February 12, 2009

The Dumbest Generation

On Wednesday, February 18th, we will have our first-ever Disputation. We will gather in the bookstore at 7pm; we brew up some tea; we’ll spread out some refreshments, and then we will have a real, old-fashioned, face to face, person to person, discussion. And the topic of our discussion will be this winter’s featured book, The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein. The book is about the impact that technology is having on our culture—and, in particular, on the youngest people in our culture. I thought it would be fun to go ahead and kick off the discussion on-line. This approach may simply prove Bauerlein’s thesis, but I’m hoping it will help us identify some issues that we can zero in on during our time together.

For example, I thought one of the most interesting ideas in the book was Bauerlein’s take on cultural warfare:

Culture wars break down the walls. They don’t stop sectarianism, and they can aggravate group commitments, but they also pierce the insulation of each group. Insiders may grow more polarized, but they have to face the arguments and strategies of outsiders. If they ignore them,keeping to themselves and shoring up turf, not articulating values, they lose the war, for the theater has spread to the public square, and combatants can’t rely on the rhetoric that sufficeswithin familiar niches. (p. 220)

That’s not exactly the way most people feel about cultural warfare—in fact, the recent election was supposed to be all about ‘transcending’ these sorts of divisions. But Bauerlein maintains that cultural warfare is an important democratic dynamic, and he worries that we will soon be incapable of generating that sort of interaction or participating in that kind of conflict.

For example, a week ago, our parish community participated in the annual March For Life through downtown Austin. As the march formed up, a small group of counter-demonstrators appeared, and one of them climbed up on a bike rack and began to address the crowd. But the marchers wouldn’t even let him speak—they began to chant slogans in order to drown him out. When I think of culture wars, I think of this sort of clash—either that or those ridiculous television show where commentators and guests interrupt each other and shout at one another.

Apparently, Bauerlein thinks there is another way. Or maybe these are simply the more ‘exciting’ aspects of what he feels is a valuable cultural dynamic.

So what do ya’ll think?

fr. aidan


Anonymous said...

Throughout the pages of The Dumbest Generation I've been focused on what appeared to be the point of the book--look at how screwed up the under-30 generation is...only to see that the finger-pointing really needs to be turned around and directed at myself. The specific issue you mentioned--the necessity of face-to-face 'wars'--although the occurrence of those standoffs is dwindling--points to what Bauerlein finally started saying in his chapter 'The Betrayal of the Mentors'. He states that improper use of modern technology "...unleash persistent...forces of adolescence, rebelliousness and conformity, idolatry and irreverence, know-nothing-ness and know-it-all-ness, all of which tradition and knowledge had helped to contain. ...The impulses were always there, but the stern shadow of moral and cultural canons at home and in class managed now and then to keep them in check. But the guideposts are now unmanned, and the pushback of mentors has dwindled..." (p.200) When was the last time I initiated a cultural war with someone of a younger generation, challenging them to consider their behavior in light of results from past generation's similar behavior? Or suggested they read rather than play video games for hours? Adulthood--with all its stodgy lack of conformity to adolescence--is becoming a lost artform.
-Karen R.

christ the light-giver said...

"adulthood -- is becoming a lost artform."
How true! Being an adult is more nuanced than we are willing to admit to ourselves. Things like discipline, patience, empathy are required, which are all valued by our culture, but very rarely cultivated.