Our Disgrace Will Save The World
Why are millennials less violent than their predecessors?
My freshman year in college, I sat around with my suite-mates watching a woman getting fucked by a horse. We’d all watched so much messed up porn by that point that it didn’t really register as a thing anymore. It was just something we did sometimes.
My college experience seems like a quintessentially millennial college experience. I’m on the upper end of the millennial range, and in that narrow age band of those who grew up with the internet, but still remember the time before. People my age, especially the technically savvy, saw so much fucked up shit because we knew how to use the internet better than our parents. They couldn’t protect us from the stream of filth humanity spewed forth in the safety of anonymity.
In fact, it was even worse than that. Our parents didn’t know that we might even need protecting. They didn’t know that underlying the the thin facade of human decency was a world of horror, because they hadn’t seen it. I think, maybe, some of them never got over the shock when they eventually did. But us millennials, we just grew up with that knowledge ever since we were children. The terribleness of humanity was something we accepted without judgement. To us, it’s just the way the world was. The way people were.
We are all monsters inside.
And yet, there is relief in that knowledge. Now that we we see the full terribleness underlying humanity, we know we are not uniquely terrible. Do rape stories turn you on? Hey, it’s not like you killed anyone! No matter how bad something you’ve done is, you’ve probably watched a video of someone doing something worse. And, that sounds like a bad thing, but it’s not.
Violence has been steadily decreasing over time, and this Forbes article made the case that the most likely cause is a cultural difference between millennials and Gen-X/Baby Boomers. In typical Gen-X fashion, the author turns our positive trait into a negative by claiming millennials are sheltered and risk-averse. But, I don’t think that’s the root cause.
I think millennials have less shame.
If you grow up watching bestiality porn, two girls one cup, goatse, and MLP FIM, you’re not going to feel like a freak when your boyfriend comes on your face. You’ll be thinking, “whatever, at least I don’t own a dildo shaped like an animal dick.” And, if you do own a dildo shaped like an animal dick, you’ll be thinking “whatever, at least I don’t get turned on by farts.” And if you do get turned on by farts, you’ll be thinking “whatever, at least I don’t jack off to Sarah Palin.”
These things we do, these things we were always told are shameful, are not shameful any more. Some people ask me, “how can you write about all this personal stuff?” and I’m like “why would I care?” You’ve all seen far worse than the truths of my heart. Why would I be ashamed in front of you?
And, with this reduction in shame comes a reduction in violence.
James Gilligan, the head psychiatrist of the MA prison system, has written extensively on the sources of violence, and shame is a major player.
In the course of my psychotherapeutic work with violent criminals, I was surprised to discover that I kept getting the same answer when I asked one man after another why he had assaulted or even killed someone: “Because he disrespected me.” In fact, they used that phrase so often that they abbreviated it to, “He dis’ed me.”
References to the desire for respect as the motive for violence kept recurring, with remarks like, “I never got so much respect before in my life as I did when I first pointed a gun at some dude’s face.”
Preventing Violence (Prospects for Tomorrow) by James Gilligan
We care so much, we care so much, what other people think of us. When I started looking for it, I saw this everywhere. In our capitalist society, we think humans are motivated by money, but we’re only motivated by money because money gives us respect. Why do CEOs keep working after they have billions of dollars, while academic professionals are willing to take low salaries? Both positions are highly respected positions, and neither person is really motivated by the money. As long as a person has enough to survive, access to more material goods ceases to be the driving force.
Why are people willing to contribute to wikipedia, or make open source software for free? Because they get credit for it. Wikipedia wasn’t supposed to work, it breaks our capitalist values. A free encyclopedia? How could that ever compete with Encyclopedia Britannica, with their fancy paid writers? Why would people put their unpaid time into writing? Because they get a good reputation for doing so.
Why is gang warfare so hard to stamp out? Because we have created communities where young people are deprived of other avenues of dignity. “When you are in a gang, you fight for respect.” The irony, it’s not even poverty that creates gangs as much as the shame we force on the poor that does. There exist non-violent people in countries where the people have fewer material means the poor have in the US, but non-violent poor are not inundated with shame-inducing capitalist advertisement that drives them to violence.
In many ways, the millennial generation is less materialistic than its parent generations. Partly, we have to be because we are poorer than they were at our age. We also have access to more entertainment through the internet, so our need for physical belongings (other than smartphones) is less. But, I think a deep part of it, is we were forced to see this thing about humanity that no one had seen before. It’s become more obvious than ever that “the game” you’re supposed to play is rigged, the people we pretend to be aren’t the people we are, and that the shame we feel at not “being successful” is almost universal.
Shame in isolation is the most toxic shame. I remember once, after my first company idea had failed, I wanted to kill myself. I was so ashamed of my failure, and so ashamed of my shame, and so alone, and so stuck. I didn’t know what to do. So, I wrote my friend an email telling him everything I felt, and the last line of that email was “I feel better just having written you this.”
Shedding light on our secret sources of shame will save us. Porn will save us. Confession will save us. Horrible people on twitter will save us. Videos of mass shootings will save us. Our morbid curiosity will save us.
Complete acceptance of who we are will save us. It will save the world. We don’t need to pretend anymore.