A Paradox of Modern Life

A paradox of a techno-immersed, consumerist age heavily influenced by that modern liberal principle of autonomy:
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Take the phrase “I don’t care what other people think” or “I don’t care what [insert name] said or thinks.”

People say this all the time. It’s quite the cliche now; in fact, I think it is so much a cliche now that whenever people hear this, barring exceptional cases when people truly do not care, we immediately assume people are simply trying to convince themselves they do not care, not us. Personally, for the most part, I never truly believe anyone when they say this. Neither do many others when they are subjected to other people uttering this phrase. Whatever else this phrase is meant to symbolize, it mostly functions as a way to convince ourselves (and others) that we have transcended an interconnected community. What others think do not matter (in fact, I would say in a world now obsessed with personal autonomy the thoughts and sentiments of others about my self cannot matter if I am to be truly free). It is no surprise to me that many people say “I don’t care what you think” or “I don’t care what others think” when they go on making their personal choices. It is their choice after all – and not yours – so caring about what you or anyone else thinks is disruptive to their so-called freedom. This phrase is meant to show others that this person, who supposedly doesn’t care, is beyond the influence of other people. They live their life exactly as they please and wish apart from any concern or worry about others – a truly modern Liberal Übermensch.

But could anything be further from the truth? Sure, people like to pretend this is what they actually believe but I have serious reservations about this (and I always have). A world so immersed and controlled by technology suggests otherwise. People who spend inordinate amounts of time on social media, fishing for “likes” as a form of affirmation, posting pictures of their life and possessions; tweeting their aphorisms, their vacation spot; snapping their participation at the biggest and best party, or their meeting a celebrity typically do these things because they want others to think and feel a particular way about their life. Our buying the most up-to-date version of a phone, or buying the newest and most progressive form of technology, like an Ipad or Mac computer, is also another way of symbolizing our status, which amounts to a whole lot in our culture. But status only means anything if others recognize and affirm it. In a word, consumerism has driven many of us into an obsession of what others think about us. Consumerism, as it has been said by other writers, convinces us to care more for quantity rather than quality. For example, people usually care about how many friends they have rather than the kind of friendships they have (again the quantifying of “friends” and “followers”  on social media only goes to support this).

This isn’t complex or complicated. It’s just  a paradox of a technologically immersed, consumerist world also heavily influenced by that modern Liberal principle of personal autonomy. You are not beyond the thoughts and feelings that others have about your life choices (which the phrase “I don’t care what you think” suggests), if almost everything about modern industrial and technological life seems to suggest you do in fact care what others think about you .

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3 thoughts on “A Paradox of Modern Life

    1. As a good Aristotelian, I think that we are individuals informed, in large part, by our tribal sentiments and allegiances. There is a place for both, and each must be respected. Favoring tribalism absolutely and completely leads to “collectivism”.Too much individualism leads to the terrible problems we are currently facing no doubt. Neither of these, by themselves, will help with a social and existential healing of our people and humanity in general.

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      1. Exactly. As Buddha said, we must find the “middle path” and walk it. The key aspect to tribalism is that you must choose your tribe well. Do not devote yourself to those who would bring you to ruin or who seek only to use you. Remain strong in your individuality, but use your individual strength to strengthen the tribe. That’s my approach anyway.

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