Sunday, May 30, 2021

Simplified Narrative

Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff published The Coddling of the American Mind in 2018 and I greatly approved. They examined the deterioration of discourse among schoolchildren, the HS graduating classes of 2014 and beyond in particular and tried to dig into the data before drawing conclusions.  Unlike me, who grabs two facts and runs with it for a year.  At least it's not a decade.  I back off after a while, unlike some here, who are stuck in 1970, or 1990, or 2010. I would say "You know who you are," but unfortunately you don't and for old guys like me, this site is largely a debating society among people who are stuck in 1970 versus those who are stuck in 1990 versus those who are stuck in 2010.

That's actually not a terrible thing.  If we could time-travel and impose that debate on the people of the turn of the 13th-19thC's, even among the few, I think it would do some good. We all have a touch of Ignatius J Reilly here, and that's fine.

That graduating class of 2014 is significant, as it is an inflection point. It is the first class that had spent all its post-latency years online, acquiring devices in middle-school and having a hybrid experience between online and meatspace socialisation.  I witnessed it firsthand, chaperoning one of Kyle's field trips, where the girls (the boys were 1-2 years behind in devices) were taking selfies of themselves in the front of the bus, sending them to friends, and then running back six seats laughing to look at those photos with those same friends. I laughed at the ridiculousness of it at the time. Conservatives are ever thus: we deplore changes in the culture of youth that turn out to be unimportant, but chuckle at changes that turn out to be frighteningly crucial. We always accurately sense that something is terribly wrong, but then attack the wrong development.

The suicide, anxiety, and depression rates increased from 2011-2014 to heartbreaking levels. Haidt and Lukianoff declared that the online life was the reason. We who grew up in other eras do not understand this.  We are dismissive of these snowflakes. Yet they developed in this world. Sam L, and Korora, and Unknown, and Granite Dad can shrug and say "C'mon, if they don't like you, screw 'em." But we had a life outside of the internet.  We do not remotely appreciate what life is like for them.  Online death is complete social death. It is easy for us to say it doesn't need to be that way, but for them, it might be.  We can only rescue the few from the online world to breathe free.

Talk to people involved with basic training over the last ten years. One of the great services we provide to those recruits is that they learn they will not die if they can't check their accounts.  Yet it fades within a year after.

All that as background.  The HS 2014 class went on to do what? They became the college 2018 class - or 2019 class, the way things are now - and that is the group we have been reading about as such crazies, attacking very liberal but mostly reasonable professors. While a few have been joining Antifa and looking for fainting couches, most have just been keeping their heads down and trying to pick up credits without anyone cancelling them.  We might deplore their courage, but remember they live and die on social media in a way we cannot understand. We could easily stand up to most of those knuckleheads, most of us (not all). They can't. If you are disdainful, consider that you may not feel the same pressure.  I have said jokingly that peer pressure is more intense as an adult because you have chosen those peers, but I meant it. In high school there are groups, and you can pick one and get a bit insulated from the others.  It is much harder for adults to grab isolation from all coworkers, or neighbors, or coreligionists, or other parents in our PTA.

We always said that as they moved into the workplace they would learn better manners, as 90% of every other graduating year since 1965 did. I don't think it has been working quite as well this time. They moved into the workplace and started enforcing the same crazy wokeness. Not all.  90% are sane children we would be glad to take a road trip with, even though they are infected with an initial and reflexive insistence that it's impossible to be in favor of both Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. They can learn, after a few stops at Waffle House on your way out to Pasco, Washington. But because of the internet, the remaining 10% have much greater power now, and that 10% necessarily includes the most pathological, the personality disordered, the socially aspiring, most of whom assume they are the brightest or most moral or both.

That 10% can destroy your 90%, and the 90% know it, though they haven't quite figured it out yet.  They still have only nervousness about them and hatred for you, you bigoted retrograde eugenicist, but they aren't any stupider than we were, and most of us were pretty stupid. But most of those kids will be fine. I do worry about the damage the 10% can do, because I think the internet puts us in a horribly different place now.  The power to destroy is absolute power, as Paul Muad-Dib said. 

The class of 2018 went where? And what will happen now? 

I know the answer to that, and will make the prediction, though at 68 y/o I will not live to see its fulfillment. Who? Whom? 

2014, 2018, 2020, 2022. The online socialisation, in and of itself, may explain more than all our grand historical theories extending into discussion of the French Revolution, or Enlightenment, or Stonewall Rebellion.  The poor kids lived online and their deaths there were real, however much we scoffed.  A few of our generation (at the NYTimes or at Union Theological) tried to survive and a few outran them, but the kids we know went underground with polite woke statement over their shoulders. Have pity and do not criticise behaviors whose pressures we do not know.  I suppose we should at base also pity the perpetrators, responding to demons we have not met ourselves, but start with the innocents first.


David Foster said...

"But because of the internet, the remaining 10% have much greater power now"...I don't think it's the Internet, exactly, but one specific incarnation of the Internet: social media as now constructed.

A question, though: Do those 10% *really* have more power in the social media environment then they had--say, in the form of the Mean Girls Club in a middle school in a small town? Why?

David Foster said...

A friend who is now in her early 40s linked this generational analysis back in 2016:

While the article does mention social media..."the Millennials are permanently wired directly into their whole generation’s collective consciousness via their online social networks"...the analysis is primarily one of repeating cycles.

My friend's comment on primary influence on her X generation: "we were neither cushioned nor helicoptered"

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think it is a fair comparison. In villages and tribes for hundreds of years, the narrow circle around you was the only social enforcement. Americans are used to the idea "Well you can just move someplace else, then," but that has never been the reality for most people.

There is some sense, in the "generationally wired" version your friend notes, that this is not essentially different. While Millennials can point to an added power, but also added defense awareness of knowing this is going to be everywhere, how is that actually different from your village of 300 people you are growing up in? So the New World experience, and especially the American experience, is the real outlier here. I suppose we can say that has extended to the rest of the industrialised world since 1900 or so - the ability to go elsewhere on your own rather than as a part of a group.

But the oppressive judgement of others around you has been a theme of American literature for two centuries. I do see one large difference for the sad children growing up in this now, before adequate cultural defenses have been developed for the fishbowl. If you were a disgraced peasant in 1420, you made your original adjustments and your peace in public, but then could settle into privacy. I think that is socially less available now. Or rather, it is entirely available, but it does not yet occur to the rising generations.

james said...

I wonder if our churches should emphasize fasting more. Evangelical churches seem not to bring the matter up much. What I've heard of liturgical usage suggests that it's easy to make a fast from things you don't care about.