Kids These Days, Bauerlein and Will Style

Beware cranky old men complaining about kids these days. Surely George F. Will, a renowned (conservative) political commentator, knows better.

Washington Post, George F. Will, 8 July 2022: How millennials became aggressively illiberal, censorious young adults

Will recalls a 14-year-old book, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30), in which author Mark Bauerlein, according to Will,

anticipated that millennials were going to become “unsatisfied and confused” adults, bereft of the consolations of a cultural inheritance, which is unavailable to nonreaders. They would be gripped by the furies of brittle people bewildered by encounters with disagreement, which they find inexplicable. And by the apocalyptic terrors that afflict frustrated utopians, the only kind there is.

Now the author has a new book, The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults, and of course Will agrees with Bauerlein that he was right, and wasn’t/isn’t just another “’kids these days’ scold.”

But you can see that part of what Bauerlein, and Will, are criticizing is progressive values, not just the kids. (Because progressive values are gaining?) Look at this whine:

Hence the youthful millions who are sour, humorless and disappointed — with America, and everything else less perfect than they. They are fluent in the thin-gruel cant (diversity, inclusion, equity, anti-racism, antipatriarchy, antiheteronormativity, etc.) of ostensibly political but actually just emotionally satisfying performative demands.

What does Will approve of? Apparently familiarity with history and literature.

Abundant data confirm that they have read remarkably little. As Bauerlein says, unacquainted with literature, they are content with cliches. Ignorant of history, and hence of political possibilities, they cultivate bitter victimhood.

But this is true, it seems to me, of most people (ignorant of history and literature) and of Christians in particular (bitter victimhood).

In a flattened world drained of greatness, today’s steep decline of humanities majors among undergraduates is a lagging indicator of lack of interest in humanity’s lessons learned on the path to the present.

Boo-hoo. Will surely knows that people predicted the collapse of cultural values when distracted by radio. Then movies. Then TV. Not to mention comic books, for the kids. Then video games, for the kids. Social media is just the current phase of panic by elders about the youngers.

The scolds complained about books novels too, way back when they become popular in the early 19th century. Distractions from conduct in proper society, and so on. What would Will have thought about then?

I think the thesis here has a certain amount of truth, but it’s not because of social media per se. It’s because of how social media has enabled so many people (not just young ones) to live within social media bubbles, as have so many rural residence resided in small monocultural towns. The latter has been true forever. The smart ones, or the ones uncomfortable living in a monoculture, move away, or discover books, while most of the population never becomes familiar with literature or history and simply lives their lives. That’s how it’s always been; that’s how human culture works.

On the other hand…  I see a certain number of TikTok videos, not because I look at the site, but because they appear in my Facebook as “reels.” Some are the usual cat videos, but many are guys just flexing their muscles, or young people showing off their outfits, or engaged in little skits. And about most of them I wonder, don’t they have anything better to do?

But what were equivalent kids doing 20 or 30 years ago? Probably not reading classic literature.

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