The “Dumbest Generation” has finally grown up

The “Dumbest Generation” has finally grown up. By Jeffrey Polet.

Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation Grows Up … is not an elderly screed that complains about kids these days. Bauerlein deftly weaves together personal experience, trenchant observations, and a host of social scientific studies to bolster his claim that the central problem of higher education reflects the fact that we have “cut the young off from a living past,” with the result that they’ve been deprived “of a profound and stabilizing understanding of life, of themselves.” …

The young generation is “dumb” not only in the sense that their cultural ignorance is so profound they don’t realize it, but in the second sense that their capacity to speak is muted by their inability to blend their voices with those of the past, in particular the deep and rich sounds of Western arts and letters. …

The canon wars of the 1980s have yielded the predictable outcome: Students from that time period are now standing mute in front of the classroom because they were on the losing end of those wars. Even if these instructors thought it was a good idea to hand on the best of the past, they wouldn’t be able to do so because they themselves are ignorant of it. The average reader would be shocked, for example, at how few political scientists have ever read a word of Aristotle, or how few Social Justice Warriors are familiar with Plato’s Republic. Worse still are the literature professors who — let’s be blunt here — hate literature. If they could even be bothered to read Moby Dick, it would only be as the canvas upon which they could paint their discontent. You can’t love what you don’t know, and the fact is that most faculty don’t know their own cultural patrimony, and so it becomes that much easier to hate it.

In the meantime, they’ve passed on to the next generation the pathological symptoms of such disconnect: a tendency to resort to slogans and jargon that are not so much acts of thinking as substitutes for it; a smug self-righteousness that reflects a lack of cultivated imagination; an inability to see complexity in human beings or events; a related quasi-Manichean conception of good and evil whereby one assumes that one’s own motives are pure.

 

 

This is what happens when we have “deprived the young of the knowledge and the acumen that men and women rightly possess, the exposure to human nature up and down the scale of good and evil, beauteous and vulgar, smart and stupid, to strange times and faraway places, acts of heroism and disloyalty, the most eloquent words and sublime sounds and perceptive images” …

The cause for the fragility and lack of humor of the young finds it roots in the simple fact that “they haven’t read enough literature.” If they had, they’d regard others “as real people having actual thoughts and doing real things.” They’d have the moral imagination to have already “roamed through love and hate” and to have “tried out courage and cowardice” and to realize what it would have meant to “have helped some and betrayed others.” They’d see other persons multidimensionally rather than unidimensionally. They’d abandon the ad hominem approach they often resort to once great literature forms them “to accept a tragic condition you’d rather not accept.” Good literature demands the kind of self-reflection that dissolves self-righteousness. …

Even books assigned in the primary or secondary schools typically attempt to satisfy an ideological desire rather than being notable for the skill of execution and their existential depths … Were students exposed early on to such reading, it “would have made Millennials happier adults by exposing them to a richer collection of motives and experiences and personalities” and “enhanced their cognitive empathy” and increased “the recognition of impulses outside [their] personal experience.”

Seems right. Brought up and educated by an ideological left, this latest generation of young adults is mostly bereft of the lessons and richness of what humanity has learned in the preceding millennia. Ground zero children. Cultural savages.