Review: The Dumbest Generation
by Mark Bauerlein
The subtitle of this book hooked me. It’s “How the Digital Age Stupifies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30).” Since I’m over 30, you can trust this review…
I plowed through the book. And I do mean plow. It was a tough, arduous task at many points. Author Mark Bauerlein throws so many studies and statistics at you, that at points you wonder how believable the book really is. Any tome that relies on studies and stats has questionable legitimacy since they are so dependent on subjective creation and interpretation to arrive at their information.
Bauerlein is a professor of English at Emory University and has worked as a director of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment of the Arts (not one of my favorite institutions, by the way). He’s got the credentials, and if you can wade through the book, he’s got a point.
The book’s sensational title is a little misleading, however. Yes, the Milennials of today are consumed with technology, status updates and the “now.” But it’s not the digital age that is killing our culture. It's the distractions afforded by it. The young are no longer encouraged to pursue depth. They'd rather check Facebook.
Bauerlein’s last chapter is his most profound, inspirational and discouraging. In it, he concludes his thesis and raises our expectations for an informed citizenry.
Essentially, the United States is in an intelligence deficit rather than an economic deficit. And it’s only growing worse. Today’s collegians are uninformed and have rejected knowledge and tradition that not only connects culture with its history, but sustains a unique, selfless, visionary people.
Many reviewers seek to marginalize Bauerlein’s points by lobbing the same old stones over the fence. “He’s just against young people.” “He doesn’t understand the new ways of learning.” “It’s the same argument that old codgers have had against the younger generation forever.”
However, let’s not ridicule what we cannot rationalize. One would be hard-pressed to compare the writings by leaders of our country during the 19th century in their scope, breadth and depth to the writings/communication of our leaders today. It should be evident that there is an intelligence gap, a wisdom gap, a distinct other-worldliness that elicits wonder at earlier generations.
The ideas, philosophies and energized contentions they expounded make today’s societal leaders look like kindergartners. Bauerlein’s assertions in “No More Culture Warriors” simply indicate that we are not raising a future generation of intellectuals that have the mental equipment to process the conceptual framework that will anchor our country’s future in wisdom and worthiness.
Today’s young citizens have cost off knowledge and tradition in favor or narcissism — which is fed and enabled by the digital age. Whereas the opportunity is available (there’s more discovery, education, and sheer information simply on the net), the desire is absent.
Bauerlein delves into political theory in the last chapter as well to conclude his thoughts. The Founders, he asserts, knew that a healty democracy would be dependent on an informed citizenry. But we have abdicated (and the young more so) our responsibility to be vigilant, watchful and participatory in favor of being entertained.
Democracy requires an informed electorate, and knowledge deficits equal civic decay.
Our present state, he claims, is the result of the culture war of 1955-1975. It was one won by youth. In it, the institutions and wisdom of the elders was refuted, and all things shiny, new and rebellious were prized. Youth became sovereign, while the Establishment became irrelevant. With that culture war, our history and inherited culture was cast into the dust bins of that generation, not to be trusted, embraced or allowed to return. One generation stood in judgement on all those before it and proclaimed theirs superior.
The author pleads with an adult society to understand that reading, study, books and ideas are gold mines worth discovering and treasuring. He quotes Columbia professor John Erskine, who said in 1915 that we have “the moral obligation to be intelligent.” In other words, THINK, people.
The latest social and leisure dispositions of the young are killing the culture…
We need a steady stream of rising men and women to replenish the institutions, to become strong military leaders and wise political leaders, dedicated journalists and demanding teachers, judges and muckrakers, scholars and critics and artists.
If we don’t help raise the expectations and vision of the young, the authors says, “they will be remembered as the fortunate ones who were unworthy of the privileges they inherited.” If he’s right, the inheritance they leave their generations will be unworthy of record. Imagine a society sustained by informality, 140-character banal “tweets,” and “leaders” who are led by polls rather than conviction.