Home/Rod Dreher/Courtship & Republicans

Courtship & Republicans

Scene from Whit Stillman’s “Metropolitan” (‘Metropolitan’ trailer screengrab)

I had a conversation recently with a high school teacher, about the question of dating, and male-female relations. She’s in her early 30s, and was talking at length about the difficulties of finding a partner to settle down with. She was really insightful.

One of the things she mentioned is observing the destructive way high school girls talk about boys. She said that they use the words “humiliation” and “assault” to describe normal social interaction. She indicated that these girls are intentionally fragilizing themselves, and whether they know it or not, making themselves unattractive to males because they turn ordinary male teenage awkwardness into a pathology.

The teacher also said — speaking of her own generation — that there is something about men of her generation that is strikingly immature. She doesn’t know why. But she also said that her generation is so self-sabotaging in that everybody wants to be happy, but nobody wants any commitments that would constrain their choices. They can’t understand that in order to get the things that will make them happy, she said, they have to surrender a significant amount of their autonomy — and that’s a thing that they will not do. She faulted herself somewhat for this.

Listening to her talk, I realized that trends that began with my generation (1980s) had hardened in subsequent generations. A lot of us were terrified of commitment, even though we wanted goods that could only come through commitment. The famous Generation X irony was a strategy to protect oneself in a social environment in which commitment was seen as making oneself vulnerable to disaster. This is what you get from a culture of divorce.

But I was like that in my teens and twenties, and my parents had not divorced, nor had most of the parents of my friends. I recall a sense of near-paralysis in the face of all the choices one could make about how to live one’s life. You could get so afraid of making the wrong choice that you passed up the opportunity to choose at all. The teacher told me that among her circles in college and right out of college, everybody was really, really anxious about making choices that would hamper their ability to rise. But rise to what, exactly? This is the number that Zygmunt Bauman’s liquid modernity does on male-female relationships.

Anyway, all that came to mind when I read this e-mail from a reader, which I post with his permission. He’s commenting on the Apocalypse GOP thread:

In my view, there’s nothing unique about the inability of the Republican Party to attract young people. Color me somewhat cynical, but the politics of the young come down to the following:

– Free stuff;

– I can do whatever the f*ck I want.

As a proud Gen. Yer, I don’t speak for everyone, certainly, but the above are the two most commonly-heard refrains with regards to how young people relate with both state and society here in the West. Because we’ve lived in such luxury compared to the rest of the world, it’s become easier (and more fashionable) to focus on the things we don’t have. It’s the difference between being given something as opposed to earning it – what’s given possesses less value than something that’s been earned.

The second point both complements and contradicts the first. Because they’re young, it’s not that they lack the mental capacity nor the life experience, but rather that they haven’t thought these things through all that well. If they did, they’d see the paradox of demanding the government giving you free stuff while insisting on your freedom to whatever you please – if you rely solely on the state to satisfy your every need and desire, then how on Earth are you able to do “whatever the f*ck you want?” Where it complements the first point is that because the young in the West haven’t had to pay much a price for a lot of what we enjoy here, they honestly believe adding a few more items to that shopping list won’t break the bank. The appreciation for what it takes to build and sustain a society simply isn’t there.

There’s one more thing – a lack of meaning in life. My best friend currently is a guy who shares nothing in common with me politically, but he trusts me enough to reveal that he feels his life ought to serve a grander, more meaningful purpose and this has an effect on how satisfied he feels. What’s interesting is that young people in general feel this way – that they want their lives to have more meaning, but they seem to think they’re the first generation to feel this way. I think every generation has sought more meaning in their lives, it’s just that older generations have discovered that meaning for themselves on an individual basis. Young people, on the other hand, want two things that aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but aren’t always inclusive, either – meaning on their terms, while still belonging to something greater than themselves.

How does this translate into the future of the GOP? Keep in mind – Gen. Y and Z will become old one day. And my friend is wrong when he says history follows a straight line in one direction – this is impossible, because we get old and die. Not only do some ideas die with us, but some ideas change as well. The history of society and the world is one of cycles and while the GOP may be in for some choppy waters, I don’t think any of this spells our death-knell.

And if it does? I suggest we do what we always should do – take it for granted that things will work out and keep our wheels turning. What other option is there?

I don’t think we should take it for granted that things will work out. I think we should maintain hope that if we trust God and live for Him, all things will work out for the best, even if that means suffering for us. But we shouldn’t be fatalistic.

Why am I putting these two ideas together? Because my conversation with the teacher began with her saying that her generation (Millennials) has a collective sense that things ought to be shared in common, but at the same time they think and live as hyper-individualists. She can’t understand it.  Seems to me like the reader who wrote has a pretty good sense of it.

Thoughts? Please do your best to restrain yourself from whataboutist griping about the GOP and Wall Street, foreign wars, and so forth. I’m going to police the thread more closely, solely to keep the discussion focused on whether or not there are connections between the socialization of generations as atomized consumers, and their much greater interest in a party and political orientation that valorizes greater personal autonomy and personal subsidies.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

leave a comment