Cultural Observation: Love of Conspiracy Theories


Cultural Observation: Narcissists, All

“In 2006, thousands of American college students filled out a survey. They weren’t told what it was, but it was actually the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI), a psychological evaluation that asks for responses to statements such as “I am an extraordinary person,” “I am more capable than other people,” “Everybody likes to hear my stories,” and “If I ruled the world it would be a better place.” The NPI has been given to college students for several decades. By looking at the change in responses over time, a recent study shows a 30 percent increase in narcissism over the last thirty years. Even more striking, in the 1950s, 12 percent of teens agreed with the statement “I am an important person.” In the 1980s, just thirty years later, 80 percent of teens agreed with that same statement. By our own reckoning, we live in an increasingly self-centered world.” -Rankin Wilbourne, Union with Christ


Cultural Observation: Words Matter, Especially with Teens

“Language is a powerful signifier for all humans, but perhaps more for teenagers than most. For them, language is not just a tool of communication, but a means of establishing class, race, religion, which part of town they’re from, the music they listen to, the groups to which they are affiliated and myriad other things that adults forgot when they hit 20. This has always been the case, but what is new among the teenagers I work with is the casual appropriation of what were once compliments as insults – invariably targeted at females. If a girl “gives character”, she needs slapping down. If she’s “lively”, she’s slutty.” -source of quote is lost

Cultural Observation: Why People Reject the Word “Sin”

  1. It’s too dark a depiction of human nature [See Valley of Vision prayer “Yet, I Sin”]
  2. It was a concept used to wage war on healthy pleasures like sex and entertainment. Avoiding sin meant living a joyless life.
  3. It was wielded recklessly by self-righteous and authoritarian people.

See David Brooks, The Road to Character

Brooks goes on to say, “But in truth, “sin,” like “vocation” and “soul,” is one of those words that it is impossible to do without. It is one of those words—and there will be many in this book—that have to be reclaimed and modernized. Sin is a necessary piece of our mental furniture because it reminds us that life is a moral affair. No matter how hard we try to reduce everything to deterministic brain chemistry, no matter how hard we try to reduce behavior to the sort of herd instinct that is captured in big data, no matter how hard we strive to replace sin with nonmoral words, like “mistake” or “error” or “weakness,” the most essential parts of life are matters of individual responsibility and moral choice: whether to be brave or cowardly, honest or deceitful, compassionate or callous, faithful or disloyal. When modern culture tries to replace sin with ideas like error or insensitivity, or tries to banish words like “virtue,” “character,” “evil,” and “vice” altogether, that doesn’t make life any less moral; it just means we have obscured the inescapable moral core of life with shallow language. It just means we think and talk about these choices less clearly, and thus become increasingly blind to the moral stakes of everyday life.”

Cultural Observation: Narcissism

“It wasn’t hard to find such data. For example, between 1948 and 1954, psychologists asked more than 10,000 adolescents whether they considered themselves to be a very important person. At that point, 12 percent said yes. The same question was revisited in 1989, and this time it wasn’t 12 percent who considered themselves very important, it was 80 percent of boys and 77 percent of girls. Psychologists have a thing called the narcissism test. They read people statements and ask if the statements apply to them. Statements such as “I like to be the center of attention…I show off if I get the chance because I am extraordinary…Somebody should write a biography about me.” The median narcissism score has risen 30 percent in the last two decades. Ninety-three percent of young people score higher than the middle score just twenty years ago.4 The largest gains have been in the number of people who agree with the statements “I am an extraordinary person” and “I like to look at my body.” Along with this apparent rise in self-esteem, there has been a tremendous increase in the desire for fame. Fame used to rank low as a life’s ambition for most people. In a 1976 survey that asked people to list their life goals, fame ranked fifteenth out of sixteen. By 2007, 51 percent of young people reported that being famous was one of their top personal goals.5 In one study, middle school girls were asked who they would most like to have dinner with. Jennifer Lopez came in first, Jesus Christ came in second, and Paris Hilton third. The girls were then asked which of the following jobs they would like to have. Nearly twice as many said they’d rather be a celebrity’s personal assistant—for example, Justin Bieber’s—than president of Harvard. (Though, to be fair, I’m pretty sure the president of Harvard would also rather be Justin Bieber’s personal assistant.)” -David Brooks, The Road to Character

Cultural Observation: Pride

“I arrived home before the program [Command Performance] was over and listened to that radio show in my driveway for a time. Then I went inside and turned on a football game. A quarterback threw a short pass to a wide receiver, who was tackled almost immediately for a two-yard gain. The defensive player did what all professional athletes do these days in moments of personal accomplishment. He did a self-puffing victory dance, as the camera lingered. It occurred to me that I had just watched more self-celebration after a two-yard gain than I had heard after the United States won World War II. This little contrast set off a chain of thoughts in my mind. It occurred to me that this shift might symbolize a shift in culture, a shift from a culture of self-effacement that says “Nobody’s better than me, but I’m no better than anyone else” to a culture of self-promotion that says “Recognize my accomplishments, I’m pretty special.” That contrast, while nothing much in itself, was like a doorway into the different ways it is possible to live in this world.” -David Brooks, The Road to Character