Conservatives often wonder why more and more young people consider themselves democratic socialists despite overwhelming evidence against the rosy claims of that political philosophy. The truth is that unless we understand why they believe what they do, our critiques will fall upon deaf ears.
There are two ways in which generations are defined: by how the world has developed around them, and by their educational system, which influences how they understand those happenings.
From the previously unimaginable violence of World War I to the broken rubble and thick smoke of the fallen Twin Towers, Americans took away the same persevering and exceptionalistic attitude: that despite seemingly insurmountable odds, for Americans, anything is achievable.
What I and others my age experienced, however, is what has since come to be known as the Great Recession. For the youth of today, their understanding of the world is entirely contextualized through what their families and friends went through because of it and, in short, they believe that no matter how deeply they struggle, our capitalist system is always doomed to fail in the same the way they perceived it to have in 2008.
Such logic is, of course, faulty — the reason why it is called the “Great” Recession is because it truly is an exception; it is just as ridiculous to assume that capitalism will always end that way as it is to think that Alexander the “Great” was simply an ordinary general.
In previous years, our educational system would have empowered students to recognize facts like that, but for a generation of youth that has found itself forced through Obama-era “Race to the Top” Common Core testing — standards that even many Democrats found themselves rallying against — this reasoning seems foreign.
Education has been the primary means of social mobility for millions of Americans throughout our history, fostering the uniquely American optimism and entrepreneurial ability that has positively impacted both our country and the world. Schoolchildren were imbued with passion by their teachers and rightfully believed that by focus and hard work, they could live a fulfilling and promising life.
This is no longer the case.
As opposed to being taught what they need to succeed in their careers, students are taught how to best take a test. They are then funneled into a university system that feeds them theoretical, rather than practical, information, teaching them how to critique a world that they have not yet experienced — and because of their previous education, do not even know how to start experiencing.
I am not criticizing the teaching of theory to students like myself — it is extremely valuable knowledge (and I greatly enjoy it). What those who have come before us better understood, however, is that theory must be buttressed by practice. Evidence of this can be seen in our Constitution, a document that is a healthy combination between liberal French Enlightenment theory and provisions based on what our Founders had personally experienced under tyranny and oppression.
In today’s public education, where words like “democratic socialism” and “Marxism” are too often portrayed as alternatives to evil capitalism, there is another philosophy nearly as prominent and just as misunderstood: nihilism. Nihilism is the philosophy of meaninglessness, and one that is often reflected in today’s youth culture and politics.
The Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes and the Bernie Sanderses of the country play off of that philosophy, preaching that it is meaningless to try to succeed in the world, as systemic odds — reinforced by those better off than ourselves — will prevent us from doing so. Overtaken by the same nihilistic despair that Friedrich Nietzsche warned about when he proclaimed that “God is dead,” these politicians have gathered people under a new rallying cry: “The American Dream is dead!”
Democratic socialism is, in essence, a political justification of mediocrity and failure; because many of its supporters lack purpose in an economic system based on empowering human motivation, they instead propose one based on impossible and inhuman characteristics.
I cannot fault those who have been tempted by this siren song — I recognize that they badly want to play a part in defeating something they think has wronged them and those whom they love. They have been told that if they don’t, they lack compassion for what their friends and family have gone through. They are told to see fellow Americans as dollar signs and measure the intrinsic value of someone by his net worth; the more they have, the less human they are.
Anybody who doesn’t see the world in this narrow, defeatist way is tossed aside and — in a cruel twist of irony — “otherized” by the same people who claim to be victims of such thinking.
These insidious practices end up polarizing young adults — you have to have a strong opinion on politics, regardless of whether or not you actually care. Coerced into becoming activists, they have no actual desire to learn much about what they are protesting for beyond a few talking points; hence, the hostility.
Democratic socialism is not a movement with passion and purpose, but rather one that is lacking entirely in both regards. Schools need to return to teaching the skills that students need to actually transcend barriers, so that a sense of purpose can once again be felt by our youth, enabling them to succeed in the American Dream.
Matthew Pinna is a student at the University of Chicago studying political science and English. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the Chicago Tribune and American Thinker. Matt lives — depending on the time of the year — in either his hometown of Farmingdale, New York, or in Hyde Park, Chicago.
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