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The ‘selfie’ and the fall of the Roman empire

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By Rattus Norvegicus

RatCynicism is simple. A common attitude among those wishing to present themselves as wise and learned, cynicism has come into vogue as the frame of mind of the intellectual and pseudo-intellectual. Spouting epithets like “humanity is doomed,” or “our current society is pathetic,” these creatures stomp about like ogres, growling and baying their mental fortitude into the ears of anyone who will listen.

Incidentally, they lack one key element that is present in all of the great minds throughout history – rationalism. The ability to look clearly at a situation or circumstance and put it into perspective, to see it in the bigger picture, is what allowed these historical geniuses to attain the heights that they did.

News media, those barons that keep us informed of all the nasty events taking place all over the world, are often responsible for this gloomy outlook. Negativity sells, so it becomes easy to forget that what we are reading has been happening since time immemorial.

The growing popularity of social media – and the internet as a whole – has greatly contributed to this phenomenon. Suddenly we have a window into the lives of those around us; we see their selfies, their status updates, their relationship troubles, and we cringe.

“This is everything that is wrong with humanity!” we shout. “Rampant narcissism, greed, immaturity, and it is just getting worse!” This conclusion is understandable, but it is incredibly narrow.

The term “narcissism” comes from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a young man that fell in love with his own reflection. During the Renaissance, the wealthy would pay large sums of money and sit for hours at a time so an artist could paint a portrait of them.

Things didn’t get much better once cameras were invented. The original cameras were large, clunky machines that took a considerable amount of time to take a photograph. The subject of said photograph would have to remain as still as possible to avoid blurring the photo.

The invention of handheld cameras and digital photography years later were in no way responsible for the narcissism of society, they simply made it more efficient. The internet, meanwhile, just gives us a wider audience.

The idea that consumerism is in any way a recent phenomenon is even more baffling. The Roman Empire was famed for its decadence; this decadence was arguably a major contributing factor in their eventual decline. Even the average Roman citizen, the common Plebeian, lived a better life (according to Western standards) than those outside of the Empire.

And while it is popular to imagine those living in the medieval era as hardworking, oppressed people that had little – if any – time to themselves, this was simply not the case. In fact, before the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, the average person worked much fewer hours than the workforce of today. Economist Juliet Schor, a professor of sociology at Boston College, found that the workers of 14th Century England may not have worked for more than 150 days of the year. Remember that the next time someone tells you that the youth of today are lazy and irresponsible.

There is nothing wrong with having hope. You are not silly for having faith. To desire a positive outcome for mankind does not make you childish. To hope for a better world takes strength. It takes courage. Hope opens you up to disappointment, and people are afraid of this disappointment. Should you voice your positive opinions of the world, you will face adversity not because you are wrong, but because you are brave.

There is nothing a cynic hates more than bravery.

 

The Algonquin Times is a newspaper produced by journalism students for the Algonquin College community.

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