Incredulity. Astonishment. Disgust. Anger.
It is these feelings – amongst others – that describe the general reaction to the revelations of the Twitter Files and other egregious episodes of Big Tech censorship of the electronic public square.
The implicit deal with companies like Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc., is very simple: we will look at your ads if you give us a service for free. The deal did not include censorship.
But what is society to expect when those doing the censoring seem to see absolutely nothing wrong with it, that it didn’t even occur to them that what they were engaged in – often at the specific request of governmental agencies – was at all a problem?
For a generation that has grown up with speech codes and enforced nicety and automatic deference to the feelings of others and swaddled in bubble wrap against the vagaries of life, censoring speech is not only not an ethical leap it is the right thing to do.
Couple that with a permanent purposeful self-infantilization that makes them defer to (or incoherently rage at for not censoring speech) anyone they perceive to be a grown-up – such as former FBI bigwig James Baker at Twitter – and the stage is not only set, the terrifying end of the play writes itself.
This generation is not necessarily Y, or X, or millennial – it’s a bit of a mix of those aged from about 16 to about 36, numbers that will, sadly, most likely become lower and lower on the low end and higher and higher on the high end as time marches on.
It is a sub-cohort (I thought it best to learn their language) of people who have much in common – first, they have come from the now de rigueur smaller families, hence they do not have the thick skin and personal combat skills that one acquires when one has siblings.
They have usually grown up relatively comfortably, they are uncomfortable with confrontation, they went to the right schools, they do not understand how other people can think differently, they are over-credentialed but actually vastly under-educated, and they feel twinges of guilt when the grocery store delivers but are absolutely certain that a 25-minute trip to the store is a waste of their valuable time.
While there are many, many examples, two events stand out as exemplar moments for the Censored Generation. First, this rather well-known incident from Yale University in which a college student is angrily demanding to be treated like a child; and this chilling tale of a professor struggling to deal with the “best and the brightest” demanding to be lectured to rather than participate in a thoughtful seminar
From the piece, by professor Vincent Lloyd, director of Africana Studies at Villanova University:
Like others on the left, I had been dismissive of criticisms of the current discourse on race in the United States. But now my thoughts turned to that moment in the 1970s when leftist organizations imploded, the need to match and raise the militancy of one’s comrades leading to a toxic culture filled with dogmatism and disillusion. How did this happen to a group of bright-eyed high school students?
As these people have moved into the corporate/government world, they have done their very best to re-shape it in their own image. Micro-aggressions, company-forced DEI trainings, and the now de rigueur 20-somethings being put in charge of multi-billion company’s social media accounts and spending 5% percent of their time talking about the product and 95% of the time demanding restorative justice for circumcised pets and/or berating everyone who does not think, feel, and act the exact same way they do.
A very typical, very recent, very ominous example of this generational bleed-through is the reaction to the Cochrane Report of the effectiveness – or lack thereof – of masks when it came to stopping or slowing the spread of COVID.
For decades, Cochrane reports – which are essentially studies of studies (in a very oversimplified nutshell, say one study says one thing, Cochrane looks at the other 100 studies on the topic and essentially averages them to figure out the most accurate interpretation of the data) – were seen as the international standard for scientific research; in other words, if a Cochrane report said it you can be very muchly pretty damn sure its on-target.
But then the Cochrane review of mask efficacy – it essentially found almost none – met the dominant COVID construct that sooo many people have invested in – literally, politically, and psychologically – and out came the long knives.
The report was flawed, the report was bad, the report really didn’t say masks don’t work, the report was done by bad white people with ties to a nefarious netherworld of bad money, and on and on. Of course, always one step ahead in the search for ways to cover their shame, the legacy media then “fact checked” – i.e. lied about – the report to death.
It got so bad that even the not-of-the-same-generation Cochrane team – to be honest, to their discredit – turned tail and semi-sort of, kinda, pretty much apologized for the report.
No previous Cochrane Report has ever received this kind of bilgeworthy treatment and it is doubtful that one will ever again, especially now that the Cochrane folks have learned their re-education lesson.
This remembrance of things past, as it were, should not be viewed as garden variety “Damn kids, get off my lawn!” generational angst. This is not, when complaining about Elvis Presley’s hips, purposefully failing to remember exactly how much underwear was visible at a 1940s swing dance.
These two examples starkly show that a sea change has occurred in just the past 10 or 15 years. It is simply unimaginable that students prior would have demanded more boundaries, more restrictions, more lectures, more being told what to think, and, especially, more being told how to think.
It literally has never happened before.
This, to quote Alan Furst’s “The Foreign Correspondent,” “doctrinal agony over symbols” has always existed but it only flourished in insular monomaniacal environments, like the cloisters of a medieval monastery or a dingy backroom full of bickering Bolsheviks. Now, these ultimately meaningless disputes capture much of the globe’s attention and involve a race to the bottom of dogma, to a purity purgatory which, thanks to the speed of social media, has engulfed us all.
The past has seen its share of equivalent events and trends, but the speed at which “facts” and thoughts and concepts move on the internet essentially destroys the usual “predators” of bad ideas – nuance, history, research, reason, time to reflect, reliable sourcing, and proper context. This has allowed people to simply ignore or dismiss anything they think may contravene their own ideations and the ideations of whatever happens to be ascendant that particular day. It is this permanent state of flux, intentionally unmoored from the evil past and its expectations, that allows the unthinkable to not only be thought but to be acted upon.
And because this is the only world – a world of nonchalant destruction – the Censored Generation has ever known it is only natural that they are so terrified of saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, straying too far from the dictate of the day that they cannot grasp the enormity of their actions.
The astonishment of North Korean defector Yeomani Park as she has wound her way through Columbia University – “I realized, wow, this is insane. I thought America was different but I saw so many similarities to what I saw in North Korea that I started worrying” – is a warning that should be heeded but has not. It is the ultimate outsider noticing what others cannot or will not and it is disturbing to the core. Or at least it would be if it were not so dejectedly unsurprising.
This abandonment by putative progressives of the most cherished progressive position – all can speak, all can be heard, and you can decide to listen or not – is beginning to wear thin on even for the older left-of-center. Joyce Carol Oates touched off a Twitter storm – of course, sigh – when she savaged the recent announcement of the posthumous re-editing of the work of Roald Dahl by “sensitivity readers” hired by the publishing house.
For his part, Richard Dawkins – again, not a card-carrying conservative – said recently when asked about the proposed elimination of the use of words like “man” or “woman” from scientific papers, said, “I am not going to be told by some teenage version of Mrs. Grundy which words of my native language I may or may not use.”
But it will take more than shame for the Censored Generation to understand its own aggressive emptiness. It is not until the system that created them, the system that credentialed them, the system that employs them now changes itself that they will be able to see themselves differently, see themselves as discrete individuals capable of freedom of thought and capable of allowing others that same basic right.
And those systems – educational, governmental, financial, social, cultural – have no reason to change.
Thomas Buckley is the former mayor of Lake Elsinore, Cal., and a former newspaper reporter. He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at email@example.com. You can read more of his work at: https://thomas699.substack.com/
Beautifully presented and argued. In reading the last bit I had the immediate thought that system change would not be enough, not for this generation — they have been taught no critical thinking skills whatsoever. That is very difficult to develop later in life.
Author here – just wanted to note that while the Cochrane team, as it were, did sort of apologize, the dozen or so scientists and doctors involved in actually doing the study have not and are reportedly rather irked by it. this only came to my attention very recently but i thought it important to note here in the comments.
thanks for reading, by the way!