So this is it: the persona-personality binary is collapsing and a brave new world is dawning, populated by those who are utterly, lavishly at ease with shouting about their #unpopularopinions.
According to a recent survey 49 per cent of people aged 18 to 24 chose a position other than content and unimposing in their opinions.
And in this new social utopia the old categories – intellectuals, columnists, debaters – are eroding, collapsing and becoming something else. Now you can be a “non-conformist hyper-cynic”, part of a “forward-thinking movement” where anyone can define themselves whatever way they see fit. It’s an open and equal society where anything goes and everyone’s accepted.
There’s nothing wrong with a lot of this. But there’s also plenty to be suspicious about, especially when people start chucking about labels like “non-conformist hyper-cynic”. How many of those 49 per cent polled d’you reckon have actually any convictions in their over-inflated egos? My guess is not many.
Human personality has always been as wide as Joey Barton’s ego, that’s nothing new. We all have mates who, given enough glasses of rioja, will take it upon themselves to inform you all about their utterly bullshit viewpoints on current affairs. And maybe Amy does genuinely hate that viral video everyone loves. And maybe Matthew did once write a perfectly scathing article without having to consult thesauraus.com on every other sentence.
Let’s be honest for a minute though: you never did actually voice your fiercely-cultivated opinion anywhere but on the internet, did you? You might fantasise about it, but for the most part fantasy is a refuge from reality, not reality itself.
The 49 per centers are not doing this because they’re actually or actively cynical. They’re making a lifestyle choice, en masse. It’s a way of impressing other people – an identity allowing them to join a “movement of forward thinking people”, and it’s something very strange and very new.
Today, identifying as not quite passive is to identify as bolder, better and fairer than someone who languishes in the frigid old monochrome of humility. Most importantly, this brave new identity allows the people who embrace it to feel more interesting than everyone else, regardless of whether they do actually believe in the shit they peddle out into the ether.
It says a lot about how desperate young people are to feel unique and special that the rough magic of simply agreeing, of being average and unspectacular, is not enough to satiate them. No one wants to be the norm but if everyone is odd and separate it simply manufactures a new normal.
The real tragedy is how unnecessary all of this is. Growing up on Facebook has conditioned us to dine out on the supposed drama of other people’s lives: their photos, their statuses, their relationships. There’s a general terror of being misunderstood and disliked. Worst of all is to be boring.
Obsessed with our own experience and whether or not other people will find it entertaining, we’ve started to lie about what we think and why. There’s a lot of prattle out there – and a huge desire to be like Katie Hopkins or Dapper Laughs – but it doesn’t add up to much more than a scramble to find a new moral high ground.
If a new hierarchy of labels emerges and it becomes a social faux pas not to be a cynical and sceptical or whatever, we’ll end up creating a situation where people have to come out as being a decent human being.
People who cover themselves in labels tend to get stuck in a static, ever more inadequate version of themselves. And they forget something important: people are infinitely interesting, mysterious, complex – in spite of the lies they tell, not because of them. '