We are all born with small brains. But the good news is that brains grow.
We come into this world, quite frankly, ignorant in the truest sense of the world–some might say “stupid”–and spend the rest of our lives acquiring knowledge and wisdom in the hopes of, at the very least, mitigating this stupidity.
There is nothing wrong with being young. Yet here in America we have this weird obsession with youth.
I can be tough on Millennials, but I also have a fair bit of sympathy for them.
To be fair, I should say “us,” as according to most cut-offs, I am also a member of this generation, being born in 1981 (although some people who study this sort of thing put the cut-off at 1982).
The interesting thing about Millennials is that the exaltation and, indeed, worship of youth is relatively new in history.
Youth Over All
There is nothing wrong with being young. We were all young once, and it is fun to be energetic, vigorous, free from responsibility, dreaming big dreams and beholden to no one except maybe your parents. The young do see things differently, unconstrained by past precedents or logical fallacies that hold many of the rest of us back.
But this is in large part because of their relative ignorance and inexperience. These are not necessarily things that should be celebrated.
Youth should be spent trying to pave the way for adulthood, not remain in a perpetual state of adolescence.
I am 35. I know a hell of a lot more than I did when I was 15, or 20, or even 25. However, when I am 70, I will look back at my 35-year-old self and say, “what an idiot!”
I have a hypothesis about why this youth-obsession is so prevalent, so powerful: The young are easy to indoctrinate and manipulate.
And they are, as my friend Rawle Nyanzi puts it, a captive audience.
A large part of this is the cynical desire to sell stuff to young and create lifelong customers who will induce their parents to spend money on their behalf until they are ready to spend their own.
But our youth-obsession goes beyond trying to make a buck. We tend to see everything “young” as “good” and “old” as “bad,” without thinking about the actual issues critically. What’s worse than adults doing this is the fact that the young do it themselves. Don’t believe me? Check out the reactions to two elections that occurred in 2016:
- Brexit. Our friends across the pond voted to leave the EU. The Remain vote was heavily concentrated in cities, the Leave vote in more rural areas. There was also a young-versus-old age gap. How many hysterical did we see by the young for the “old people vote” to be nullified, or the “elderly”–that is, anyone over 35 or maybe 40–disenfranchised?
- The U.S. Presidential election. Here in the States, we’re being shown election maps of “what if only Millennials voted?” showing a unanimous Hillary Clinton victory. This has been coupled with bloodthirsty hopes that all old, and usually white, people will literally die (and some are trying their damndest to make this happen).
This is pretty genocidal, to say the least. But it goes to show that the indoctrination is working.
Everyone is indoctrinated, and everybody advocates for indoctrination. Everyone.
When you educate somebody to have good manners, or to respect their family name, you are indoctrinating them. If you are religious, you are indoctrinating your children into a religious worldview. Patriotism, love of country, military service and respect for it, these are all things that are indoctrinated.
The idea all societies have, from the primitive to the highly advanced, is to indoctrinate children with things that are good for society, and to recognize those that are bad.
In the United States we’ve had this incredible culture war that I argue started in the early part of the 20th century, sped up in the 1930s and really got going in the 1960s.
And this is something that half of the culture Warriors won’t like to hear: The counterculture won. It is the dominant culture, and has been for at least a generation or two.
A big part of this victory was targeting the young.
The young have always been an instrument of those in power, a tool to make sure that dominant ideas stay dominant. If it means circumventing the parents, so be it. This is one difference between indoctrination now and indoctrination then: The values that are being inculcated in a lot of the young are directly antithetical to those of their parents and grandparents.
Mr. and Mrs. Know-It-All
While I do believe that many of us have been experimented on and have been done a great disservice by those in power–politicians, professors, even parents–it doesn’t absolve the individual from all blame.
One of the big differences between the young in the past and the young now is that the young now literally think, without exaggeration, that they are already morally, intellectually, and spiritually superior beings who have nothing left to learn because they know everything and they know what’s best.
We’ve talked about self-awareness before, humility, and a dedication to lifelong learning. These are things which keep people humble and out of trouble.
If you remove these attitudes, you get a bunch of know-it-alls.
Not only are so many emotionally stunted, they are intellectually stunted. And I will say their sense of empathy is stunted as well. Far from being the kind, caring gentle souls they like to pretend they are, when things don’t go right they just start burning stuff.
So What Do We Do About This?
How do we “cure” this? I think patience and empathy will go a long way. But we also have to be unafraid to say three things that a lot of us Millennials didn’t hear growing up, and really don’t hear enough of now:
- You’re wrong.
- Sit down, keep quiet for a few minutes, and listen.
Tough love is still love, and these things need to be said with the goal of instructing, if that makes sense. Looking back at my own youth, I appreciate the times I was told these things, and wish I had been told them more. In fact, some of you reading this may still want to tell me these things.
The youth are easily manipulable and have been experimented on in screwed over by the older generations, but they still bear some of the blame. If you’re always looking without for reasons why your life isn’t where it should be but aren’t getting anywhere, it might not be the world’s fault.
And if your entire governing philosophy is based on your feelings, you’re in for a world of hurt later on when reality has its way with you.
But There Is Hope
Young people: You are the future. You are going to be running the show, and although things are rocky, I have no doubt that you will do a bang-up job. I know too many of you to write you off.
While these effects are real, the Internet and the news media do amplify and overdo the worst excesses of the young.
Older people: We are selfish. So was our parents generation. We were all about “me-me-me” and didn’t spend the time and attention teaching the young what is true and right. Instead, we taught them what was cool and convenient.
It’s much healthier for a society to treat the young as neither good nor bad, but just as they are. The same way we should view most everything.
It’s a fine line: one doesn’t want to infantilize youth, but one doesn’t want to exalt him either.
But alas, if humanity is known for one thing, it isn’t our foresight.
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