How The Need for Validation Took Over Our Culture

A month or so ago, Ace at Ace of Spades HQ drew attention to this Reddit comment in which a former “social-justice warrior” (SJW) describes how he fled from the lunacy of identity politics.

One of this young man’s thoughts — his description of how he initially fell into the SJW mindset — jumped out at me:

I was depressed at the time, and being applauded for being progressive definitely was an ego boost. Fighting people I perceived as bigoted made me feel better about myself. My SJW tendencies were based mostly out of self loathing — I felt weird, like an outcast, had never had a girlfriend, hated myself, and thought that I was fixing myself by jumping deep into feminism.

What struck me was this young man’s need to be applauded by his peers. Of course, in itself, this is not surprising: it is not a new thing to crave validation from other people, especially from one’s peer group. It wasn’t just that he was seeking approval from others, however; it was that he absolutely needed this approval to survive. He needed it in two respects. First, he would feel miserable and alienated without it. Second, since his social circle was defined solely by groupthink, there was no way to be a part of that culture without the constant approval of others within the culture.

For several years now (at least since the advent of the major social media platforms) there has been a performative aspect to radical identity politics. Ideas are secondary, maybe even tertiary — usually just a haphazard melange of recycled Marxism, Freudianism, and postmodernism. It’s the “performance” that’s central — the “virtue signaling,” “status signaling,” whatever you want to call it. People espouse this philosophy — if you can call it that — not to understand the world but to fit into it.

How and why did it get this way? As an undergraduate, I remember reading Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism. You can guess from the title what the author thought wrong with the United States. I no longer have a copy of the book, but this Wikipedia summary captures perfectly the point that resonated most with me: Lasch argued that since the end of the Second World War, the United States “has produced a personality-type consistent with clinical definitions of ‘pathological narcissism.’ This pathology is not akin to everyday narcissism, a hedonistic egoism, but a very weak sense of self requiring constant external validation [emphasis added].”

Please remember that Lasch published this book in 1979, long before the Internet took over human communication. You can reject Lasch’s broader theory if you want, but I think the point about the need for external validation is extraordinarily insightful and useful, especially when analyzing how the bizarre SJW culture became so powerful within Western, and particularly American, society.

Consider: A North Carolina farmer in the 1930s United States did not care about seeking the approval of the entire world, mainly because he didn’t have access to the entire world. Whatever temporal validation he sought was likely from his wife and an immediate circle of family and friends. The most important validation (and the most important form of solace) came from the evangelical Protestantism in which he likely believed, with his religion’s emphasis on sola fide. This farmer’s name was probably unknown outside his very small community. He obviously did not publish a blog or maintain any kind of “public” presence. In other words, his livelihood did not depend on pleasing society at large, and certainly not on hewing to the cultural norms of a university-educated northeastern elite. Until pretty recently (say, a few decades ago) it was still possible to live like this.

But with the rise of the Internet and especially social media, we have in essence become a panopticon society. Everyone can “see” everyone else. The desire to “perform” for this omnipresent audience is irresistible to many people, especially the younger generation, many of whom have never experienced life without 24/7 Internet.

As the panopticon grew wider, from Facebook and YouTube to smartphones and Twitter, the desire to be seen and heard became a need to be seen and heard. It became necessary, in other words, because even if you didn’t wish to perform (i.e. hew to the cultural norms of the university-educated northeastern elite), you had to if you wished to “make it” in “mainstream” society. The social dynamics that once drove only a small subculture of SJWs began to spread to the whole country. Ours became a culture of performance.

If you want to know how and why SJWism became so prevalent in the West, that, in my humble opinion, is a good place to start.

What do you think?

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