I realize most people on here are too young to remember the Bush years but when you guys frame your SJ posts as “you hate[x]!!! why do you hate [x]???” it sounds an awful lot like how Bush supporters would scream WHY DO YOU HATE AMERICA???? whenever anybody would criticize the president.
So that’s something to consider if you want to reach people over 25. Because most of us have an extremely negative conditioned response to that type of rhetoric.
There’s a surprisingly sharp generation gap on Tumblr–when I first got on the site in 2011 it was between high-school age and college age, but I don’t think it’s defined primarily by life stage or maturity level, because it’s tracked steadily upward ever since. Anecdotally, right now the split seems to be centered around age 23, plus or minus a couple of years on either side, which corresponds roughly to the birth years 1990-1994. My hypothesis for the generation gap boils down to “how old were you on September 11, 2001?” Those solidly on the older side of the gap were at least vaguely aware of a pre-9/11 political landscape, witnessed how disruptive the first term of the Bush administration was, and have a visceral reaction anything that smacks of neoconservatism or Religious Right propaganda. Those on the younger side attained political awareness in a world where the changes wrought by the Bush administration were the new normal, and their right-wing bogeyman uses Tea Party and GamerGate rhetoric.
So for the record, Bush-era “innovations” that unnerve the FUCK out of people on the older side of the generation gap:
– Casual acceptance of fear as an excuse for hatred and pre-emptive retaliation
– An “ends justify the means” approach to stamping out the slightest trace of vulnerability, no matter how repressive the means, or how slight or unlikely the potential harm
– “If you’re not marching in lockstep with us, you’re one of THEM, why do you hate all that’s good and noble?” / “Dissent and safeguards against the abuse of power just give aid and comfort to the enemy” / “Don’t you SEE that insisting that the protections of civil society apply to THOSE PEOPLE is just going to GET OUR PEOPLE HURT, YOU’RE HURTING PEOPLE YOU MONSTER”
– Anything that smacks of religious-fundamentalist logic or rhetoric
These things are not normal. These things are not how just societies are built. They are the hot water that an entire generation of lobsters has been raised to swim in without noticing. The undercurrents in the internet movement calling itself Social Justice that disturb the older generation are, essentially, the dirty tactics of the Bush administration and its unholy marriage of neocons and fundies–rebranded with a new set of acceptable targets, but with the tactics themselves unquestioned. Are they the younger generation’s fault? Fuck no. They’re what happens when the most culturally and politically powerful nation on Earth tries to pretend it’s moved on from the Bush years, but without ever having confronted the devastation those tactics left in their wake, dismantled the self-sustaining fear-and-repression machine, or held the perpetrators accountable for their officially-sanctioned torture, shredding of civil liberties, and thinly-justified wars of aggression.
So if I were to do the annoying geezer thing (at the ripe old age of 27) and Address The Youth, I guess what I’d say isn’t just that most people over 25 get an overwhelming urge to throw up in their mouths at the slightest sign you’re playing “but why do you hate freedom” Mad Libs. (Although that’s true.) It’s more than that. It’s that “why do you hate [x]???” belongs to an entire toolbox of fear/attack, ingroup/outgroup, and absolutist tactics that we’ve left lying out without bothering to re-affix the giant warning labels that they aren’t normal, or necessary, or even effective over the long term, however tempting they may be for a quick fix. And that it’s okay to refrain from using them.
The bad guys will not win if you ease off the attack a little and give your opponents room to tell you where they’re coming from. Opening yourself up to argument-counterargument with Bad, Unacceptable, Forbidden ideas is a form of vulnerability, but finding and evaluating the weak spots in your beliefs ultimately strengthens them and strengthens your ability to win people over to your side. Doubling down on the repeated assertions that you shouldn’t even have to argue and that disagreement is harmful or immoral is an alluring way to get what you want in the short term, but it produces superficial compliance out of fear rather than genuine agreement, and the backlash it causes is ultimately more dangerous than the vulnerability of opening yourself to disagreement. And it blinds you to the possibility that you may not be entirely in the right. This isn’t some MRA sneak attack to manipulate you into ceding ground. This is how discussion normally works in a functional society. You have been handed a dysfunctional, toxic system for exchanging ideas, in online SJ as well as in wider politics–and no, it’s not normal or effective, and no, you do not have to buy into that system’s claims that it’s the only thing standing between the innocent and an orgy of destruction and victimization.
The strangest thing about this is that I would not consider myself particularly old (does anyone?) but I was in my late teens on 9/11, and yeah. This is exactly what I find unnerving about the approach of some younger people to SJ issues. For a long time I just put it down to (im)maturity, but I’m really starting to think that there’s something fundamentally toxic and broken about the way our country has been approaching these things for the last 15 years or so. That kind of black and white, ‘if your fave is problematic then they’re basically the antichrist’ thinking that demonizes and squashes any kind of disagreement is really unhealthy, and it’s something that is learned.
Same, I’m 30, married to someone older than me, and we have a lot of friends in their 40s/50s. People I encounter on a regular basis comment on what a “baby” I am. I was 15 on 9/11. I’m not like. Ancient. But there is a definitely a difference between how people my age discuss issues versus how younger folks discuss them. Neons have really done a number on out ability to talk about stuff.
This would explain a lot about how fandom conversations have been going down recently. The absolute us/them nature of some of them, and the way SJ tools are used to bully people in order to win an argument.
I thought it was largely to do with Tumblr being a poor design for actual conversation, but this makes more sense, given the patterns I’ve seen.
I…think that most of the people on Tumblr will get older. The no holds barred, right or wrong, FUCK YOU surety is part of being a teenager. Then you get it knocked out of you and learn to nuance. Both phases have value. What I’m saying here is that I think it’s more developmental than generational.
I don’t understand what this has to do with 9/11
9/11 largely serves as a convenient symbolic marker for a severe shift in public discourse– I was 14 when it happened and I very clearly remember the before-times socially and politically and the after, when there really was a huge public shift in the way things were discussed, and how people in my age group and a little younger responded to things like “national tragedies,” “us vs them,” good vs evil" etc?
Kind of dumb example but I think is illustrative– when we were 12/13, the year before 9/11, a group of kids went to DC and New York and visited all the war memorials. People whose uncles and fathers had fought in Vietnam visited the wall and Arlington, were moved, went through all the ceremonial stuff, but not to the point of dramatic hysterics. Maybe two/three years after 9/11, many of the same kids went to Pearl Harbor while we were on tour in Hawaii and everything was prefaced with this really jingoistic Us Vs Them language, and half the group spent the entire time bawling performatively. There were also a lot of recriminations for not engaging in the theatrics, because it wasn’t showing Proper Respect to Our National Heroes, none of whom any of these kids could have known because they all died in 1941.
My little brother is only 22 months younger than me but he doesn’t really remember the day at all, and doesn’t really remember anything about the politics or big news stories from beforehand, whereas I very clearly remember having an opinion about the 1996 election and my The Talk with my mom was kicked off because of the Clinton impeachment. 9/11 kicked off a lot of the worst of what we see in American political discourse today, and so people who don’t remember it as clearly or the time before may have different outlooks, especially in the States.
On the one hand this is a fairly enlightening take on the somewhat rabid state of what passes for online discourse these days.
On t’other, remind me again why we haven’t built a wall around America yet?
This is a fascinating conversation. I think there’s more to it than this–the way digital social spaces intersect with social phenomena informs the discourse hugely–but there’s a lot here worth considering.
It also occurs to me that a lot of us who were old enough not only to remember 9/11, but also to be aware of the shift in public discourse around it, are also old enough to remember the Cold War, or at least its last lingering throes.
I’m 32, and I grew up with parents who were very active in the nuclear freeze movement. One of the fundamental truths I absorbed very early was that us-vs.-them absolutism and refusal to compromise and engage in good faith with ideological opponents wasn’t just stupid; it was deadly–potentially on a massive, global scale. I remember projects to hook U.S. kids up with penpals in the U.S.S.R. in hopes that we’d learn to see each other as people and so maybe not end life on fucking Earth if by some miracle our parents didn’t beat us to the punch.
And that approach was critical to the peace movement in general: humanizing the enemy. Trying to find points of connection; to learn to disagree humanely. That was a core, fundamental value of my childhood, in ways that were very closely and directly linked to the contemporary geopolitical scene; and they’re philosophies that continue to profoundly inform and steer my discourse and my approach to conflict–personal and political–as an adult.
Which is part of what scares the shit out of me about the discourse I see online, especially from the left: it’s all about radical dehumanization. I see people who are ostensibly on my side casually call other human beings trash or garbage or worthless. Scorch earth. Go to unbelievable lengths to justify NEVER engaging. Meet overtures to peace or steps toward change with spectacular cruelty.
I mean, I’ve seen variations on this exchange more times than I can count:
“[group x] are people, too.”
“No, they’re not.”
And then people LOL, and I don’t even know where to start, because–No. You do not say that. You do not EVER say that. EVER.
And I can so easily imagine how terrifying it must be to grow up in that–to be 15 or 16 or 17 and just becoming, and trying to find and place and grow into yourself in that kind of violence, and–
–to paraphrase someone profoundly and complexly flawed and still a person worth paraphrasing: Remember, babies, you gotta be kind.
Rachel is so very, very spot-on here.