Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Kids Are Our Future!

I have argued before in this blog (here, here) that the only social virtue recognized by our secular progressive culture is tolerance. Tolerance is supposed to cover everything we need as a culture. After all, what could be wrong with allowing others to believe and behave however they want? The problem is that our virtue of tolerance is not grounded in any significant view of truth, and as such, tolerance becomes the truth. In other words, tolerance is it: it is all you need to be a virtuous person. As a result, tolerance (and social truth) are controlled by the social and cultural influence peddlers. In this world, the loudest group of people, majority or not, really does rule.

One of the ironies of tolerance is the unforeseen consequence of hatred. People who aren’t like “us” are not to be tolerated. The hatred is often latent in the words and deeds of sophisticated adults, but young people don’t have the same cognitive mechanisms. What the parents have learned to disguise, kids learn to embrace. Bad ideas always go downhill.

Emily Bazelon reflects on this unfortunate reality in her recent article in Slate, Embarrassing Obama Kids.

I suppose I should applaud the strength of their convictions. But the dark side to their partisanship is the traitor-bashing. Our kids are raised on a steady diet of tolerance, but, given the chance, they signal allegiance by turning on whomever they can pin as a bad guy. They don't get many chances at that, really. There just aren't a lot of enemies in their lives. Railing against McCain supporters functions as a safe outlet for hostility and even hatred. For my sons Eli and Simon and most of their friends, die-hard Republicans are an abstract concept. They know people who differ from them by race and ethnicity and religion, and they get that it's not OK to judge by those categories. On their soccer team are kids who are working-class rather than well-off, and I think they also understand that class isn't a flag to rally around either. They may have met a libertarian or two, but they've never talked politics with a serious conservative.

And so I fear the election is teaching them not only about the joy of supporting an appealing candidate but also about the more vicious pleasures of despising the other side—with a zeal that's usually off-limits to them. Also during the soccer carpool, the kids discussed a pumpkin with Obama carvings that had gotten smashed, and one of them said, "It must have been those McCain-loving teenagers." Which led to a gleeful discussion about fighting back with bombs and guns. I winced. As did one of my colleagues over drawings her 3-year-old son did at synagogue this weekend. At first, he drew a stick figure with its arms raised. "That's Obama," he said to nobody. Then the stick figure reappeared, lying prone. "Dead McCain," he muttered.

She is naturally bothered by the narrow view of politics her kids have, so she takes action. She shows them a video of kids singing about voting, and she doesn’t get the result she was looking for.

In an effort to pull them back from the partisan abyss, I showed my kids the utterly winning video of the kids from the Ron Clark Academy of Atlanta who are singing, in a nonpartisan friendly fashion, about how "You can vote however you like." After watching this interview with them, Eli triumphantly pointed out that they are almost all Obama supporters. "Now can we watch that video where they say that John McCain talks like a dump truck?" he asked. Oh well. At least it will all be over by the time they finish eating their Halloween Obama candy.

I don’t think parenting or social circles are ultimately to blame here. It is a worldview that has no room for moral and social absolutes and rests all its laurels on simplistic tolerance. Political partisanship is becoming messiah worship in large part because people have no room for a true Messiah. Moral right and wrong are political ideals now because people are losing the cognitive ability to reason through actual moral right and wrong.

It’s not all that surprising that kids are reflecting this kind of unthinking partisan hatred. They make great barometers for the worldviews they are surrounded by. Adults may be able to wiggle their way out of the crasser bits of their beliefs, but kids can’t.

HT: First Things

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