Sunday, July 16, 2017

Snowflake Summer

"Why has academia descended into neo-fascist regimentation?"

We didn’t give serious thought to snowflakes until a friend, James Howard Kunstler, got crossways with them at a university speaking gig. Kunstler has written a lot about it since then. He says we’re now living under a condition of “intellectual martial law.” 

Snowflakes are the pampered generation of millennials who cannot tolerate ideas that challenge their perceptions of appropriate speech. Howard Schwartz, professor emeritus of Oakland University, has written a new book, Political Correctness and the Destruction of Social Order: Chronicling the Rise of the Pristine Self. Schwartz offers some clarity on why the term “snowflakes” is now synonymous with college students. Schwartz writes that:
[T]his is a self that is touched by nothing but love. The problem is that nobody is touched by nothing but love, and so if a person has this as an expectation, if they have built their sense of themselves around this premise, the inevitable appearance of the something other than love blows this structure apart.
Interviewed by Kate Hardiman for The College Fix, he added:
[T]he oversensitivity of individuals today, including political correctness and microaggressions, all stem from this idea that people operating under the notion of the pristine self view you as evil because you are showing them something other than love.
People now experience the entire world as a form of bullying. The helicopter parent protects the children from real dangers but also fantasy dangers. These precious snowflakes are the children of political correctness, their parents and schools lead them to believe that the world is perfectly moralistic — they don’t live in the real world, it is a fantasy.
On the July 6 Keiser Report, Stacey Herbert pointed to a study in The American Conservative, Will American Childhood Create An Authoritarian Society?
Overprotective parenting is a threat to democracy. American childhood has taken an authoritarian turn. An array of trends in American society are conspiring to produce unprecedented levels of supervision and control over children’s lives. Tracing the effects of childrearing on broad social outcomes is an exercise in speculation. But if social scientists are correct to posit a connection between childrearing and long-term political outcomes, today’s restrictive childhood norms may portend a broader regression in our country’s democratic consensus.
This shouldn’t be surprising considering that few institutions in American society have embraced authoritarianism as decisively in recent years as academia — the arena where helicoptered millennials increasingly get their first taste of independence. Since 2000, at least 240 campaigns have been launched at universities to prevent appearances by public figures, most of which have occurred since 2009. Behind these authoritarian efforts are an army of “chief diversity officers” — 75 of whom have been hired between 2015 and 2016 at colleges and universities. Their mandate: train students against “subtle insults,” “environmental microaggressions,” and “microinvalidations.” In this resurgence of political correctness, New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait sees not simply a “rigorous commitment to social equality” but rather an “undemocratic creed” and a “system of left-wing ideological repression.”
Herbert and her partner Max Keiser were in Mexico City and couldn’t help but notice all the children playing outdoors. She recalled how much of her childhood had been spent that way. “Bored?” her mother would ask, “Go out and play.” Like every other child, she had to use her imagination.

Keiser says Charles Shultz captured the snowflake in the character of Lucy, who would march in and take the rubber band away from Linus or the football from Charlie Brown. “Lucy was the Pol Pot of children’s cartoons.”

Today most USAnian parents are afraid to let children outdoors alone. One of the staple products of the overdeveloped world is fear. We noticed this last week when we got a haptic from our Apple Watch about an Amber alert 300 miles away in another state.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

We endure shoe and belt removal, pat down, sniffing dogs and obnoxious questioning because we need to travel. We are not frightened — although being that close to loaded guns warrants caution — but we are also not amused. We know that it chills speech, chills expression and chills freedom. It chills the society — cold enough to make snowflakes. The American Conservative writes:
[S]trong social pressures have so hardened against parents who believe in the value of a free, unsupervised childhood that psychologist Peter Gray likens them to past Chinese norms on foot binding.
Hard numbers illustrate these trends:
· The amount of free time school-aged children enjoyed plummeted from 40 percent in the early 1980s to 25 percent by the mid 1990s.
· The time young children spend in school jumped from 5–6 hours in the early 1980s to almost 7 hours beginning in the early 2000s.
· By 2006, some 40 percent of schools had either eliminated recess or were considering doing so.

Snowflakes, the study offers, crave authoritarian restrictions. They grew up on video games that had hard and fast rules. They were conducted within the confines of a screen, and perhaps, in their virtual realities, within the confines of a pre-scripted maze.

When American students are moving for only 18 minutes per day at school, it’s hardly a surprise that we’ve seen since the 1970s a more than threefold increase in the number of overweight 6 to 11 year olds.

Experts meanwhile are linking increasing rates of anger, aggression, and severe behavior problems to a lack of free play. These outcomes are consistent with evolutionary psychology theories that consider play to be a critical part of child development, teaching children to cope with, and ultimately master, fears and phobias.

Kunstler writes:
Why does the thinking class in America embrace ideas that are not necessarily, and surely not self-evidently, truthful, and even self-destructive? Because this class is dangerously insecure and perversely needs to insist on being right about its guiding dogmas and shibboleths at all costs. That is why so much of the behavior emanating from the thinking class amounts to virtue signaling — we are the good people on the side of what’s right, really we are! Of course, virtue signaling is just the new term for self-righteousness.
Snowflakes do not like the unknown. If someone breaks the rules by espousing a contrary belief to theirs, they want the state to come down hard on them. Invited speakers on campus offend these sensibilities at their peril. Even professors who dare to float an alternative narrative can be fired.

Recent studies supported by the Alliance for Childhood found that kindergartens have “changed radically in the last two decades.” Exploration, exercise, and imagination are being deemphasized and play has “dwindled to the vanishing point.” Instead, kindergartens are introducing “lengthy lessons” and “highly prescriptive curricula geared to new state standards and linked to standardized tests” — curricula often taught by teachers who “must follow scripts from which they may not deviate.”

Translate that beyond the ivy walls and you get neo-fascist political regimentation, in businesses and the public sphere. Target stores have a “Director of Empathy.”

Following the 2016 election pollsters learned that those who believe that is more important for children to be respectful rather than independent; obedient over self-reliant; well-behaved more than considerate; and well-mannered versus curious, were more than two and a half times as likely to support Trump than those with the opposite preferences.
Indeed, social scientists have long argued that the origins of authoritarian societies can be discerned in childhood pathologies.
Among the most far-reaching adherents of this view was the late psychologist Alice Miller, a student of authoritarian regimes. Through her study of Nazism and Soviet communism, Miller concluded that dictatorships emerge when an entire generation of children is raised under authoritarian conditions replete with excessive forms of control and discipline. In the case of Nazi Germany, Miller is convinced that Hitler would not have come to power but for turn-of-the-century German childrearing practices that emphasized “unthinking obedience” and discouraged creativity. The millions of Germans who ultimately supported Nazism, in Miller’s views, were coping with the legacy of a “hidden concentration camp of childhood” — one enforced by the “clean, orderly citizens, God-fearing, respectable churchgoers” who comprised the ranks of Germany’s authority figures.
So what happens to the Snowflake when the world melts? Sheltered and protected since birth they have little capacity to improvise, sacrifice, and make strategic decisions upon which may hang their own survival. Sure, they may have the experience of outrunning a virtual zombie hoard, but if they stumbled it was never really game over, just time for a re-set. In life there are no re-sets.

As an added bonus for our faithful followers we have extracted a short snippet from the late Bill Mollison (1928–2016) during one of his last permaculture lectures. Bill was in rare form, and we offer this as an example of outlandishly outside-the-bounds-speech that enriches and enlivens learning.


Robert Gillett said...

Yet, according to Strauss and Howe's, "The Fourth Turning," millennials turn into the Hero generation as the crisis reaches its climax (we are there), partly because they all can be trained to march in a straight line.

Don Stewart said...

One comment about Snowflakes and Universities. David Montgomery, in his book Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back To Life, is visiting a conservation agriculture farm in South Dakota. Some students studying Soil Physics arrive for a tour. He notes that they check their phones for messages but do not take any notes. Later, he visits a conservation farm in Africa. The students, he observes, take lots of notes. How can we explain the difference?

George Mobus, the Systems Science professor, quit teaching in disgust when the No Child Left Behind generation, raised on multiple choice tests and pre-identification of the facts that need to be memorized to pass the test, ran head first into his rather open-ended tests which did not depend heavily on memorized facts. The students began to give him bad grades as a teacher, which is deadly in today's academic world. When Michael Moore went to Finland to find out how Finland, which not too long ago occupied the bottom runs of the education ladder beside the US, rose to the top of the heap, one of the students who had been an exchange student in the US for a year noted that in Finland there are no multiple choice tests, 'you have to know it'.

I suggest that the African students understand that Life is the final exam. The American students still think that passing a multiple choice test is the final exam, after which life is supposed to be easy. The disconnect from what they expect and the reality they encounter may be a factor in our current malaise.

Don Stewart

dex3703 said...

Mollison's lecture would have been pretty tame in the early 90s when I went to college. That was why I went--to learn things, be challenged.

Even then most students were indifferent and just wanted to get their business degrees. I think a big part of the problem is college becoming just another product. Now the incentive is to cram as many people through as possible, so requirements are light. Wouldn't want to annoy the customers.....

thefuturefarm said...

I will come to the defense of my generation. The thing that is not realized is that snowflakes are the product of both temperature and humidity. The temperature they are raised in is important, but there is underlying their appearance a far more important factor. I would posit that it is the rise of weaponised free speech that is the nucleous of all these snowflakes. Attack Ads Podcast has done a great job on the Powell memoranda, which is a document written by a US supreme court justice on how to use money in conjunction with free speech to take power from the people. It is no wonder if you talk to libertarians they will talk about the horrors of physical violence and never acknowledge that speech can be just as violent. Is the pen mightier than the sword because it can be loaded with red ink that in the right hands looks like blood? Or is it that words create thought patterns that can drive us mad as a civilization? It should be clear at this point that free speech in conjunction with concentrated economic power in the form of money (Citizens United, economic departments funded by trust funds, books writers like Ann Coulter getting pimped by right wing media) is a dangerous weapon. Perhaps, the snowflakes are going about it all wrong and hit too broad, but at least they can feel that something needs to be done and giving more platforms to weaponised free speech will not make us better off.

Don Stewart said...

I suggest that the problems are deeper than weaponized speech. Lisa Barrett, in her new book How Emotions Are Made, identifies the tension between Getting Along and Getting Ahead as a central problem which is never likely to be 'solved'. Barrett identifies 'core systems' which we have by virtue of our evolutionary inheritance. These core systems can be turned to use in many different circumstances. One of those core systems is to visualize many different potential ways to respond to whatever circumstance we find ourselves in.

So...let's suppose that you find yourself in a situation of poverty and violence in your neighborhood. Most likely, you will use your core system to Look Out For Number One. (Poverty has more to do with Socioeconomic status than with absolute levels of possessions.) But you can Look Out For Number One using a wide variety of strategies, from making yourself invisible to the Powers That Be to striving to become the Top Dog yourself. On the other hand, suppose you find yourself in a society where free energy is abundant and increasing, natural resources are plentiful, reliable law and order exists, and the returns on education or investment seem reliable. You will probably use your core system to invent and select behaviors which take advantage of the dividends offered by cooperation.

The stagnation of the incomes of the bottom 90 percent in the OECD countries since about 1970, and the fact that returns on schooling and traditional savings methods such as CDs or time deposits have deteriorated, mean that your core system will be rebalancing its selection of actions. In my observation, the 1 percent and 10 percent who have done, respectively, spectacularly well or at least OK have doubled down on divisive politics, neoconservative politics, and neoliberal economics. The bottom 90 percent have not been able to put together a coherent economic, political, and social they tend to vote erratically for opportunistic politicians.

Besides the macro problems, we find that there are just really stupid policies which are making everything worse. For example, Michael Moore seemed quite stunned by his visit to Finland...where he found that the elimination of homework, the incorporation of play into the school day, and the elimination of multiple choice tests have apparently fueled a huge increase in the effectiveness of schooling. When Obamacare was under consideration, three doctors testified that health expenditures should be redirected from treatment of chronic diseases after the fact to prevention of the chronic diseases. Nobody in Washington wanted to hear that message. Which accounts for much of the calamity we call Obamacare and the failure of the Republicans to come up with any alternative. I assume, from your name, that you could describe all the stupidity associated with farm bills.

My belief is that there is probably no such thing as a 'smart generation' or a 'dumb generation'. My generation had more discretionary time to devote to looking at trees. Your generation has been mesmerized by looking at screens which are designed to hijack your attention. My generation would have fallen into the same trap if the screens had been available back then. Most of the people are just reacting about as well as they can to the situation they find themselves in. The fact that the situation itself is best described as a Cosmic Joke isn't their fault.

Don Stewart




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