Learning The Generation Gap

David Brooks uses numbers to make the point:

The generation gap is even more powerful when it comes to Republicans. To put it bluntly, young adults hate them.

In 2018, voters under 30 supported Democratic House candidates over Republican ones by an astounding 67 percent to 32 percent. A 2018 Pew survey found that 59 percent of millennial voters identify as Democrats or lean Democratic, while only 32 percent identify as Republicans or lean Republican.

The difference is ideological. According to Pew, 57 percent of millennials call themselves consistently liberal or mostly liberal. Only 12 percent call themselves consistently conservative or mostly conservative. This is the most important statistic in American politics right now.

As has been made clear here many times, the use of the word “liberal” is unfortunate and misleading, albeit understandable. The numbers refer to progressives, not liberals, for whom identity politics is a destructive plague, the intersectional victim hierarchy and loathing of the whites and males for their “privilege” untenable.

But Brooks assumes, as do so many of the loudest and most vociferous screamers on social media, that anyone who doesn’t march to the social justice drummer must be Republican, because what else can they be?

But it’s hard to look at the generational data and not see long-term disaster for Republicans. Some people think generations get more conservative as they age, but that is not borne out by the evidence. Moreover, today’s generation gap is not based just on temporary intellectual postures. It is based on concrete, lived experience that is never going to go away.

What “concrete, lived experience” do 18-year-olds possess that is “never going to go away”? Were we “olds” not all 18 once? Did we not enjoy the irrational exuberance of youth, of believing that we knew it all and no one could tell us otherwise? Were we not invincible, certain to live forever, to make our mark on the world? Until bad things happened, to us, to our loved ones, to our country, to people.

My old pal, Mark Herrmann, once made the point that a distinguishing feature of older folks was experience, that abiding belief of the young that we would somehow avoid the myriad problems we know existed but only happened to other people. We saw how the small chance that things would go wrong eventually came to pass. We saw how hopes and dreams got dashed by forces beyond our control. We learned, often painfully, that bad things did, indeed, happen, and eventually would happen to us.

On the one hand, we came to appreciate Chesterton’s Fence, that there were reasons, even if we weren’t personally aware of them, why things came to exist and that it would behoove us to understand them before tearing them down. On the other hand, our “concrete, lived experience” taught us that as wonderful as lofty aspirations for the goodness and kindness of humanity might be, all of human existence demonstrated that we are an untrustworthy species, inclined to put self-interest first, and even if we were generally altruistic, we were never going to let our children starve for the benefit of others, now referred to as the marginalized, anymore than they would for our sake.

So why now are the young reinventing the fantasy? Are they being indoctrinated into progressive ideology in school? We know that parents have far less impact on how children think, what children believe, than their teachers and peers (and yet we feed them daily and would take a bullet for them, the unappreciative little shits). Do we send our children to learn history and math, and get them back schooled in social justice and socialism, versed in progressive jargon and incapable of critical thought?

Roger Kimball argues that it’s time to let the universities founder and collapse.

Last month at a conference in London, the distinguished British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton added his voice to this chorus when responding to a questioner who complained of the physical ­violence meted out to conservative students at Birkbeck University.

There were two possible responses to this situation, Sir Roger said. One was to start competing institutions, outside the academic establishment, that welcomed conservative voices.

The other possibility was “get rid of universities altogether.”

Not all educational disciplines, of course. We still needed engineers to build bridges.

Sir Roger went on to qualify his recommendation, noting that a modern society required institutions to pursue science and engineering. But the humanities, which at most colleges and universities have devolved into cesspools of identity politics and grievance studies, should be starved of funding and ultimately shut down.

Kimball raises the most flagrant external demonstration of illiberalism in the name of progressivism, the effort to silence dissenting speech on campus that might otherwise bring different ideas to the young, challenge their ideology and the arrogance that they know better than every person who came before them, save Karl Marx.

The revolutionary ­intolerance that has made college campuses so inhospitable to free expression and the impulses of civilization has also deeply affected the woke mandarins of social media and Big Tech. It has made serious inroads into the HR departments of the Fortune 500 and elsewhere in the world of business. And it has insinuated itself into the values and practices of most governmental agencies, many of which have yet to meet a politically correct left-wing cause they do not embrace.

Kimball’s point is that if something is untenable, then it must come to an end. And he argues that we should hasten its demise by starving it of funding.

Thoughtful citizens will want to hasten this process. Their best bet is to pursue strategies to starve Academia Inc. of funds. No public monies should be feeding institutions that claim to be educating students but really are simply indoctrinating them. Parents and alumni, rightly disgusted by what these institutions have done to their children, should refuse to subsidize their perversion.

It may well be true that there are too few grown-ups on campus willing to say “no” to their most radical constituents, or bold enough to buck consumer trends. But facilitating the end of humanities, or a liberal arts education, is no less trying to socially re-engineer society than what illiberal progressives seek to do.

The liberals of a certain age, who support civil rights for all and not just the favored few, may be hated these days for our failure to demand radical rather than organic change, and we are yet again caught in the middle without any political party to reflect our views, but the same Chesterton’s Fence compels us to prevent the tearing down of educational institutions. If they fail on their own, so be it, we should no more aid conservatives doing damage than progressives.

Much as we may despise the same PC Culture of which Kimball complains, we no more adore the death of humanities. Yet again, it’s left to the “olds” to try to keep the kids from learning the hard way that bad things happen despite the best of intentions.

15 thoughts on “Learning The Generation Gap

  1. Richard Kopf


    We tend, all of us, to see the extremes. We think Yale or UC Berkeley. We ought to look more broadly. See Justin Fox, American Students Have Changed Their Majors, Technology & Ideas, Bloomberg (May 9, 2019). It turns out, we old people will not have to starve the humanities to stave off insanity, the kids are doing so on their own accord. Or as the author put it, “the humanities are out.” The bulk of present day American college students may be smarter than we think when it comes to rejecting degrees built upon gibberish.

    All the best.


    1. SHG Post author

      As it should be. I suspect there are a great many young people who aren’t nearly as dumb as they look, but fear the social stigma of not being part of the gang. Then again, they may reject grievance studies degrees until someone opens a big box grievance studies store to provide gainful employment, but what of the narcissism, unwarranted self-esteem and fragility that seems to pervade the young, all of whom live in Lake Wobegon?

      1. Richard Kopf


        My comment does not mean that I don’t hate them. That is an entirely different question.

        You speak of Lake Wobegon. To be clear, I hated Garrison Keillor before it was woke so to do. I don’t care at all about the claim of grab-ass made against him. I just detested the fact that he was carried on NPR radio–where the entire audience is made up of old hippies listening when and only when they dutifully replace the hearing aid batteries when required.

        All the best.


        1. SHG Post author

          Obviously, playing rock music loud for so many years was going to have an impact on one’s hearing.

  2. B. McLeod

    It’s actually going to be a long term disaster for everyone. These kids are also mostly coasting along with no life plan and putting nothing in savings. They lean Democratic because they are going to need the gub’mint to take care of them.

    1. SHG Post author

      For too many, their “superpower” is to complain and blame, rather than solve the difficulties they face in achieving a successful life. They, of course, blame us “olds” for ruining everything.

      1. B. McLeod

        Well, I suspect once they have established the new order, where everybody tries to ride the wagon while nobody pulls it, that will prove to have some problems too. They really need somebody like Hobson to tell them, “Arthur, it is time for you to grow up.”

  3. John Neff

    It has been 60 years since C. P. Snow gave his speech and things have continued to deteriorate. A university without humanities departments is effectively a trade school. I think the problem is that the humanities departments hired the wrong people. However, if you start a purge how do you stop it?

    1. SHG Post author

      Did they hire the wrong people, or let people inclined to their most radical impulses have their way without limitation? Seems that the rad profs today were schooled in more standard humanities in their day, but feel no compulsion to pass their own education along rather than re-invent it to their indulgent sense of newer, better, more radical education.

      1. John Neff

        This has been going on for decades and the people hiring the wrong people now were the wrong people when they were hired.

        1. Noxx

          “A university without humanities departments is effectively a trade school”

          God forbid right? If people spent their parents hard earned money to learn useful and productive skills, who knows what sort of monstrous society we might engender?

          Do I look like the king of Denmark to you?

          1. SHG Post author

            There’s nothing wrong with a trade school, but there’s nothing wrong with an education in classics either. Somebody has to explain modern art relative to Kierkegaard, amirite?

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