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The Malign Power Of Fragility

How learned helplessness is preparing the Republic for tyranny
Detail of a man smashing glass with a baseball bat

A couple of interesting comments from readers, on the “Pete Buttigieg, HR Director” thread:

redstategal1: As someone who hires young people regularly (and have done so for 30 years), I am amazed at how “fragile” they have become in the last 5-7 years. They are completely undependable, because they might be having an anxiety attack, or they feel like committing suicide that day, or unless everyone agrees with them on everything, they can’t work and they feel honor-bound to quit. I honestly don’t know how they will survive the decades ahead of them. I honestly don’t know how they will be able to marry and raise children. Maybe stoking fragility should have been included in “The Screwtape Letters” as a major devilish strategic ploy.

To which “Marie In Vermont” replied:

My youngest son, a millennial, started a successful company which is internet based. He’s got about 3 dozen employees at this time and is resigned to hiring millennials and the younger cohort (GenZ?) because they have the computer skills that older employees lack. All my kids were homeschooled and we did not buy a computer until the last one graduated high school, so their childhood was traditional in the sense that they learned skills, social and otherwise, unmediated by electronics.

This son has an ulcer from dealing with his very nice, but often clueless, employees. He’ll call me to tell me – again and again – how they can’t seem to show up for work on time, they can’t carry on a face-to-face conversation, cannot do anything that they haven’t been explicitly told to do, don’t notice when something’s gone wrong and even when they do they don’t think independently enough to come up with a solution. This is not hopeful. When I compare these kind of kids to my no-nonsense, you do what needs to be done whether you want to or not-grandparents, I wonder how we fell so far in just a few generations.

These are anecdotes, of course, but I’d like to know what the experiences of others have been in this regard. How widespread is this fragility across the younger generations? People who are so emotionally fragile, and who cannot manage their own lives without someone telling them every move to make, are people who will be eager to submit to a strong authority that caters to their emotional needs in exchange for obedience. This is the Pink Police State that James Poulos has been telling us about. 

I really do think that infamous 2015 encounter on the Yale campus between Prof. Nicholas Christakis and a crowd of students (mostly people of color) will be remembered by history as a symbolic turning point. If you watch the lengthy clip, you will see a liberal professor meeting his antagonists with a willingness to listen to their complaints, and to engage them in reasoned dialogue. But he will not agree with them that he is a bad person because he has hurt their feelings — and this drives some of the undergraduates into hysterics. There is sobbing, and shaking among some of the women. They curse the Yale professor. One of the young men gets into Christakis’s face, threateningly. Mind you, these young people were undergraduates at Yale University, and therefore among the most privileged people to walk the planet. I don’t believe that their fragility was performative and cynical. I believe that they truly were emotionally undone by the fact that this professor would not say the words they wanted to hear, and persisted in his disagreement with them.

As we know, a number of professors at Yale joined the woke mob. Erika Christakis, his wife and an accomplished scholar in her own right, left the university. He remained, but the administration in most respects capitulated, and promised to devote tens of millions of dollars to the “diversity” cause. What was so extraordinary about it was the collapse of university authority. What Nicholas Christakis did on the campus that day was a thing of courage and beauty: meeting hostile passion with dialogue, patience, and reason. This is what civilization is about! And Yale hung him out to dry.

Displaying fragility is the key to power. Rene Girard wrote that the admirable concern for victims, the gift of Hebrew and Christian religion, has in our time become a “process of spiritual demagoguery and rhetorical overkill [that] has transformed the concern for victims into a totalitarian command and a permanent inquisition.”

This is serious stuff. Unless you have had to deal personally with the middle class and upper middle class people who administer the institutions of our society, you have no idea how powerful this weaponized fragility is. Girard, a Stanford scholar, understood this well.

The thing is, the Fragility Regime is itself fragile, don’t you think? It controls the institutions, but it has never faced serious, sustained resistance. That resistance will come inevitably in the form of economic collapse or some other form of catastrophic strain on the system. The fragile will not know what to do. Those leaders who hired on the basis of the ideology that valorized fragility will have created institutions that cannot perform under duress. As we saw with the Soviet bloc, when a system creates incentives to advance oneself by embracing ideology and lying about reality (to others, and to oneself), then it sets itself up for a crash.

That is the inevitable fate of the Fragile Regime. But as we know, there is a lot of ruin in a nation. The Soviet Union was able to destroy a lot of people, their material wealth, and their ways of life, before it went down — and the 1990s there were a grim, grim time. We should absolutely not want things to get that bad here. Isn’t it at least possible that the Fragile Regime governing our institutions is weaker than it seems? They depend on the fear of opposition to get what they want. Had Yale stood up for the Christakises, and told those kids either to go back to class or go home, and enforced its decision, it would have worked. But that’s not what happened.

What if it started to happen? What if people stopped being intimidated by the Fragile, and by the institutional leaders who ratify and enforce Fragility? What would that look like?

I was talking this afternoon by phone to a conservative Protestant friend, who agreed that so much progressive change has been accepted by congregations because conservative people were afraid to be called “divisive” or “mean.” Isn’t this true across our society? I don’t know Yale, but I am confident that there were more than a few students on that campus who saw what the mob was doing to the Christakises, and who hated it, but who were too intimidated to say anything about it. They probably knew that in the professional circles within which they hoped to have careers, you must never, ever question the sacred Victim.

What happens when they aren’t frightened any more? What happens when they cannot be intimidated by emotional displays that intend to shame people into submission?

The Fragile Regime can be broken. We haven’t figured out quite how to do it yet, but we had better do it before they get much further.

An alternative scenario: this morning I was listening to a podcast about the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. A journalist who covered that conflict talked about how unnerving it was to arrive there as an outsider, and to see how people from the same village who had lived in peace just the day before (so to speak) were now literally at each other’s throats. It shook him up to see how easy it was to stoke evil in the hearts of people, and to make them hate others on the basis of religious and ethnic difference. What the identity politics of the Fragile Regime is doing is laying the groundwork for a Balkan-style conflict here. They are making this society fragile — and if, God forbid, those conflicts break out, they are going to use that emergency as an excuse to seize totalitarian powers.

Listen to what the people who fled communism are telling us. They have seen how this works.

Anyway, tell me: if you are a Millennial or Generation Z person, what are you seeing among your peers? If you are an older person, are you encountering this fragility among the young? You’d be amazed how many college professors I’ve met over the past few years who tell me that something seriously changed in students, around about the year 2014.

UPDATE: Some interesting comments in the thread below. Here’s one:

In my experience as a 20-year old former Christian, I have seen many examples of this herd-like mentality. I encountered it almost as a spirit upon them– a mass movement that made me understand exactly how inquisitions work. I first noticed it in the eighth grade when I was on the debate team. Gay marriage was a big issue back then, and being a Christian in an Evangelical family, I was against. When I said this, one of the girls heard me, and began running around, announcing my views to everyone else. Soon, she had gotten the entire debate team of ~15 people to gang up on me. For the rest of the season, I was ostracized and mocked by these people. I quit, and never joined again.

In high school, it was even worse. I knew by then to keep my mouth shut about Christianity and homosexuality, but I still wanted to at least be known for free speech. My English teacher wanted us to give presentations comparing various modern-day political movements to the Salem Witch trials. She was a pussy-hat wearing feminist who had previously gone on rants about Trump, and strongly implied that we should compare Trump’s racism and sexism to the witch hunts. I and my partner, however, would not be cowed. We instead gave a presentation on the University of Missouri protestors, and compared their treatment of the hapless administrators to the Salem Witch Trials. Our presentation took 8 minutes, but the teacher held up class for 40 minutes afterwards questioning our presentation and having the most leftist students in the class tear our presentation apart. Students in the class were comparing her treatment of us to the Salem trials by the end of it all.

Eventually, I lost all my friends, when they found out the truth about my Christian beliefs. They kicked me out, literally claiming that they needed a “welcoming environment.” Granted, they later came back for awhile, but they constantly made fun of my Christianity. It was clear that they thought of me as the immoral one, even as some of them watched illegal porn and constantly made jokes about rape and perverse sexuality.

The church never lifted a finger to help me. My parents didn’t listen to a word I said until it was obvious that I had lost everything. I never wanted my mother to throw me a party for my high school graduation, because I knew no one would come. She threw one anyway. I was right. One time, I had just been trying to explain for fifteen minutes to my father that I had lost all my friends. He abruptly changed the topic and mentioned if I had been applying to internships lately. This utter blindness is what cost them and conservatives more broadly all moral authority in my eyes.

Let me emphasize this: these people (Millenials/GenZ) are incapable of producing anything of value. You notice the fragility, but a better way of putting it is that they have been autistified. In other words, they were socialized by screens; almost no one in my 20-man group of high school board game guy friends had ever had a girlfriend. Over and over, you will ask about different life experiences, and the answer is that society sent them to the screens.

1. Why don’t young men and women desire each other? Because porn desensitizes men’s sex drive, so they don’t care for real girls, and social media turbo-charges women’s hypergamous desires so they don’t care for real guys. A larger percentage of them are sedentary and fat, meaning that less of them compare to what they see on the Internet.
2. Why are they fragile? Physically, because they are unfamiliar with the meatspace, and mentally, because they can easily isolate themselves in echo chambers online. It also doesn’t help that they were raised by fad-crazed educators who have been busy taking the edges and blood out of education for decades.
3. Why don’t they have any individual incentive? Because every waking second of their lives, they have been connected to other people’s thoughts on the internet, rather than thinking for themselves.

Finally, you mention the Balkanization of America. Hardly anyone of my age really believes in America– not as a nation, not as an ideal, and certainly not as a place that’s better than everywhere else! When I was in ROTC, I once drove with a major in the National Guard. All of a sudden, he got this funny, kind of dreamy look on his face. He said “I know we’ve sworn to defend the Constitution and all, but does anyone really believe in that anymore?” I want you now to think about those debate kids I mentioned earlier. Think about those board game guys who laughed me out of the room. These are the people at the receiving end of the leftist propaganda campaigns. What do you think they believe about the Constitution? Do you think they value it, or will they remember their 1619 Project history education and see Washington and Jefferson as slaveholding white nationalists?

Here’s another, from Luke Bailey:

I’ll speak as a millennial who spent five years teaching Gen Z. Since you provided anecdotes, you’ll forgive me if I do the same.

I’ve seen members of my generation latch onto a number of depressingly unhelpful traits and habits, most of which are well covered on this blog. A constant desire to defer to allied authority, engendered by helicopter parenting and typified by college woke mobs. A lack of original thinking, perhaps derived from growing up in a social media environment that spoon-feeds them endorphin drips with easily accessed and navigable apps. When authority does prove burdensome and contradicts the strongly held but ill earned sense of individualism and justice seeking, the correct response is less and less to obey and respectfully voice concerns, but rather to outright rebel.

Finally, I am constantly, unendingly, amazed by the inability of others in my generational cohort to show up to work on time. It is such a basic feature of being an adult, and yet they cannot do it. Perhaps everything in their childhood was curated for them without personal initiative.

That being said,

I think Gen Z is going to be okay.

In fact, I love Gen Z. Those little screwballs are hilarious.

The sanctimony and entitlement of the millennial is simply not present in Gen Z- this has been my personal experience, and I don’t know exactly why it is. I imagine it has much to do with the evolution of internet culture.

The internet has turned Gen Z into the biggest group of cynics imaginable. Their patron saint is Diogenes, their dear leader a frog in a MAGA hat. Everything is a joke- that is, everything online, which might as well be everything because that’s where the little wackos spend all of their time (not just the nerds- another departure from the millennials).

I find Gen Z to be critical of any all-encompassing ideology, which makes sense. They’re receiving and processing thousands of contradictory messages every day, and their response is to turn everything into a joke. They have memes that go six levels of translation deep, they speak a language incomprehensible to anyone who took a week long sabbatical from the information highway as the very language itself can mutate hourly. These little guys are creating their own hieroglyphic code every day, in which the brush is the Discord app and apathy the theme. Of course, it also must also bring the lols. Always bring the lols.

I worry about Gen Z spiritually, as their cynicism can prove a certain inoculation to any all-encompassing truth. However, they are far less likely than my generation to believe in grand plans, master ideologies, and anyone with the temerity to insist that they know something. They jive their heads to the most profane hiphop before transitioning to a Ben Shapiro or Louder with Crowder vid, without any understanding or care that this is a cultural contradiction. They find the trans movement hilarious, as evidenced by stats shared in the last year by Andrew Sullivan. They dislike the halo-polishing sanctimony of the Social Justice Left and find it great fodder for the never ending technocratic loop that is their daily existence. And, of course, while they are cheuferred around and micromanaged like the millennial, that’s not their real life- their real life is on a rectangle they’re holding in the back of the car.

I have no idea what’s going to happen when this band of merrymaking, piratical edgelords reach the corporate world or start truly shaping the culture. It might be apocalyptic. However, unlike the blue-faced exhortations of the millennials, it certainly wont be boring.

Muzan-e writes:

I may be the anomaly here: a very large proportion of our most reliable and hardworking employees are either millennials or adjacent teenagers.

It may be because the work weeds out the more fragile kids — it’s difficult, fast-paced, demanding and performed in a challenging environment. It may be because of the nature of the positions — the food industry is rough, and few people make a career out of it.

It may also be because of these kids’ circumstances: almost all of them are either supporting themselves while studying, saving money for future study, or supporting families — either very young or an extended network of elders. They’re working for us because they feel a responsibility or understand that their ambition must be financed.

But generally, when compared to our 30-50yr old employees, they’re phenomenal. They want the extra hours, often as many as they can get. They’ll take the busiest hours. Often they want us to work with their schedules (as does almost everyone), but they’re seldom showing up late and they’re often trying to stay overtime. I do want to add that during the past six or so years, we’ve received two complaints of sexual harassment — inflicted each time on a younger employee by an older staff member(s); both cases were so obvious and egregious that we fired the accused within the week. They weren’t the complaints of fragile children, hyper-sensitive to perceived (and non-existent) offenses.

If it was legal to do so, we would hire exclusively from the pool of 18-20something second-generation and reservation kids. They’re quick learners, they seldom slack, they like to get the job done right, every time, and they are never rude to customers. The worst problem we have from them is their insatiable desire for more hours. Contrast that to the 30-40yr old folks that we have on our crew, and you quickly see that almost every employee that we’ve fired during the last decade+ comes from that group, and likewise most of the non-serious complaints, no-shows, shift-switching and tardiness.

But look, these aren’t Yale kids. They know that they’ll never be Yale kids. They were generally born to poverty, and their ambition is to either earn their way out of it, give their extended families a better life, or enable their children to live in a state that’s better than subsistence. They know that complaining won’t accomplish that for them. That the most they can do is raise the dollar-value of every hour that they work.

Here’s one from YoungAmConReader:

cannot do anything that they haven’t been explicitly told to do, don’t notice when something’s gone wrong and even when they do they don’t think independently enough to come up with a solution.

Young millennial here, this is a real problem. It really comes from a total fear around being incorrect, even for a minute. You need to understand where many of my peers come from, they grew up in a constant supervision environment, then they went to college and we’re graded on the ability to correctly answer multiple choice questions and/or write in a manner that would meet the page length requirements.

By the time they enter the workforce many of us have learned that not being wrong is more important than getting something right. It leads to pointless meetings where nobody can say anything of substance. Instead they talk vaguely and ask each other softball questions in the hopes that it will be reciprocated. Even asking some of my peers to walk me through their data so I can understand better is seen as “aggressive”, as if I’m supposed to nod along cluelessly.

And for the last time, being able to interface with a mobile app does NOT make my generation “good” with technology, anymore than driving a car is an indicator of being skilled with machines. Some of my co-workers can’t even use a PivotTable or index-match in Excel, let alone using VBA or R.

MoreFisher writes:

My company employs people who exhibit professionalism, patience, resiliency and resourcefulness in the service of a demanding and petulant public.

We are not unique in this. However, due to geography and the observed inexorable collapse of the local workforce, we are certain that our company will close within 15 years, when the present staff has aged out.

We don’t know how we will make a living at that time. We can’t do what we do without good staff. Which we know we won’t have, soon.

– We feel tremendous pressure to make hay while the sun is shining (i.e. while the remnants of the last generation of employable people are still happily coming to work).
– This puts a great deal of strain on our customer relations. We need to earn today’s supper and tomorrow’s and the next day’s, all today. Most days, we still price our services based on what our customers are accustomed to, or think they can afford. We will pay dearly for this some day soon.
– We live in inordinate fear of losing staff. We pay generously and are very flexible and understanding with employees’ needs, as a matter of principle and habit. We can’t address our problem by raising wages or taking other mechanical steps. Any good employee leaving is seen as a disaster, because we know they can’t be replaced.
– Smart entrepreneurs (i.e. not me) are acting rationally in the face of the workforce crisis, and either (i) selling their companies or (ii) transforming their companies to run on a skeleton crew with algorithms doing the rest.

It is sad. We are successful entrepreneurs and proud employers of good people. Our company would appear to any outsider to be thriving. But we know we have terminal cancer.

I could go on for days about the whys. Fragility culture is one major factor. We’ve hired smart, accomplished people who have lost their minds at the slightest obstacle. They never recover. If they stick around long enough they become vindictive and destructive. These are young, allegedly vibrant people, apparently ready to take on the world when they interview. And they are utterly unemployable.

I graduated university in 2004 and even I find I’m lost in dealing with this new breed. Supposedly I’m a Millennial by chronology. But my thriving and successful business is damned to failure in the intermediate future, and as a consequence, I feel that I’m nearing the end of my useful life as a professional.

I’ll figure something out when the time comes, but it sure is a hell of a thing.

Denver, who works in IT:

Something has changed in how people function. The anecdotes about having to provide the minutest level of instruction are entirely true. I find employees often cannot finish a checklist and almost lack the ability to organize and perform a task on their own, particularly in the millennial and gen-z categories. Don’t even begin on critical thinking or responding to something that they have not been specifically trained on with at least a three session minimum.

It’s a lack of desire. It’s a lack of pride in their work. It’s almost the attitude that the job should be there no matter what, and so once the job is procured, there is no need to go any further. I used to blame this on a lack of desire to learn, but I’ve now observed entirely intelligent men and women who seek to learn tons, yet somehow can’t apply any of it.

That said, this segues to a book by David Epstein called Range. He talks about how our educational system is entirely built around the premise of specialization. He writes about outside learning, which spans across disciplines, ultimately doing better. We lack this in the education system, and I think this is a huge reason for the cultural passivity. It’s been drilled and drilled. I also think the types of media we consume induce further passivity. Even social media is quite passive, as you are often reading and responding to the comments of others.

Jonah R., who always has something interesting to say:

I’ve asked people in my life variations of this question, because I’ve been curious to know if I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing.

My neighbor here in our high-stress Midatlantic suburb teaches at a public high school. He tells me that the kids who burst into tears regularly are the ones whose whole lives are devoted to academic achievement and college prep. He says a large subset of them are afraid to make mistakes, and they cry at the drop of a hat. By contrast, he says you almost never see this behavior from, as he puts it, “the kids who hang out in front of the gas station trying to convince a grownup to buy them a Juul.”

Another neighbor who works in digital journalism also tells me that he’s had 25 year olds from elite college start crying because he lightly copy-edited their work.

A lawyer friend tells me she’s stopped bringing in interns from her alma mater because they dawdle, they don’t show up on time, and they seem surprised that they’re expected to be extra-careful with work that affects people’s lives, businesses, and freedom. She says they’re discombobulated when you try to goad them to meet deadlines.

Is there any way to quantify this fragility? I don’t know. But it’s revealing, I think, that every time I hear one of these stories, it always involves a certain kind of bred-for-college kid from a high-pressure, status-minded family who aspires to an influential job in a field like media, politics, law, or academia.

As I mentioned in a comment on another post, this is why I’m nervous about the future: because in 20 years, these kids, whether they’re truly fragile or are faking fragility to get ahead, will be running our institutions. They will have gotten there through a culture of passive-aggressiveness, gaslighting, and manipulation, and that’s going to infect our universities, businesses, and social institutions in ways I can’t imagine will be healthy.

There are more, but you need to go into the comments yourself.

UPDATE.2: Sit down and read this letter I just received:

As an old white man (68 year old attorney and veteran of hundreds of courtroom squabbles about victimhood)) and the father of two adult children, I would like to offer a resounding nod toward your observations about victimhood, fragility and power.

First… a few thoughts about the deployment of victimhood/fragility (I link the terms because they are first cousins) as a weapon to gain power or take it from others. Long before the year 2014, women seeking to destroy their husbands in contested family law matters discovered the formula for winning such battles. It is as old as the tactics deployed by the Greeks to invade the city of Troy. We all know it. It is to appear to be that which you are not. In other words, appear weak, small, vulnerable, sweet and friendly: then when you have your opponent eating from your hand, draw your sword and strike for the vitals. Sounds cold…cunning and cruel…It is. And it is a metaphor for the politics of victimhood. Most so-called victims are quite capable of fending for themselves when it becomes necessary. They simply don’t want to work that hard. In post-modern western cities, it is much easier for a victim and her attorney to simply tell the judge (who is often a member of the same “victimized” group) the story about the time the 250 lb husband-father came home a little tipsy and wanted to” fool around..” which in the eyes of the female judge sounds a lot like “sexual assault.” Having been in that courtroom more than once, as advocate for both actors, I will simply note that the poor father doesn’t stand a chance. It has been that way since I began practicing law 35 years ago. Victimhood has become the legal weapon of choice. It is a badge of honor. It is worn the way my father wore his WWII medals and in todays culture, victimhood doesn’t even require any documentation. It needs only inference or mere allegation. Just watch reruns of the Kavanaugh hearings if you doubt my words.

Second, my adult children, who were raised in affluence, and educated among the elite, are poster-children for victimhood as claim to fame and raison d’être. Victimhood is their identity. If uniforms with victimhood logos were available from Amazon, they would wear the same victim outfit every day. The secular private schools they attended reinforced their victimhood skills, giving them passing grades even though they had not mastered the material, certificates for showing up, and a belief system built on a foundation of personal pleasure and fulfillment. After observing victimhood at work in my profession and my family for over thirty years,(that’s a whole generation) I can confidently say it is not an identity that leads to a successful rewarding life; or a great nation. I do not recommend it. It is like a cancer that thrives on the cells of our self-reliance.

Thirdly, only leaders who are unsure of their own capabilities, those who seek leadership because of the trappings of power, intentionally surround themselves with victims. Thus, politicians, academics, corporate executives and religious leaders who lack a clear vision for their teams, often surround themselves with sycophants who have made their way in the world by riding the coat-tails of the latest charlatan spouting the right psychological jargon. Conversely, leaders who are driven to lead as a way to serve other people, often choose to surround themselves with others who challenge their views of the world and who are comfortable speaking out and up… This, I fear, is what we have in America today…leaders who are more comfortable with sycophants and followers who will do anything to avoid risk. This is generalization of course. But it sure does seem like we have lost our ability to speak up and out, clearly and succinctly, with important questions for our leaders and with recommendations for how we can find our way back home.

There’s nothing new here. You understand it very well. The only news is that I have lived long enough to attest to the results you predict. An entire generation has used victimhood and fragility as a way to get ahead in the material world. The results are what we have today. One final point…there really are victims in the world. They understand that victimhood is not a flattering outfit.

If you decide to use this, please block out my name. I do love my kids. Fragility has not helped them at all.

UPDATE.3: This is deep:

Fragile is a difficult concept for me. Respectfully, my generation is not fragile. Fragile is akin to glass – weak, delicate, and transparent. I realize this is semantics, but i’d like to make important distinctions that I see among young people that you are earnestly concerned about. (I mean that genuinely, I wouldn’t bother reading this blog if I thought you were a hack).

To be brief, the people I encounter on a daily basis at my college are in many ways the opposite of fragile glass. They are opaque, formless clay. Young people are desperate in a society without REAL support. The posted comments both describe dealing with young people in the workplace, something I hear a lot about throughout my day. I think it is a fair assessment that millennials and Gen Z can be characterized as fragile in the workforce, but that’s the outlier. The workplace is an Achilles heel because it pins down a generation who have staked their entire existence on being unpinnable. They no longer believe in upper-ward economic mobility. Mobility is entirely social and status driven- being rich or even middle class has been relegated to a fringe benefit of your social status (I go to state college in the Midwest, so that limits my point of view to a degree.) The average state college attendee I know NEVER talks about owning a home or having children except as a far-off dream that seems to grow a little farther every day. Can you blame them? The recession, the death of the home and the family, the opioid crisis, the endless wars, climate change, the decline of religion, the upheaval caused by an era of unprecedented technological change, student debt, the list goes on and on.

Childhood for your average white Midwestern kid comes in two flavors nowadays: Your parent (parents if your lucky) either outsourced all the emotional labor a parent should owe a child to corporations and public entities in order to make YOU, a CHILD, into a better PRODUCT. (I don’t know a ton of people like this because the best products go to the Ivies or whatever high value brand they can get into).

Enter door number two: your childhood was spent anxiously watching your parent pick from a menu of options to comfortably kill themselves and abandon you to the wolves on the altar of personal success. Maybe it was drugs, maybe it was financial ruin (that was my case), maybe they were workaholics, maybe they just didn’t like the way you looked. These kids are going to spend the rest of their lives chasing the soul that left their body hoping to break clean from the past and start fresh or spend it filling their own emptiness with as much porn and pills as they can stomach until they wake up as a different person.

You’re hitting all the right notes here in this piece and I am of the same mind regarding their submission to authority for emotional needs. But I’d like to elaborate on WHICH emotional need. These kids are looking for SECURITY. Those silent kids you mention, some of whom are appalled by the histrionics of rich Ivy snobs cooing for their silver spoons but stand idly anyways, are the real concern here. An entire generation of people are deciding that morals are currency in uncertain times.

This is getting a bit lengthy (though if your interested I’d elaborate on my experiences) so I will close with this. The internet has made people very good liars, none more so than people under 35. How did those fragile kids get jobs their social and emotional states should have disqualified them from? It’s easy, they lied. Sure, they maybe had the right knowledge but they also knew how perform well enough to get through a hiring process because it suited their needs. This might not seem related to violence until you consider the relationship between violence and dishonesty. To me, it stands to reason that the violence your referring to does not come out of the blue, it comes when many individuals and groups make a snap decision that their security depends on their acquiescence to a moral wrong.

UPDATE.4: Are you reading these amazing comments? Here’s another:

I’m in a terminal degree program in the humanities at a top private research university, and am
currently enrolled in courses as well as teaching undergraduates. So I’m from the tailend of the millenials, and my students are the eldest of the gen-Zers.

There are a lot of fragile people, though not a majority, and given the circumstances I don’t blame them.

While I don’t think it’s fair to say the entire crop of kids coming through and out of college now are as a whole more fragile than previous generations, there is a sizeable fragile minority. We shouldn’t generalize about fragility when most of the stories about these sorts of things come from a small number of universities, not to mention that about 30% of people my age won’t even go to college. Bosses complaining about their workers are about as reliable as workers complaining about their bosses, or landlords and renters, students and teachers, etc. If the youngins really were so gosh darn awful, they wouldn’t get hired. Nevertheless, there are, especially at top universities, a great number of fragile people.

I have plenty of friends from college or graduate school who have various diagnosed mental issues, who see counselors, who would describe themselves as fragile, and who are able to get along mostly fine in everyday life, but will occasionally, take a mental health day or spend the whole day depressed in bed or something similar. My students likewise will openly email me to say such and such has made them nervous, or they missed class because they couldn’t get out of bed, or their medication is changing so they may have issues. Still, this is only representative of less than a quarter of my students and peers, with varying degrees of severity.

The main cause of this is simply that today’s elite students experience much more stress than those in the past, and this stress makes them more fragile. Here are a few stressors that are entirely normal for a student today.

1) He has a crippling amount of student debt, which every guidance counselor, parent, teacher, etc. encouraged him to acquire.

2) He has few or no close, long-term friends. His high school friends scattered to various colleges when they graduated, and now leaving college, most of his college friends will also scatter to various cities looking for jobs. Twice in four years he will have to entirely restart his social life in a new city, and this will likely happen a few more times in the unstable, early phases of his career.

3) He spent his high school years continuously worried about getting into a good college and working hard to make sure he did. All his parents and teachers encouraged him in this. All his time was crammed full and master scheduled to ensure he got into a good college, but now he is in college or beyond with no clear direction.

4) He spent and spends too much time looking at screens, rather than interacting with people or nature or doing anything else. His parents always bought him the newest technology, and at school the use of computers and screens were always promoted.

5) He thinks the world around him is falling apart. Be he on the right, left, far-right, far-left, green party, libertarian, white nationalist, communist, the experts are certain that everything is falling apart, and that in his lifetime, he will see the death of democracy, billions of climate refugees, the failure of the American Experiment, etc. These are things orders of magnitude worse than the fear of cuts to social security among older Americans.

6) He has no meaning in life beyond satisfying his own desires.

People can put up with some of these. However when a sizeable number of young people have these problems hanging over their heads, it’s no surprise so many are fragile, or more accurately, broken. It’s key that these problems happen to the nice, rule-following students who did what everyone told them. These are not young rebels getting caught up with drugs and ruining their lives. These are kids doing what mom and dad and the teacher and the news and the media said was best, only to find that it’s awful. Young people are told to work as hard as possible to get into the best school, and to take on any debt to go there, and then to uproot their lives again for the best job or program after graduating. This is the typical approach for students who make it to an elite school for better or worse. The praise and blame for it lie squarely with this generation’s parents.

There has long been an undercurrent of mental instability in the young intellectual elite (see The Sound and the Fury) as it has always taken a great deal of sacrifice to become part of that elite. There is a financial cost to attend school, a toll from work itself, a humiliation in being surrounded by people smarter than you, a loneliness to leaving home. As we increase the amount of work required to attend a good college while at the same time encouraging more people to do so, we place greater burdens on young people and more and more of them become fragile.

If society wanted less fragile young people, society should have given us more than miserable, meaningless work and the best toys money can buy. All the prophecies of Larkin are coming true, and it will be a long time before things are set right again, if ever.

And look at this one, from reader Northland:

The diversity of responses seems to suggest it’s hard to paint a complete portrait of late Millennials and Gen Z. But let me give it a shot.

Some of us are doing quite terribly.

Some of us are *on paper* doing quite well, making it into the selective colleges, building the resumes, aiming for the high-powered jobs that will propel us into (or, in most cases, keep us within) the top 10% of the country economically and socially. But internally in this category there’s a lot of anxiety about achievement and a real emptiness of life beyond the boundaries of academic and professional activities. The feeling of anxiety increases as those jobs that would put us in the top 10% take us to cities where rent and cost of living is high, and there is little immediate hope of achieving the idyllic, bourgeois, suburban life that deep in the recesses of our minds we all really want.

The rest of us, lost in the middle, are cognizant of how poorly most of those around us are doing. We’re not chasing the top 10% life. We’re also not wallowing in the pits of mental illness, substance addiction, sexual/gender dysphoria, etc. We actually see a vision of adulthood, of maturity, and we’re consciously working, albeit haltingly and tentatively, towards a level of financial independence, perhaps marriage, and eventually the idyllic, bourgeois life. We’re not too visible, though, because most of us have eschewed social media by this point, having adopted it in our early teens but eventually realized how soul-sucking it can be.

The members of all three groups tend to cluster around their fellow members. For those struggling, they tend to attract fellow strugglers, constitute a reciprocal feedback loop which heighten their collective difficulties, and feelings of inadequacy and inability, even more. For those gunning to win the meritocracy, they surround themselves with the others playing the same game, and share in their latent displeasure at the ultimate banality of their quest to reach the top, barely masked by the pleasures of dinners at ritzy restaurants or enough savings for a weekend getaway to some Instagramable locale.

The middle group also tends to cluster, if anything to reinforce to ourselves just how ridiculous the rest of our generation has become. I come home from college periodically on breaks, and I always meet up with two guys I went to high school with. We were decently good friends in high school solely because we played sports together, but socially we were in different classes in high school. I was bookish, a homebody, who ate lunch with the band/choir/theatre kids, and they were athletic “jocks” who were popular and hung out with the “cool kids”, as it were. The only reason we’re still friends, now almost three years out from high school, is because the crowds we ran with in high school have both disintegrated, leaving us to bond over the fact that we survived. Most of the band/choir/theatre kids that I used to be friends with have gotten into drugs and alcohol, gender dysphoria, mental illness, etc. Most of the “popular” kids those two used to hang out with are either barely making it through their state schools as business/engineering majors, binge-drinking every weekend and refusing to grow up, or have dropped out and are maybe taking community college classes somewhere.

Every time the three of us get together, we commiserate over who’s dropped out where, who’s gotten into hard drugs, who got a DUI, who went trans. And we implicitly remind ourselves that we’re going to be alright simply by being average, showing up to work on time, going to classes, getting the Bs and Cs, putting away our phones sometimes, actually talking to girls and asking them on dates. We occasionally talk about after college, settling down in the flyover state we grew up in, accepting the lower salaries and slower pace of life that will come with it, buying a house, having kids, taking them to church because our parents did the same for us.

We actually talk about these little things, stuff that was commonsense a decade ago, but somehow got lost in the static somewhere in the 2010s.

And I have a feeling we and the rest of the people like us in our late millennial/Gen Z cohort will be alright. I can’t say the same for the other two groups.

There are more good ones — dive in below.



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