For Millennials, Self-Help is More About ‘We’ Than ‘Me’

From Lit Hub:

Contemporary books defined as “self-help” have mostly served the Boomer generation.

Millennials, and the Generation Z cohort that follows close behind, are realizing that these traditional self-help narratives—ones that focus on the development of the self for the benefit of one’s self alone—aren’t going to work for them. (Of course, whether those narratives ever worked, for anyone, is somewhat up for debate.) Instead, recent book releases are reflecting a cultural longing for collectivism; a desire for meaning that manifests in communal virtue and societal improvement.

In other words, millennials aren’t looking for lifehacks to win friends and influence people; they are looking for workable systems that will sanction and codify their behaviors. Luckily for them, philosophers have been working on doing just that for the past several thousand years.

Enter Democritus, Epictetus, Epicurus, and Cicero, the new patron saints of a decidedly nonreligious, yet still morally fixated, generation. In a crowded mega-genre worth $800 million annually, the Greeks’ love of knowledge is turning into a publishing gold mine.

Out this month are two more books to add to the philosophy/self-help shelf: Catherine Wilson’s How to Be an Epicurean: The Ancient Art of Living Well and William B. Irvine’s The Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher’s Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer, and More Resilient. These books speak to our hunger for a common moral baseline that will define our virtue, something solid to hold on to in the face of collapsing economies, a climate crisis, and a world whose suffering feels too much to bear. This longing resonates especially at times like ours when the possibility of certainty (what can we really know?) seems, well, uncertain.

Stoicism and Epicurean philosophy have been ideological rivals for thousands of years, but they are not wholly opposites. Stoicism is rigid, persistent, and mostly uncomplicated, while Epicurean thought is plush, receptive, and nuanced. But both branches of thinking concern themselves with ways to mitigate pain and disappointment. This happens to be especially important in an aggressively capitalistic society where we have been conditioned from birth to want beyond our means. For the Stoics, the solution to wanting is self-denial, or more precisely, a denial that we have desire. For Epicureans, particularly the contemporary Epicurean viewpoint, the answer to dissatisfaction brought on by excessive desire is to contain that desire to what we can realistically attain.

. . . .

The text details the rise and fall of Greek and Roman societies with a sequence that the modern reader may find eerily familiar, writing:

“As we now know, ancient artisanship produced objects of utility and beauty for trade and domestic use, but only by making use of slave labor in huge urban workshops. The concentration of settled populations fostered learning in mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, and other sciences, as well as the great feats of ancient engineering. It also produced a parasitic upper class that lived from the hard labor of others, enjoying their rents, tax revenues and inheritances, but at the same time gnawed with anxiety over managing and retaining their wealth.”

For a culture that trades in passing the same bucket of guilt-laced anxiety back and forth, for ever and ever, with no escape in sight, it’s easy to cosign this retelling of how a bourgeois class was born.

Link to the rest at Lit Hub

PG will add that gender bias was rampant in both Greek and Roman societies. And ancient Athens had an estimated average of 3-4 slaves per household, except in poor households.

5 thoughts on “For Millennials, Self-Help is More About ‘We’ Than ‘Me’”

  1. “As we now know, ancient artisanship produced objects of utility and beauty for trade and domestic use, but only by making use of slave labor in huge urban workshops…

    I was wondering how the Cancel Culture Collective would cope with the ancients in this context. If I wore a watch, I could have set it for that quote.

    On the other hand, the uneducated / miseducated amongst them will now learn that slavery is an ancient institution, and was not invented here. So there is that.

    • They’ll cope by ignoring the variations and subtleties of pre 1600’s slavery. (For example that the greeks had 4 kinds of slave.)

      Things how most slaves were prisoners of war, or indentured servants, or criminals or debtors paying off debts, or only nominally different from poor “free citizens”. Or that most slaves came from the same society as the “free”.

      Humans have been exploiting each other since forever and continue to do so the world over. Most often what changes is the adjective from slave to indentured servant or serf or graduate student or taxpayer. All variations of degree but not of kind, all distinctions too subtle for their absolutist thinking.

    • Cancel Culture Collective

      I love that phrase.

      I call it The Tyranny of Shrill Children.

      The Salem Witch Trials were triggered by a group of “Shrill Children” that the adults had to react to or appear as hypocrites, thus people died.

      Sadly, the same is still happening today.

  2. Kipling saw them coming a hundred years ago.

    “We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true.”
    Bandar Log

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