We’re in trouble… or maybe the die is already cast, in which case we’re beyond trouble and deep in the garbage dump.
Our young people, as was borne in upon me this past week, gather virtually all of their news from… not CNN, not Yahoo’s sidebars, not Facebook, but… Twitter. Yeah. Virtually everything they know about the world comes to them in bursts that cannot exceed 240 characters.
Either that, or they tune in to unfunny puppet shows staged by the Kimmel buffoon and whoever succeeded what’s-his-name’s mock newscast. (Sorry… but I’ve never watched any such fare and don’t care enough about its purveyors to track down their handles.) After all these years of hearing that the professoriate was responsible for radicalizing and lobotomizing our youth, I now realize (and I had long suspected as much) that it really ain’t so: students are too absorbed in their “smartphones” to be programmed by any professorial bloviation. It is through the incoherent flickers of those devices, precisely, that they see and “learn” everything.
I had dismissed several classes of freshmen (or “beginning undergraduates”) for one class meeting so that they could go research a project, though I showed up at the usual place and time myself just in case some few should wish to discuss any issue informally. Much to my satisfaction, two of my most thoughtful students were waiting in an otherwise empty room during two of these periods. So I had two stimulating private conversations… whose lasting impression on me, nevertheless, was quite depressing. Here is some of what I “learned”:
That all CEO’s everywhere have simply pocketed Trump’s tax breaks for businesses in the form of salary increases;
That private industry operates only to maximize short-term profit, whereas the public sector is staffed by people who are dedicated to helping humanity;
That the rightwing fear of gun legislation’s proving a slippery slope toward universal confiscation is mere paranoia, whereas the progression from gay marriage to man-boy and three-party marriages now evident in Germany can simply not be happening (though I’m the one who actually reads German, my sources must be wrong);
That the NRA is massively underwriting political resistance to new gun bans, whereas the talk of George Soros’s underwriting the race riots in Jefferson (for instance) is an utter canard;
That the NRA donated three million dollars to Marco Rubio last year (the leftist Guardian puts the figure at $4,950);
That the Second Amendment was intended only to put meat on the table back in frontier days;
That shooting a spray of bullets into a crowd is essentially the source of all our mass-murder incidents, and that well-aimed single shots are not a concern;
That, contradictorily, Britain’s ban of handguns has eliminated school shootings and should be emulated;
That Britain had a rash of such shootings before the ban;
That the machete attacks in Xinjiang province a few days ago which killed at least thirty and wounded over 130… wait a minute… say what?
I could go on. These, I repeat, were two exceptionally intelligent young men. You see what’s happened: not that some evil conspiracy has filled young skulls with mush, but that the accidental result of our massive shift to e-communication has bred a generation that hasn’t the patience to double-check dubious assertions and shows an insatiable appetite for prepackaged info-morsels, especially when these latter are soaked in a worldly cynicism sure to make their regurgitation sound “mature”.
For some reason which I’m at a loss to understand, my Facebook page has lately been bombarded with “friend requests” by Nigerians, Arabs, and residents south of our national border. Am I becoming big in the Third World, I asked myself (skeptically but hopefully)? Well, if Americans don’t want to listen to me, I’m only too happy to preach elsewhere. Then this morning the truth (or part of it, at least) came crashing down on me. Most of my requests come from young people—and most of these are trying to hook up with someone. No, they’re not interested in my columns; they’re doing what my students do during class—looking for love and adventure. And in that, too, they are utterly clueless.
My friends, I leave you with this cold gust of grim reality. Any course we attempt to chart into the future must assume that the youngest generation of voters is held thrall by utter claptrap (e.g., the young libertarian enthusiasm for socialist Bernie Sanders). If we save them, it will have to be done in spite of their best efforts to destroy us all. We’ll have to hide the lifeboats somewhere… obviously, not on the Internet.