Premature aging

Sam Smith
2006

One of the most striking changes in Washington culture over recent decades has been the disappearance of radical youth and their replacement  by a culture of elite, young right libertarians coming to the capital intent on increasing their own capital, financial and political. The recently jailed graffiti artist Borf is a rare exception to the rule, but the weekly paper and many local blogs, for example, rarely break out of a culture of self absorption and when they do it is with a snobbery and contempt – which they mistakenly regard as hip – towards those portions of the city not yet blessed by their gentrification.

Thus, reading that Harvard students supported the lately departed Lawrence Summers comes as no surprise. After all, the students are at Harvard to do as well as Summers did until confronted by some declasse groups such as blacks and women. And as the author of a forthcoming book on Harvard students put it, “There is not a speck of irony on the campus.”

And now we learn from Donald MacLeod in the Guardian that things are no better in Britain: “Universities have appealed to lecturers to call off industrial action over pay as a student union broke ranks and condemned the strike and boycott of exam marking. Bristol students’ union said it strongly condemned the tactics used by the lecturers’ unions. . . in pursuit of their 20% pay claim. . . ‘We will put pressure on [the unions] to resolve their pay dispute before targeting students at their most vulnerable time of their academic year.’ But the unions look set to go ahead with a one-day strike on Tuesday, followed by a boycott of setting and marking exams and coursework.”

Consider in contrast some of the slogans of an earlier young constituency, the French student rebels of 1968:

– Boredom is counterrevolutionary.

– No replastering, the structure is rotten.

– We want nothing of a world in which the certainty of not dying from hunger comes in exchange for the risk of dying from boredom.

– The boss needs you, you don’t need him.

– Your happiness is being bought. Steal it.

From such thoughts, so odd today, we have come to student bodies that can’t even tolerate a one day strike for better teacher pay. One need no better warning of the collapse of the west than that its elite young have become so, and even gloatingly, conservative. It now seems a race as to which will do us in first: the unprecedented warming of the earth or the unprecedented aging of its youth.

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