Sunday, March 16, 2014


A recent Pew poll says that millennials don't have a lot of trust in institutions, and Ross Douthat is sad:
IN the future, it seems, there will be only one "ism" -- Individualism -- and its rule will never end. As for religion, it shall decline; as for marriage, it shall be postponed; as for ideologies, they shall be rejected; as for patriotism, it shall be abandoned; as for strangers, they shall be distrusted. Only pot, selfies and Facebook will abide -- and the greatest of these will probably be Facebook.

... A new Pew survey, the latest dispatch from the land of young adulthood, describes a generation that's socially liberal on issues like immigration and marijuana and same-sex marriage, proudly independent of either political party, less likely to be married and religious than earlier generations, less likely to identify as patriotic and less likely -- by a striking margin -- to say that one's fellow human beings can be trusted.

... The common denominator is individualism ... it explains both the personal optimism and the social mistrust, the passion about causes like gay marriage and the declining interest in collective-action crusades like environmentalism, even the fact that religious affiliation has declined but personal belief is still widespread.
Is individualism really the problem here, as Douthat believes? Or do the members of this generation simply have less faith in political parties, churches, and America itself because they have no memory of a time when these institutions seemed worthy of their trust? And if they don't trust one another, is that innate mistrust? Or is it the result of a hypercompetitiveness bred into them by a society that has upscale kids in a Hobbesian war with one another almost from birth, while the downmarket kids see all the opportunity heading elsewhere as the broad middle class disappears?

Under Obama, millennials can't get jobs and can't pay off student loans, and their parents have been struggling financially for years -- but millennials didn't exactly see their elders thrive even during the supposedly better days of the Bush presidency, when the only way a non-rich person could get an extra sliver of the pie was by tapping into what turned out to be hyperinflated home equity. America's military might was more or less useless under Bush, and it's not much use under Obama. Churches, then and now, were overpoliticized and scandal-plagued. D.C. has been reduced to permanent dysfunction by a cabal of nihilists -- we know they're Republicans, though most millennials probably assume, because they're constantly told this, that "both sides do it."

Maybe millennials think institutions suck because institutions suck.

Douthat suggests that there's the potential for a turn to fascism here. He cites the conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet:
Trying to explain modern totalitarianism's dark allure, Nisbet argued that it was precisely the emancipation of the individual in modernity -- from clan, church and guild -- that had enabled the rise of fascism and Communism.

In the increasing absence of local, personal forms of fellowship and solidarity, he suggested, people were naturally drawn to mass movements, cults of personality, nationalistic fantasias. The advance of individualism thus eventually produced its own antithesis -- conformism, submission and control.
Douthat seems to think that the online world, with its sacrifice of privacy, already is a sort of fascism, which is just bizarre. But I actually think fascism could eventually be what Americans turn to.

I say this not because Americans have an insatiable spiritual hunger for community that's being crushed by a mechanized ethos, or whatever the hell Douthat is saying. I think fascism might, someday soon, appear to offer a way out to a society for whom traditional politics and economics have offered absolutely nothing. We have a major party that allows the have-nots to keep losing (including, now, the middle class) and another major political party that wants the have-nots to lose much faster. Our economic overlords now consider any gains by the middle class and poor to be thoroughly unacceptable. If traditional politics offers most Americans nothing forever, sooner or later the guy who wants to send intellectuals or certain ethnic groups or certain sexual minorities to camps might start to seem pretty appealing. That's my fear, not an unsatisfied thirst for belonging.


Victor said...

I'd prefer a French-style Revolution, to living in some Theocratic Fascist Plutocracy.

But, with the Republicans, they don't want people to unify via class, but would prefer they take up the hate, fear, and nationalism of Fascism.

We are THIS close to Fuhrer Cruz, or Paul, Walker, or - well, it's a long-ass list, so I'll spare everyone.

aimai said...

I don't think Douthat *is* really sad about the information that millenials are (as he glosses it) individualistic and not respectful or fond of institutions. Its more of a pre- "I told you so" because he can't discover them more religious and more trusting of authority. Douthat believes as a matter of course that individuals should subordinate themselves to the church--to one specific church--and to a particular form of authoritarian, conservative, family ideology. Anything that tells him that today's youth aren't doing that is cause for concern, but it doesn't make him sad because preaching disaster about the failings of youth is his real metier--his real goal.

If the millenials were as gullible and as conservative and reactionary as Douthat is, or wants them to be, he'd be delighted--but they'd be just as close to slipping into fascism and the clutches of a fascist theocracy as he seems to think they are now. For Douthat the very word "individualism" is already tainted. Its evil. And the freedom of conscience and of experience celebrated by millenials is, to him, a very scary thing. So he predicts they (and we) will be punished by it. But he prefers to see people punished for getting it wrong since it proves him right to be wailing all the time. So I don't think he's sad so much as smug about it.

Victor said...

As usual, you hit the nail on the head!!!
Brooks, and his Mini-Bobo, Douche-hat, are "smug."

"Smug," is the perfect word!

And, love ya!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ron Beasley said...

Once again Douthat proves he is clueless and overpaid. You hit the nail on the head but it's not just the millenials. I'm 68 and have not have any faith in institutions for 50 years - Vietnam probably had something to do with that.

Mark said...

Nothing says he has his finger on the pulse of the youth of today like this quote: "and the greatest of these will probably be Facebook."

Jules said...

Substitute "White Heterosexual Christian Men" for "Institutions" and you understand why Ross is so Concerned.

sdhays said...

Mark - That stood out to me as well. At first, I thought it was a joke...