Politics & Policy

Out With The New, in With The Old


It’s awful and it’s evil and it’s irrational. There I said it, and I believe it. But I hate feeling obliged to join the chorus of people who feel compelled to say the obvious. I think one of the reasons people have to declare how horrified they are is that horror is the only easy and simple response. Blame is hard and complex. We are a nation and a people committed to the idea of free will. But we have a culture which believes in impersonal forces. Was it the kids or was it the parents? The culture or the sub-culture? The guns or the desire to use them? These are not merely tough questions, they are unanswerable.

But just because they are unanswerable doesn’t mean the same old answers won’t come from the same old places. The familiar pattern has already begun. Politicians are taking to the floor and the airwaves denouncing Goths, guns, and anything else they can think of that might signify they are more outraged, more caring, more worried than the rest of us. MSNBC almost immediately cut eye-catching promos for its round-the-clock support group with the American people. I’ve stopped counting the refrains of the empathy merchants who say “if only someone reached out and told these kids they were loved, that they were important…”

Well, that’s where I get off. Has it occurred to anybody that the reason kids do this sort of thing is because too many people have told them “they are somebody”? The airwaves are full of experts in adolescent intervention or whatnot. They tell us that kids today need more self-esteem. They need more love. They need to be told “they aren’t alone.”

Who says? Where is the evidence that says these kids needed more hugs rather than a swift, loving, kick in the ass. I’m not trying to downplay the other factors involved in this tragedy. But it seems to me the rise of school shootings tracks the rise in self-esteem mania pretty closely. And, since no one can ever really know why kids turn evil, I think this could bear some scrutiny.

Many — mostly conservatives — want to blame these incidences on single motherhood or working moms. Maybe there’s something there. Others want to blame the lack of quality time with Dad. That sounds plausible too. There’s also the “culture of death” (see Peggy Noonan’s eloquent essay in today’s Wall Street Journal), the video games, rap music, etc., etc. But no one is willing to say what seems to me to be the obvious: These kids need someone to tell them “get over yourself, you’re not that special.”

Kids today are awash in touchy-feely agitprop which says that being different is okay. “I understand where you’re coming from” is the real legacy of the 60s generation. Every single message aimed at kids today says that individuality is the highest virtue; personally defined morality is not only chic, it is required. Much of this comes from the over-sexed Left. If they had their way, government officials would pull babies out of their hospital cribs in order to shake them while saying “it’s okay to be gay, it’s okay to enjoy your body, don’t judge people.”

But there’s a huge problem with all of this. Hannah Arendt once said that with every generation Western civilization is invaded by hordes of barbarians; we call them “children.” Tell a barbarian that “you shouldn’t change for anybody” and guess what? He’s stays a barbarian. If you tell a barbarian that his gripes are legitimate and his outrage is deserved, you’d better make sure that you fix whatever it is that’s pissing him off. That can be tough, considering what pisses him off is usually the entire universe. If you tell him “you have every right to be angry” and the jocks still wedgie him, the cute girls still ignore him, his parents still insist he can’t get a new computer, and his skin is still a mess, well, that kid’s going to explode.

Civilization is supposed to civilize. As the political philosophers James Q. Wilson and Harvey Mansfield have argued, we have gone from a society which idealizes self-restraint to one that idealizes self-expression. With young men, this is a mistake of literally Biblical proportions. Our youth-oriented culture thinks every bad idea a pimply teenager comes up with is authentic because his feelings are so very, very, very, strong. To hell with your feelings. Do your homework.

There’s an old, true, story about a smart-ass Jewish kid who decides he’s an atheist. He tells his rabbi (or his father), “I don’t believe in God anymore.” The rabbi responds, “You think God cares what you think?”

Today we tell kids that not only is it okay not to believe in God anymore, but that if they do, their own “personal definition of spirituality” is far superior to mere “organized religion.” If you can make up your own definition of God, it becomes pretty easy to justify killing people. But if you think God is always watching you with a to-hell-with-your-feelings, do-your-homework attitude, you might just do your homework.

I can still remember by heart a TV “commercial” which ran constantly during Saturday morning cartoons when I was a kid. It had a whole bunch of kids singing “you are the most important person in the whole wide world to you, and you hardly even know you.” Kids suspect this from birth. The trick to civilizing the little barbarians is teaching them almost exactly the opposite lesson.


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