Several months ago I read an article by a Christian-turned-atheist who actually bragged that they were “de-converted” because their small children posed unanswerable questions to them about their faith. I remember sitting there for some time after reading that, trying to figure out why a grown adult would ever publish such an admission, even if they were in fact incapable of matching the intellect of a 6-year-old.
We see similar peculiarity every election cycle when adults submit the sanctity of their vote to the wisdom of their children’s immature, if not cute, political observations. Even political science professors jump on this mindless phenomenon, not to condemn the ignorance of letting toddlers just out of diapers determine the direction of the free world, but to applaud it. Take University of Colorado (Denver) prof Michael Cummings who wrote in his book, “Children’s Voices in Politics”:
“There are some very young people, politically precocious, who have strong ideas about public policy.”
He suggests that kids as young as 5 have some really engaging thoughts on issues like homelessness, the environment, and education, and that perhaps it is time to consider letting kids vote as soon as they want to vote.
Let me preface this by saying that you won’t find too many people that have a stronger appreciation for youth, or a desire to work with them, instruct them, guide them, laugh with them, connect with them, and try to be a positive role model for them. I’ve dedicated my life to those things and am consistently blessed by the experience. And one of the greatest joys in my work is to see how so many of those high school kids, flush with passion but lacking in wisdom, grow and mature as they age.
That maturing is increasingly a challenging prospect, however, in a society that seems to worship youth simply for being young. Products and merchandise are prolifically peddled to keep us looking younger, feeling younger, and acting younger. From a physical standpoint, that makes a modicum of sense. Most people would prefer the curves and chiseled physique of a 20-something to the lumps and wrinkles of a 75-year-old.
But from an intellectual, logical, or philosophical perspective, idolizing youth is about as dumb as it gets. From across the pond, Clare Foges exposes precisely why in a piece blasting the absurdity of regarding young people as “political sages”:
[W]hat is galling is the veneration of youthful opinion regardless of the sense it makes; this growing idea that being under 25 confers some special sagacity that the rest of us might benefit from. A generation reared to revere the words “empowerment” and “respect” is demanding that they are empowered and their views respected.
Last week’s election revealed the judgment of many young voters to be as we might expect of those with relatively limited experience: hopelessly naive. They turned out in their droves for a man who became a kind of millennials’ prophet; promising to lead them out of the badlands of austerity and towards a future where everything is nicer, cheaper, or indeed free. They voted for a man who would have endangered our economy, the whisper of whose name can send the pound on a swan-dive.
There is no wisdom here, no great lesson to be learnt; just the insight that many young people rather like being offered free stuff and ask few questions about how, ultimately, that stuff is funded.
Sound familiar? In addition to other demographic exploitation, America suffered for the last eight years under this same hopelessly naïve political approach. While some lamented the voters who chose Barack Obama because he was (half) black, I was far more concerned with the voters who picked him because he was “cool.”
- For these youthful voters, his “dabbing” on Ellen overshadowed the galling reality that he racked up more debt than all previous presidents combined.
- They overlooked the tragic realities that his backwards foreign policy led to the rise of ISIS and endangered the free world as never before, because he “slow-jammed the news” with Jimmy Fallon.
- The fact that he shot baskets with Clark Kellogg and filled out an NCAA bracket every year was of more importance to them than the failure of his signature healthcare policy that stripped coverage from millions and raised premiums on nearly everyone in the country.
This is the problem inherent in a youthful mind, it overemphasizes idealism and undervalues consequence; its grasp on reality can be obscured by impassioned rhetoric and emotion. If the Obama phenomenon wasn’t proof of that, consider who millennials turned to in droves during the most recent campaign: a socialist once marginalized in Congress for his hair-brained adherence to failed pie-in-the-sky economic fantasies.
Which brings us back to Foges’ analysis:
Yet the passionate sense of grievance among many young people — that theirs is a generation uniquely betrayed by the generations above — should not simply be “listened to” as though it were true; it must be robustly challenged…What should be challenged too is the youthful expectation of a free lunch. For instance, many 18 to 24-year-olds — reared on the language of rights — believe it their right to receive a free university education, as Corbyn [read Bernie or Barack in America] exploited so successfully. What must be communicated to young people is not congratulations for backing wish-list politics but the reality that public resources are finite.
Wishing for a better world is nothing to be derided, and there is always something appealing about youthful enthusiasm…But when it comes to the way we run our country, we have a duty not to kowtow to youthful dreaming but to confront some of the myths that underpin it. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Socialism is a proven disaster. These might not make for inspiring Facebook posts but they have the virtue of being the truth.
I wholeheartedly concur. And as one who loves and works with young people every day, I would hasten to add that the greatest service we can render to them is not lionizing their idealism, but rather disciplining them to remember it is never an adequate substitute for wisdom and truth.