Back in the Jurassic, adolescence was all about rebellion.
I’m not talking sex drugs ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll either. I mean the kind of natural, healthy, normal rebellion every kid goes through as part of his natural, healthy, normal process of identity-formation. Mom and Dad are, by definition, stodgy old folks who aren’t “with it,” or whatever the kids say now. Parents just don’t understand, as one of the great philosophers of our time once said.
Back in the Jurassic, responsible adults understood that. One of caregivers’ main jobs is giving kids a safe, stodgy, boring identity to bounce off of. Good teachers, for example, treated a preppie like a preppie, a jock like a jock, a metalhead like a metalhead — not because she endorsed any of those subcultures, but because she knew that for that kid, at that particular time, actually being a jock, preppie, metalhead, whatever, was the most important thing in the world. Kids aren’t versed in the arcana of heavy metal music because they like metal — metal is deeply unlikable music, made by savvy marketing geniuses who know exactly what they’re doing.
Being a metalhead (preppie, jock, cheerleader, whatever) is a port in the storm, a channel for adolescent angst. Done right, and with proper guidance — the ancient Sumerian word for this, I’m told, is “fa-ther” — all this identity-hopping is a process of differential diagnosis: I am not this; therefore I must be that. Getting over this process, dialing in a core identity, is what we used to call “growing up.”
The problem is, we don’t have adolescent subcultures anymore. Oh, sure, there are still kids around who kinda look like metalheads, and some who ape some of the mannerisms of preppies, and so on, but I have met very few college kids — and I have met a LOT of college kids — who have any idea of who they actually are.
Today’s kids are raised self esteem uber alles, with two awful effects: First, they’re just plain boring. If nobody’s different from anybody and everyone’s the best at everything, as Principal Skinner once said, then what’s the point of expressing a preference or indulging a quirk? The dark side of this, of course, is that wrongthink is immediately, ruthlessly punished…. and wrongthink changes daily. Chanting today’s catechism tomorrow might well get you burned for heresy.
Back in my day, wrongthink was the whole point of those adolescent subcultures. Being an asshole to other groups, and having them be reciprocal assholes to your group, was literally — literally, Millennials, literally! — the only reason to be a metalhead, skater, jock, whatever. You knew you were posing; outgropuing a different set of poseurs was how you validated your identity… until one day you realized that we all pose, and that’s ok, because “posing” as a software engineer, plumber, professor, customer service specialist, whatever is just a set of conventions with which to navigate social life. It’s not YOU — you’re not a Customer Service Specialist, now, always, and only, any more than you were a metalhead back in sophomore year.
Take that away, and you get today’s campus Mao-lings, screaming personality-less nihilist fanatics who have no idea what they’re protesting or why. Ironically, they’ve been trained by identity politics to see a stable identity as literally — literally, Millennials, literally!!! — the worst kind of thoughtcrime.
As the Z Man says, this won’t end well.