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In defence of snowflakes

September 5, 2017

In a smug tweet yesterday, Piers Morgan compared his fortitude in returning to work with three broken ribs with the frailties of the so-called snowflake generation. A cheap shot, in my opinion.

In my last post I wrote about how racism arises out of our tendency to generalise. We make sweeping statements about cultures, ethnic groups, nations, social classes and economic groups. The use of the definite article is the key. We talk about the Arabs, the Jews, the Indians and the immigrants. We ascribe behaviour of a few to the many.

We do much the same with generations. Baby boomers are selfish wealth-hoarders. Generation X are greedy materialists. And millennials are snowflakes – precious souls who can’t take the heat, who go to pieces at the slightest sign of pressure, who throw tantrums when confronted with views different from their own.

Such definitions tell me that ninety percent of these disparaging words are written by one percent of the people about one percent of the people. If we’re talking about Western society – or more specifically those of the United States and the UK, one wine-quaffing baby boomer with a nice house and two cars in the drive does not represent a generation. There are plenty of sixty- and seventy-somethings who exist in a state of anxiety and loneliness, divorced from their spouses and ignored by their children. And there are plenty more who spend their declining years ranting at immigrants, pumping fists at Trump and UKIP rallies. Yet more look forward to lives in care homes paid for by selling their homes.

Generation X are just as diverse. A few of them basically own us – Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, for example. Another bunch rule us – the feckless demagogues and the two-brained fools who foisted Brexit on us, of which in the UK Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg are prime exhibits. The rest are just trudging through life like everyone else, with varying degrees of success.

As for the snowflakes, you would think that the small minority of student activists who run abound trying to tear down statues of nasty colonialists (such as Cecil Rhodes, above) and no-platforming speakers with objectionable views are at the centre of the universe, such is the media coverage they gain through their efforts. The rest of their fellow-students quietly get on with their studies, or carouse away without the slightest thought of politics.

Nothing new there. The Xers might have been relatively inactive on the political front, but we baby boomers, boy, did we have causes. Vietnam, Nazis, Margaret Thatcher, apartheid, nuclear weapons – all came into our sights. I remember a massive protest against the racial theories of Hans Eysenck, whom the activists of the time managed to prevent from speaking at my university. No-platforming? Been there, done that.

The President of the National Union of Students in my era was Jack Straw, who subsequently morphed into a Labour politician and ended up as a leading Blairite minister. Another leading light was Peter Hain, who followed the same path. He was an anti-apartheid campaigner, and he got to be Secretary of State for Wales. Not much apartheid in Llangollen, unless you count the Welsh nationalists who used to burn the second homes of the English interlopers. Our NUS leader, a chap called Gerald Hitman, eventually went off to become a property developer. So much for youthful radicalism.

I see no reason to believe that most of the current crop of student activists will in the course of time end up being anything other than members of the entrenched elite, just as their predecessors did. Even Dave Spart grew up. Now he has a good chance of becoming our next prime minister.

As for the accusation that the snowflakes lack resilience, I doubt that our soldiers who endured Afghanistan would agree. Nor would the recent crop of Olympians who have reaped a bigger crop of medals than any of our athletes before them.

As the proud parents of two millennials, we can certify that they’re far from snowflakes. They work hard, they’re determined, and while they’re pissed off at effects of the 2008 financial crisis on their financial well-being, they’re still getting on with their lives.

There’s also the point that in order to develop resilience, people need to be tested. It’s been seventy years since we had a war that engulfed the whole population, and the last thing we would wish for is a similar experience to harden our twenty-somethings. Yes, folding under the pressure of A-levels and job interviews is very different from enduring battle, bombs and the threat of invasion. But for most of the millennials, protected by parents and raised in the bosom of the welfare state, there have been few existential obstacles that they have had to deal with, other than their mobile phones falling down the loo.

I have every confidence that my kids’ generation will rise to any challenges that come their way. And I doubt if the old people of Houston muttered about snowflakes when young people braved the floods to rescue them.

So let’s stop dissing our poor, sensitive millennials. Let’s stop paying worried attention to the op-ed journalists who grumble about them, and the younger writers who use their own neuroses to diagnose a generational phenomenon. And let’s remember that in other parts of the world there are youngsters too busy staying alive to worry about the generational shortcomings that exercise us privileged Westerners.

As a member of an age-group that once believed in causes other than our own comfort and prosperity, I celebrate the idealism of the millennials, even if I disagree with some of their views. The art of the possible – the collision between reality and zeal – can wait.

The kids are alright. At least I bloody well hope so, because soon enough, I’m going to need them to wheel me to the geriatric day care centre.

From → Social, UK, USA

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