There has been a rash of Special Snowflakes on campuses, and the more absurd stories make waves in the news with everyone outside the campus bubble shaking their heads.
Not enough attention is placed on the ridiculous systems that before any campus shaped hyper-politically-correct SJWs by betraying the ideals young people were raised to believe. While we should rightly call back to reason misguided students, we should also understand what produces Special Snowflakes.
The real reason university students become Special Snowflakes is because they’re going through a time in their lives where they’re becoming aware of the world’s bullshit, and they’ve been given both the critical thinking and voting tools to do something about it. Except when students realize how little power they actually have in the real world they lash out at what’s within their reach: the campus.
Except students are by definition inexperienced and lack power, and that is more important for understanding what is happening than any long-winded denunciation of the nanny state or Keynes or something.
Yet right-wing pundits can have a field day lumping misguided SJWs and anything vaguely striving for a better world in the same idiot boat but here are reasons other than insulting platitudes about attendance awards and liberal arts that has led to universities producing this phenomenon of hyper-identification and political correctness.
“Political correctness” is a term coined to slag liberals, but examples of its extremes do occur. They are an overshoot of the rage felt by young people against a world that’s indeed full of bullshit. Just like the Wars on Terror or Drugs, sometimes the reaction to scourges undoes the good intentions.
Make no mistake, there are good examples of political correctness run amok and fevered activism taking over campuses like at Evergreen College. At Evergreen, students targeted biology prof Bret Weinstein for refusing to take part in a Day of Absence exercise that got reversed so that instead of people of colour staying off campus to display the impact that would have, white people were told to stay home.
Weinstein disagreed with this on grounds that “The first is a forceful call to consciousness, which is, of course, crippling to the logic of oppression. The second is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.”
Students harassed Weinstein for supporting racism and white supremacy. Campus police told him to stay away for his own safety.
This was misguided mob mentality for sure, but look at the system that produced them.
Our K-12 education system was created for the Industrial Revolution. It was a system literally built to supply labour to assembly lines in factories. What society has done was put expectations that education could maximize the individual potential of students to be good entrepreneurs or responsible citizens or less gullible consumers. But the original purpose was to create obedient workers.
Reforming our schools isn’t as easy as changing what units are taught, either. Like educator phenom Ken Robinson says: “The problem is, [schools are] trying to meet the future by doing what they did in the past. And on the way they are alienating millions of kids who don’t see any purpose in going to school.”
We’re teaching kids to hate education.
And kids are no slouches to sniffing out the bullshit of adults. Young people realize, even if the ideas are not fully formed or articulated, that there’s an inherent hypocrisy with how adults say the world is and ought to be, and how adults actually act when they think no one’s watching.
Where Millennials were taught to be good economic contributors in school, they were not taught about civics as a matter of group problem-solving, or politics as a competition for power. And without these vital rules of engaging in politics constructively without tribal ego, we wind up dehumanizing those we disagree with.
The Cold War is still culturally with us in that it made tribes out of something as fallible and flawed as opinions, and American campuses are battlegrounds for this larger culture war, just minus the sober thinking required to make it respectable.
America has zero popular platforms for evidence-based debate. People lauded Twitter for going from 140 to 280 characters. That’s not a good sign for political discourse, that’s an indictment of how low our standards have become.
At the end of that K-12 assembly line is another four years of school just for the chance to participate in the economy’s immense wealth. The cost of education is staggering. When that student at Yale brow-beated the prof in a painful video for not making Yale their “home”, well… look how much money is spent on school? Student debt is over $1.3 trillion in the US. For that kind of money I’d want my university to feel like home too.
The sense of betrayal manifests as rebellion. Society raised young people on a mythology their country was about freedom and service. Think of the many news stories, or your own connections where institutions deeply failed people because of lazy, indifferent bureaucracies and toxic greed. The betrayal young people feel when they’re given the critical tools to deconstruct their society is very real, because the bullshit is very real.
In a 2013 article in Foreign Policy, sci-fi writer Charles Stross describes how Generations Y and Z were raised to believe in glaringly hypocritical institutions. Employers are no longer loyal to their employees, yet expect loyalty their way. Institutions that preach one thing and practice another doesn’t go unnoticed. Stross writes:
We human beings are primates. We have a deeply ingrained set of cultural and interpersonal behavioral rules that we violate only at social cost. One of these rules, essential for a tribal organism, is bilaterality: Loyalty is a two-way street.
Young people know they won’t ever enjoy careers and safety nets and social mobility as generations before could. Institutions like the Pentagon are hiring Millennial contractors who are running face-first into a hypocritical system and they are rebelling through whistle-blowing and leaks.
As former CIA head Michael Hayden said in one interview in 2017: “In order to do this kind of stuff [government surveillance], we have to recruit from a certain demographic. And I don’t mean to judge them at all, but this group of millennials and related groups simply have different understandings of the words loyalty, secrecy, and transparency than certainly my generation did.”
These young people came from somewhere, and they now have tools to say “fuck that” when the structures they inhabit and interact with fail to live up to their own stated values. They’re given voting rights and a chance to change their immediate surroundings through student and campus politics.
That young people would seek refuge from the world’s bullshit and try to exert control and make right what they are experiencing and feeling at a time when their inexperience is made up for in idealism, sounds about right, actually.
Treating Special Snowflakism as liberal disease misreads the cause. Bemoaning its symptoms accomplishes nothing. The prescription will surely not be demonization. But let’s recognize why campuses produce Special Snowflakes to really start dealing with it.