As Barack Obama thrilled his supporters on Monday with his clarion call to action for the poor and the oppressed, young people across the country -- though in numbers somewhat smaller than were enthralled by their leader's words four years ago -- nodded in agreement. For this was about them, and Obama’s speech told them once again how great they are. Obama spoke to the "N Generation," those millions who, because they are the beneficiaries of the miracles of internet technology and instant, worldwide communications, believe firmly they know all and are entitled to everything; as the old song by Queen shouted, "[they] want it all and [they] want it now."
Academic studies reveal this pervasive narcissism clearly.
Hundreds of colleges across the nation administer the CIRP Freshman Survey (TFS) each year to their incoming students. Hundreds of thousands of young adults take this survey, which covers a wide range of demographic and psychographic topics. San Diego State University psychology professor Dr. Jean M. Twenge and her team studied these results, and recently released a report painting a disturbing picture of America’s young adults.
Today’s young youth are more narcissistic than ever. This generation is more likely to find role models in vapid Hollywood tabloid starlets like Kim Kardashian than revolutionary business leaders such as the late Steve Jobs, who gave them the iPhones that are now glued to their hands, or Marc Andreessen, whose prescience and skill launched Mosaic, the world's first graphical web browser less than one generation ago.
These young people live on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; public stages in which they are the stars, demanding absolute and immediate attention from their peers. Self-worth is measured in "Likes" and "retweets;" what was had for breakfast becomes breaking news. Heaven forbid if someone ever "unfriends" them.
Of course, they are not completely to blame. Parents and adults share responsibility for creating this monster. For decades, parents were told by so-called parenting “experts” that offspring would be best raised on the belief each is special and entitled to all life has to offer. Now, trophies are awarded to every child on the team or in the class so no child's self-esteem is bruised by virtue of being "left out;" letter grades from "A" to "F" give way to vague and slippery narratives. We encourage every teenager to pursue their passion in college -- something to which they are "entitled" -- regardless of the marketable value of the skills they gain after many tens of thousands of dollars spent on that education.
And now, we simply have what we have. “What's really become prevalent over the last two decades is the idea that being highly self-confident - loving yourself, believing in yourself - is the key to success,” Twenge told BBC News in an interview. “Now the interesting thing about that belief is it's widely held, it's very deeply held, and it's also untrue.”
When the curtain is pulled back, the result is not pretty. But, the damage is already done; and because they lack any ability to self-assess, members of the vast N Generation cannot possibly fathom the reality that failure to meet personal goals is their fault. Their consuming sense of entitlement, a byproduct of deeply ingrained narcissism, causes them to lash out at the imaginary phantoms that obstructed them from the success to which they had a right.
It is this delusion of entitlement that served as the catalyst for the recent "Occupy" movement. Participants demanded jobs from the “corporatists” who "destroyed" the entitlement economy. They demanded (and continue to demand) student loan debt forgiveness from the federal government because suddenly they cannot find employment fulfilling their need to shoot to the top of the business ladder, despite having double-masters in English literature and art history. They blamed capitalists for corporate greed while posting updates from their $500 phone, all while shooing bums away from their tent city.
We see the hypocrisy. They are blind to it.
However, there is another side to this delusion. It is the side that begets desperation, depression, and violence. According to Twenge, “since the 1960s and 1970s, when those expectations started to grow, there's been an increase in anxiety and depression.” And, this anxiety and depression is unchecked by normal behavioral restraints. Narcissists don’t empathize, or understand the needs and feelings of others. They are only concerned with themselves, and how they feel in the moment.
This leads to unpredictable conclusions when reality comes crashing in. These people are more likely to resort to violence when trapped against a wall; something that may very well help explain the uptick in mass murder among young, white males over the last few decades. They vent their frustration with “society” by shooting up theaters and classrooms, unable to fully comprehend the evil of their actions.
It is not only isolated incidents of violence. The 2011 riots in England, which left five dead and caused more than $300 million in property damage, were fueled by a generation of young Brits who grew up without ever hearing the word "No." “They are essentially wild beasts,” British journalist Max Hastings wrote after the riots. “They are products of a culture which gives them so much unconditionally that they are let off learning how to become human beings.”
America is heading down the same path as the U.K. and, unless somehow checked, it is only a matter time before the small outbursts of violence among the various youth protest movements spark a fire that will prove extremely difficult if not impossible to extinguish.