline empathy data for both studies).

Thanks Russel1200, important stuff.

Waldow said...

I'd sure love to see a chi-square test for a correlation between this decline in empathy and Gini coefficients. The data costs money. Send me money (I will go to a buffet instead of buying the data sets, but send me money anyway :)

russell1200 said...

I'll tell you what Waldow, if you like the book, let me know and I will read it. My suspicion is that it is accurate in many areas but hit some tribal hot buttons in a couple areas that were more 'speculative'. With the author not being a native, it was enough to cause a lot of commotion.

Twenge has written a couple of books on the narcissism. She tends to equate it with the self esteem movement in education.

If you look at this:

-you will see that they equate narcissim with lack of self esteem. Twenge will tell you it is very much the reverse.

I think there is a lot that goes into it. We are in a highly mobile, detached culture where the opportunities for advancement (real success) have peaked out since the 1970s. Thus we pump up our self esteem and borrow more to live the expansive life style we have been told is our right and our patriotic duty.

LOL-how's is that for a two sentence summation!

Freyja said...

Great two sentence summation. More and more people are beginning to realize that their current reality is based on layers and layers of lies. Not really an easy thing to wake up to and remain sane.
The more our civilization tries to uphold those lies, the harder waking up gets.
That red pill is a bitch sometimes.

russell1200 said...

I think starting with civil rights and going through later demonstrations, there was a rejection of the status quo. But it was often very facile, and tended to quickly become an exercise in self interest.

Growing up in the 70s was the reverse of today. Where as today it is the market economy that is religiously touted as the savior of all, it was very much the opposite then. But it was the same lazy adherence to an agreed upon plan.