Rod Dreher

Deforming Teens’ Moral Imagination

A male reader writes (and I post with his permission):

[ Emphasis and {Commentary} in red type by Abyssum ]

I was reading your article on social isolation among high schoolers (and to a somewhat lesser but significant extent, Millennials) in relation to use of smartphones this morning. I wanted to send you an observation of my own in that area, which reminded me of something else (re: porn use) that fits in pretty well with what you’ve talked about before.

On social isolation in young people, something the article from The Atlanticdidn’t address but that I’ve seen a lot among people my age and younger (I’m 23) is a strong tendency to identify as in some way preferring isolation from other people. The most obvious instance of this is the large number of people I know in that age range who identify themselves as introverts. Oftentimes this comes with posturing (on social media especially) about how much they like being alone and can’t stand being out in social gatherings. The presence of other people is treated as a nuisance, an exhausting and tedious task of putting up with overly-energetic plebeians who couldn’t possibly understand your tastes in photography and gritty, authentic literature. I’ve even heard more than one particularly nasty people in
this group say, on multiple occasions, that they hate people. Full stop, without qualification, “I hate people.” This is usually occasioned by some petty rudeness or ignorance on part of the unwashed masses with whom these elevated introverts have the misfortune of using the same grocery store or university.

Of course, introversion in the real psychological sense of the term (as opposed to the Tumblr “I don’t hate people, I just feel happier when they’re not around” kind of circle-jerk) simply means the disposition towards needing to recharge from social situations alone. But the popularization of the personality trait in popular culture in the past few years has given anti-social tendencies a respectable air among the young. No longer is a disdain for other people’s company and an unwillingness to spend time with other people or talk to strangers a sign of being haughty or weird; it’s a hip way of demonstrating your
unique individual brand of sophistication and depth. You won’t be surprised to learn, I’m sure, that the rate of depression and anxiety among the self-identified introverts I know is ridiculously high. In fact, I don’t know if I can think of a single person I know who parades that personality trait who doesn’t have long-standing issues with mental illness.

Now regarding porn use, which I know you’ve blogged about a lot recently: you’re right. I’m a high church Christian myself, but was an active member of Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) all through college. RUF is a conservative Presbyterian ministry, and they take Christianity seriously, which means deep and lengthy sermons, an appreciation of hymnody, and a higher than average level of real devotion among the members. RUF is about as far from the stereotypical entertainment fluff stereotype of youth / college ministries as you can get. And yet in my senior year when I tried out a couple of community groups, which were split by sex, I found that I simply couldn’t join them. To the best of my recollection, every single male besides myself in both RUF community groups I visited (and there was no overlap of people) was an active porn user, or had been relatively recently. As the discussions went on in both groups, I found myself uncomfortably silent — I’ve never watched or even wanted to watch porn, but I didn’t want to say so and sound impossibly holier-than-thou.

So there I sat, listening as guys whom girls I know and deeply respect had crushes on and wished would ask them out, go on about how porn was just too hard of a habit to break because of dopamine addiction. The young women who were taken with these young men would no doubt be shocked and horrified to know what these gentlemen spent their evenings doing, and were at risk of walking into a relationship with a porn-addicted man who would almost certainly conceal his private habit from this girl until she was emotionally involved enough that breaking off the relationship would be hard. Because of the confidentiality involved, I couldn’t warn these girls off from dating these guys, and I couldn’t bear to think about the indignity these women would be subjected to in dating these men, so I left and never went back. Most of my good platonic friends in college were women; and I consider the lack of male community where perversion was not the accepted norm to be one of the principal causes of that fact.

In brief: I’ve got a close view of the rising generation from my age group, and it’s a dark view. People who laugh off your warnings in The Benedict Optionare going to be in for an unpleasant surprise in 10-20 years as the consequences of my generation’s and the next’s degradation into cocoons of social media, mental illness, porn, and disconnection from other people start to manifest themselves in public ways.

In his long piece on negligence at the DOE, the journalist Michael Lewis writes about “an American impulse: to avoid knowledge that conflicts with whatever your narrow, short-term interests might be.” We parents want to get our kids through their childhood, adolescence, and teenage years with as little trouble as possible. So we prefer not to know what smartphones and porn are doing to their moral imaginations. It’s easier that way.

Posted in , , , , . Tagged , .

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.
%d bloggers like this: