Editor’s Note: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear Reader (Especially all of you Bachelor Fans),
Like the list of reasons why protectionism is a good idea, I have to keep this short.
This week, I wrote a column for USA Today about the stupidity of youth politics. There were many dumb reactions. Of course, this is to be expected. As King Leonidas might say if he were the ruler of a social-media platform, “This is Twitter!”
Still it’s been a rather remarkable experience watching people freak out over such an obviously correct point.
In fact, I thought I inoculated myself from the more ridiculous accusations in advance. But alas, what I thought was a feature of my column was for some its fatal flaw.
LOL. I'm sorry I didn't write the piece you wanted me to write. I'm also sorry you can't handle a fairly humble and simple argument about how we treat youth in the culture. https://t.co/nn8fPmzr1v
— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) March 8, 2018
I’ve been writing about the inanity and jackassery of generational stereotyping and youth politics for literally 25 years, going all the way back to when I was a young twentysomething. But, apparently, that argument cannot be made independent of the Parkland kids because, in this moment, they are speaking for all youth and therefore, thanks to the transitive property of generational numinosity, any criticism of young people qua young people is “attacking” the Gun Control Youth League. Never mind that young people are as divided on the issue of gun control as everyone else.
It’s a funny analogue to the crap I get from some Trump supporters who think that I’ve changed since his rise. I’ve been against sexual depravity, protectionism, populism, industrial policy, orange-tinted skin, executive overreach, etc. for decades. Then Trump comes along, I keep saying the same things, and, suddenly, I get all of this “What happened to you?!”
So let me try this a different way: Nothing in the passages that follow is in any way, shape, or form negative commentary or invidious insinuation about the Parkland students. They are right about everything, no matter the subject.
I would even stipulate that no youths from Florida are ever wrong about anything and that their sagacity and good conduct should never be doubted or gainsaid. But, then again, I can only ask so much willing disbelief from my readers. Regardless, seriously, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the Parkland kids or even the issue of gun control.
Youth Politics Are Stupid
Let’s establish a baseline. I assume we can all agree that everyone is born remarkably dumb. Ever try to talk about the causes of the First World War with a newborn? So frustrating.
There are few things more settled in science than the fact that humans start out not very bright or informed and that this condition only wears off over time — i.e., as they get older.
Only slightly more controversial: Young people tend to be more emotional than grown-ups. This is true of babies, who will cry about the silliest things (hence the word, “crybaby”). But it’s also true of teenagers.
Again, this is not string theory. We know these things. And the idea that I must provide empirical evidence for such a staggeringly obvious point is hilarious to me.
Aside from all the social science, medical science, novels, plays, poems, musicals, and movies that explore this fact, there is another source we can consult on this: ourselves.
Every not-currently-young person reading this “news”letter has one thing in common: We were all young once.
This is what I mean when I say that “youth politics are the laziest form of identity politics.” Say what you will for racial-identity politics, there’s at least a superficial case that such identities are immutable. I can never be a black woman. And before everyone gets clever, even if I dropped a lot of coin on cosmetic surgery, I can never claim to know what it’s like to be a black woman.
You know what I can claim, though? Knowing what it’s like to be young. Sure, I can’t claim to know what it’s like to be young in 2018, but as the father of a 15-year-old, I’m not wholly ignorant on the topic either. On the other hand, my 15-year-old has no clue what it was like to be young in the 1980s.
And that’s why youth politics are such a lazy form of identity politics. (It’s also why generational stereotypes are lazy.) Here’s a news flash for you: There was no “Greatest Generation.” The dudes who stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima and Normandy: badasses and heroes, to a man. The dudes back home in the drunk tank on D-Day? Not so much.
This is what I hate about all forms of identity politics. It’s an effort to get credit or authority based upon an accident of birth. The whole point of liberalism (the real kind) is the idea that people are supposed to be judged on the basis of their own merits, not as representatives of some class or category. Of course, one needn’t be absolutist about this. A little pride in your culture or ethnicity won’t do any harm. But reducing individuals simply to some abstract category is the very definition of bigotry.
There is no transitive property to age. If a 17-year-old cures cancer, that’s fantastic. But the 17-year-old who spends his days huffing glue and playing Call of Duty is still a loser. I’m a Gen Xer. I take literally zero pride in the good things people my age do. I also have zero shame about the terrible things people my age do. Why? Because age is as dumb a thing as height or hair color to hitch your self-esteem to. What kind of loser looks back on a life of mediocrity and sloth and says to himself, “Well at least other people in my age cohort did great things!”?
This is what I hate about all forms of identity politics. It’s an effort to get credit or authority based upon an accident of birth.
And yet, we constantly invest special virtue in young people. As Socrates explained to Meno, there are no special virtues for young people. There are simply virtues. If a young person says that 2 + 2 = 4, that’s no more right or wrong than if an old person says so. The bravery of one 18-year-old does not negate the cowardice of another 18-year-old.
And that gets me to the next of my supposedly outrageous points: Older people know more than younger people. I’ve been stunned by the number of people offended by this. A lot of folks are getting hung up on the fact that young people know more about some things than older people. Fair enough. The average young person knows more about today’s youth culture and gadgets than the average fogey. My daughter can identify the noise coming out of my car radio. When I was a kid, it was running joke that grown-ups couldn’t figure out how to make the VCR stop flashing “12:00.” It never dawned on me that knowing how to fix that problem meant I knew more about politics than my dad.
This isn’t just a point about technological know-how or public policy. There’s an emotional narcissism to youth. Because a rich cocktail of hormones courses through teenagers’ still-developing brains, young people think they are the first people to experience a range of emotions. But we’ve all experienced those emotions. It’s just that when you experience them for the first time, it’s easy to think it’s the first time anyone has experienced such emotions. The first time you fall in love — or think you’ve fallen in love — as a teenager is a wildly intoxicating thing. And there’s nothing more infuriating than when old people tell you, “It’s just a phase.” That, however, doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Indeed, “You just don’t get it!” might as well be the motto of youth.
This isn’t just a point about technological know-how or public policy.
My objection to youth politics is simply one facet of my objection to identity politics — but it’s also a part of my objection to populism. That’s because youth politics is a form of populism. It claims that passion and the group are more important than reason and the individual. It is the passion of the crowd. And when grown-ups bow before the rising generation, it is a form of power-worship. “Children are the future!” is literally true in the sense that they will be alive after the rest of us are dead. But that does not absolve the rest of us from our responsibilities. Nor does it negate arguments that young people don’t want to hear.
Various & Sundry
Animal Update: The Dingo still has a hot spot on her paw, which requires long stretches in the Cone of Shame. I have every confidence that if Zoë had thumbs, the first thing she would do after taking it off is murder me in my sleep or, at the very least, put the cone on me. Beyond that, the canines are fine (and the Dingo doesn’t have to wear the cone outside, because when she’s on the hunt she doesn’t lick her paw).Though Zoë is now a member of the #MeToo movement because her boyfriend Ben goosed her inappropriately.
Meanwhile, I had adventures with the felines. The cats (the good one, Gracie, and my wife’s, Ralph) had a vet appointment this week. But the Fair Jessica and my daughter couldn’t make it, so it fell to me to get both cats in the carriers. Gracie, because she is the sweetest kitty in the world, had no problem getting in it. In fact, she walked in herself (though she was a bit perturbed when the metal door clanged shut behind her). Then there’s Ralph. I have not picked up that cat once in the last four or five years — because he will not let me. I found Ralph, and he even let me pet him. But when I tried to pick him up, he became a horror-movie cat, hissing and scratching. I got him down the stairs holding the scruff of his neck tight. But when I got about five inches from the carrier, he performed a physically impossible inverted backflip. He then leapt onto my chest and climbed up my torso like I was a tree, and then jumped off my shoulder, leaving me to take Gracie to the vet by herself. I am almost certain I caught Zoë laughing as she watched from deep within her cone.
The latest Remnant, with Christine Rosen is out. We had a grand time.
And now, the weird stuff.