When I taught 9th grade English in the past, I could not fail to notice that a distinguishing characteristic of many 13 year olds is that they are reflexively hyper-critical of everyone and everything around them. All adults are idiots. All novels are dumb and boring. All insistence on attention to learning elicits a weary roll of the eyes.
These adolescents could, as a result, be extraordinarily resistant—or simply disengaged beyond belief—when it came to learning from any history or thought that predated their blessed births. After all, what could their elders teach them that they did not already know?
Moreover, the intrinsic flaws of humanity and the inevitable mistakes of the past served to convince them that they were the wisest and least fallible generation ever to set foot on the earth—and hence unaccountable to anyone other than themselves. After all, if you are smarter and better than all who came before you, your behavior is, as a consequence, beyond all question, examination, or reproach. How could anyone fail to understand the basic reality of their innate wonderfulness and valid exemption from personal accountability?
There are times when today’s Woke liberals remind me of my classrooms full of snarky, self-absorbed 13 year olds.
First off, an adolescent and ill-informed understanding of history—which basically boiled down to everyone was stupid in the past—left many high school freshmen both unable to understand the enormous complexities of the world around them and inclined to grasp at simplistic explanations that were devoid of nuance. One cannot help but think of the reductive and inaccurate claims made today in Nikole Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project, which has managed to somehow both win multiple journalistic prizes, including the Pulitzer for its creator, and yet still earn the undying disapproval of professional historians, who find its conclusions about the central role of slavery in American history both shortsighted and offensive.
The 1619 Project does, however, amply confirm the enduringly adolescent biases of Wokesters, who are convinced that our nation’s past consists of stupid people doing stupid things for stupid reasons. Class dismissed.
Historical ignorance can be dangerous, and it can land even the most certifiably Woke in hot water when harsh facts crash into self-comforting stupidity. Watching the comedian and talk show host Whoopi Goldberg flail helplessly when her grievously erroneous beliefs about The Holocaust resulted in her temporary suspension from her broadcast network, I could not help but wonder whether her remarks were born of a complete lack of understanding of anti-Semitism and genocide or a more unfortunate adolescent tendency to simply dismiss suffering that does not affect her directly.
Ms. Goldberg’s fame—or infamy—derives from launching derisive attacks on those whose thoughts differ from her own apparently infallible sense of right and wrong. Just as with the smug self-assuredness one sees in 13 year olds—who are too ignorant to even understand the depths of their own ignorance—she has had to learn the hard way that knowing is more important than talking.
Perhaps this episode will prompt some useful self-reflection and soul searching by Ms. Goldberg, but I tend to doubt it. Her target audience on The View is uninterested in nuance or troublesome contradictions. A childish faith in her own wisdom is all that is required to keep her career on track.
The recent resignation of Jeff Zucker, the President of CNN, has been a companion lesson in accountability for someone whose long defense of his news network has been a master class in the avoidance of accountability. CNN has long suffered from multiple problems with reporting non-factual facts, pushing partisan opinions disguised as news, and unsuccessfully dodging seamy sexual scandals—and all of this has caused their viewership to evaporate over the years.
It should perhaps not be a surprise that Mr. Zucker has now been compelled to resign his position because he chose to ignore the rules regarding consensual workplace relationships—at the news network that he himself managed. It would be difficult to think of a better example of a professional downfall born of mind boggling arrogance. However, given the many problems that have afflicted CNN over the past several years, it seems little surprise that the lax ethical culture at the network started right at the top.
Every day we read and hear of individuals who either display stunning ignorance or a disinterest in personal accountability, traits that they should have outgrown before they reached adulthood. Their personal shortcomings affect their families, colleagues, communities and—depending on who they are—sometimes our nation as a whole. Overgrown adolescents have plagued us forever, and the consequences of immature behavior are known to all, but what is truly sad is how accustomed we now are to this destructive tomfoolery from those in the public, professional, and political spheres.
Sadly, our reaction to much of the idiocy and malfeasance now afflicting our nation is more typically a shrug of the shoulders rather than than the anger we should feel when fools simply skate by without any real consequences. Unfortunately, we have grown accustomed to seeing those with power, privilege, and family connections escape unscathed. We should, of course, be aware that no one is perfect—ourselves included—but we do have a right to be annoyed when rich and famous liberals flout both their ignorant biases and smug entitlement.
It is, of course, the case that individuals of every political persuasion can display bullheaded stupidity and a disdainful disregard for others, but the moral and intellectual superiority claimed by liberals and those even further to the Left makes their departures from good sense and good behavior just that much tougher to swallow. If your daily activities and pronouncements are built around belittling those whose beliefs you deem beneath contempt or consideration, your own contemptible and inconsiderate behavior is just that much more difficult to either forgive or forget.
We can easily look beyond the willful ignorance and stunning self-regard of adolescents. They are, after all, far too young to know better—and we sincerely hope age will bring with it some necessary maturity.
However, we might have only ourselves—and our own immaturities—to blame for empowering those who revel in partisan idiocy and argument by insult because we reward them with our money, attention, and votes.
If no one else will be, average Americans have to be the responsible adults in the room. Until we stop celebrating bad behavior by turning it into a diversion, we are going to be unable to step beyond the endless cycles of accusation and retribution that both harm and confuse us all.
Academics like to rebrand selfishness as transgressive; the news media routinely labels abject stupidity as progressive. Whatever words are used to wash away the pain caused by a lack of regard for the needs of other or a thoroughgoing ignorance that allows hatred—and plain old rudeness—to flourish, we must not excuse either.
It will be unpleasant for many in academia, entertainment, and politics to step outside their self-comforting preconceptions, which survive only because they resolutely refuse to recognize daily realities that contradict their preferred fantasies, but it must happen soon. To continue to let our lives be run by self-absorbed 13 year olds who are masquerading as responsible adults is the road to continued discord and societal ruin.