Self-Indulgence Stinks

As industry has made humans rich, we have become more self-indulgent. But while we might each prefer to be self-indulgent, we are less thrilled by the self-indulgence of those around us. For example, Kay Hymowitz on her book, “Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys”:

Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. …

What has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn’t bring out the best in men. … “A guy’s idea of a perfect night is a hang around the PlayStation with his bandmates, or a trip to Vegas with his college friends. … They are more like the kids we babysat than the dads who drove us home.” …

Large numbers of single young men and women living independently, while also having enough disposable income to avoid ever messing up their kitchens, is something entirely new in human experience. … We often hear about the miseries of women confined to the domestic sphere. … But it seems that men didn’t much like the arrangement either. … They turned to hobbies and adventures, like hunting and fishing. … What explains this puerile shallowness? … The qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete. … Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven.

This makes sense, except that Hymowitz seems to unfairly exempt women from criticism:

Among pre-adults, women are the first sex. They graduate from college in greater numbers, and they have higher GPAs. As most professors tell it, they also have more confidence and drive. … They are more likely than men to be in grad school. … In a number of cities, they are even out-earning their brothers and boyfriends.

And why exactly should society celebrate women’s college GPAs more than men’s high PlayStation scores? After all, college is mostly a wasteful signaling game. And men still out-earn women on average at all ages, mostly because women tend to choose self-fulfilling majors and careers over high paying ones. So those higher fem GPAs are more a sign of self-indulgence than social contribution, at least if we measure contribution by income.

And even if women did earn more, are folks devoted to working to pay for high fashion or travel really any less self-indulgent than those who hone guitar skills? Let’s not forget that our vast fall in fertility seems due more to the changing preferences of women (vs. men) for a fun life unencumbered by kids.

This needn’t be a gender issue. Can’t we just all admit that we’ve all become more self-indulgent as we’ve grown rich, and that, like our icky odors, our own self-indulgence smells better than that of others?

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