I am a Millenial, Generation Y, whatever you want to call it. I was born in the early 1980s and grew up with the internet, freedom of the 90s and liberalism of the 2000s. It is this liberalism that is causing a problem, and not because it is progressive. Liberalism and progressive ideologies is an alright thing by itself and although I am more of a socialist at heart, I can see the logic behind it. But the problem with liberalism is not liberalism or progressiveness, it is how people embrace it.
The idea that we should all be equal and free to practice our beliefs and ideas without oppression is indeed a noble goal. It is the basis for some of the most powerful countries on Earth, including my own. Countries like Britain, the USA, Canada, Australia, France, they all embody the liberal dream in a way that may be denied by many but is there. Liberalisation brought freedom for women, slaves, and gays (I couldn’t think of a word for women that rhymed) and by dong so brought great wealth to those countries by freeing up intelligent and productive people to push their ideas into products that benefited everyone. Liberalism also freed up economies to expand into a weapon of expansion of those countries, allowing them to increase prosperity to their people, albeit often at the detriment of others. One can argue that Liberalism has altered the world greatly in the past 400 years, and sometimes for the better.
However, there is a movement that has always been sitting alongside Liberalism that sits on a knife edge, the problem of disagreement. Disagreement is not a problem by itself, it is the process f discussion and development. Without disagreement, you get stagnation and developmental freeze. With disagreement, you get new ideas and development. Liberalism helps feed disagreement by allowing those of other beliefs and ideologies to voice their opinion, thus encouraging change and development. However, disagreement does become a problem when the people who are disagreeing never learn how to deal with that disagreement.
Enter the modern world.
In the modern world, specifically the world of long distance communication, we now have the ability to argue without concern of social implications. We can voice our opinion clearly and openly to many millions. If anything this should be a boon to liberalism, manna from heaven. But it actually has the opposite effect. And this is because communication works both ways, it requires a speaker AND a listener.
Two hundred years ago if I stood on a street corner and vocalised my opinions then I left myself open to criticism, the idea of a forum of opinion was one of the great developments in history. People could choose to not listen, but that was not easy. The person was still there and you still had to pass by to do your work. These public speakers were not usually hidden away in a corner of the city, they were not in a back street or behind closed doors. As a walker on the street, you had to listen.
A public forum is one thing, the internet is another though. If you do not want to listen to me then you can read the title and move on to something else, likely some people already did that, but that means that you remain in a single ideology and are not faced with the dilemma of questioning your beliefs. This ability of the internet world to ignore those that they want to means they are never concerned about being offended…
And now you might see where I am going.
They are said to shut down anyone they find offensive to their opinion, especially those of the left. This is a huge criticism that I have to agree is becoming highly common in public spaces. The thing I rarely see noted is why this generation is suddenly like this. it is not like generations before them had different views, left wing liberals are all too common in history, and yet they regularly engaged in debate and discourse without shutting down the opposition… at least most of the time anyway.
But the current generation has become offended and aggressive because they simply never learned to deal with those voices of opposition. They have learned that if they encounter a distressing idea that they disagree with then they shut down, walk out, and click “unfriend” or “see less of X’s posts”.
If I disagree with someone’s posts then I indeed have every right to not read them, but I must be aware that that person holds that opinion, even if I disagree. So how do I deal with that disagreement?Do I dig a hole and hide from it,
- Do I dig a hole and hide from it, ignoring their posts in future and hide from them?
- Or do I learn how to accept that others have a different opinion to me?
It is obvious from how things are developing in Millenials that the former option is what my generation has been doing, either because of overprotective parents, or because of an active choice.
I would argue the parents did not expose their children to the harsh realities of debate and cognitive dissonance. I see it still in some parents who are afraid their child might be exposed to the hurt and distress that can come with a debate. This could easily be equated to the concern their child might trip in the playground and scrape a knee. A child that does not ever get hurt will never learn to deal with that hurt and stand up for themselves. When a child struggles to confront serious issues face on then running from them does not solve the issue, it just segregates it.
I see this a lot in Australia where parents are afraid of certain curricula (ie. sexuality, or religion, or both) being taught in schools as if teaching it will somehow corrupt them, yet seem happy to engage students with ideologies that they themselves espouse because… they are right are they not? However, is it not the avoidance of challenging student beliefs that have led to the problem now faced by society in the form of Millenials? Do not the same people that argue against the inclusion of certain curricula in schools actually encourage the isolation and inability to converse constructively that is claimed to plague Millenials?
Think back two hundred years, even four hundred years, when educated people were challenged in their beliefs by alternate ideas. This was the age when we moved on to great achievements in schience and technology. They had to read literature from people with vastly different ideologies to themselves… and they often rejected them. But they read it. When we omit a piece of literature from education because we find it offensive then we are not developing, we are stagnating. Perhaps it is time to challenge children with the variety of ideologies, with the understanding that the way we are is not the only way, that the person sitting next to them may disagree.
Because a world where we shut down those we disagree is the road to the past, to the ways of tribal disagreements. The road away from peace and freedom. When we shut down those we disagree with then we are no longer supporting freedom or being progressive, we support fascism and stagnation.