In this morning's New York Times, David Brooks, in an article titled "The Empirical Kids," quotes extensively from a student paper he received in a class he's teaching at Yale. The student, Victoria Buhler, he says, is examining herself and her generation, kids who are heirs of "the aughts," a decade that took us from Sept. 11 through the deepest economic woes since the 30s.
That kind of social analysis is always interesting, even if--and when--the landscape artists who produce them end up eventually having been wretchedly out of focus. Victoria Buhler may well be wrong, but she's writing as one of them, a child of the generation that came of age in a decade that featured significant American misfortunes.
Brooks says that much of what Ms. Buhler says in the paper is of interest, documenting, as it does, her and their vision. She claims that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, along with the moral fervor that created those commitments, have made her generation wary and skeptical of not only of armed action abroad, but also of the moral arguments used to legitimize those actions--and thus, moral arguments themselves.
He says she says that America's financial misfortunes have made her generation equally wary of believing in capitalism because corporations created the long and wearying mess we're still digging out of.
What happened when her generation came of age, she says, simply killed off the idealism otherwise typical of young people. Not only was the recession a horror, the Arab Spring--a phenomenon so full of promise--has led nowhere, and the Occupy movement died of terminal atrophy. So much for hope.
Brooks ends with this sad note:
I had many reactions to Buhler’s dazzling paper, but I’d like to highlight one: that the harsh events of the past decade may have produced not a youth revolt but a reversion to an empiricist mind-set, a tendency to think in demoralized economic phrases like “data analysis,” “opportunity costs” and “replicability,” and a tendency to dismiss other more ethical and idealistic vocabularies that seem fuzzy and, therefore, unreliable. After the hippie, the yuppie and the hipster, the cool people are now wonksters.
To a guy who is irretrievably "late 60s," such change signals a kind of apocalypse. Brooks says he gave her an A. She deserves it.
And, if she's right, we might well conclude, even and maybe especially on this Good Friday, that the rest of us deserve her generation's blighted perceptions.