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.