Today's zeitgeist is the pathologised individual. You are living in an era where the 'form of personality' that is valued and privileged is the vulnerable victim, where weakness is treated sympathetically and strength is demonised as arrogance or bullying, where anything smacking of the stiff upper lip is seen as a relic from a cruel, insensitive era. Today, emotional literacy is de rigueur.
Claire Fox writes an outraged pamphlet against outrage culture. Polemic, ranty, but not without worthwhile analysis.
The book's structured in three parts: Part #1 outlines the situation, part #2 tries to identify reasons for a mollycoddled youth, part #3 consists of letters to said generation of youngsters.
While Germany's educational system is very, very different from the ones in the US or the UK, a lot of what Fox writes sounds quite familiar and I can relate to many of her points. I'm 34 and I teach semiotics and feminist and gender aware linguistics. You may draw your own conclusions from there. About ten years ago, in my activist heydays, I roamed the streets, chanting „I'm not a victim“. In our work with survivors of domestic abuse, we try to teach them that they are exactly that – survivors, not victims, people strong enough to reclaim responsibility for their life, to change it for the better. And then, in my day-job, on social media, and everyday discussions, there's what Fox and others call offence generation or 'Generation Snowflake', seemingly claiming victim status as a part of their identity.
While I don't want to dismiss peoples' very real pains and bad experiences, I do see “This offends me” and “I feel hurt” becoming the go-to means to silence every reasonable discussion, to silence any critique or simply disagreeing opinions.
I'm not exactly innocent in that regard, especially not when it comes to discussions about the current refugee situation in Europe; discussions that are difficult, often heated, and, at least for me, emotionally draining.
So, yes, I think Fox has some valid points. Most importantly, she's not blaming the “younger generation”, but, as pointed out above, tries to identify reasons for young adults' apparent inability to stand criticism and the tendency to feel offended about divergent opinions, reasons she sees in the parent generation, the educational system itself, and the prominence of “Student Voice”.Today's overly subjective youth are instead reduced to the status of objects, acted upon by an overabundance of official bodies. However, a lack of awareness of this passivity can mean that young people themselves are flattered at such third-party interests. They seem to enjoy being mollycoddled, gaining an artificial sense of empowerment from their various victim roles as well as feeling legitimised as objects of institutional concern and interventions.
Again, I recognised a lot. But I can't agree with everything Fox says in part #2.
For one, I don't really think what she describes is just a problem of a younger generation (a generation I might still be part of, if only at the very tail-end of it). I see the same overawareness of all things PC happening with much older people – at least here. But that might be the difference between Germany and the UK and especially the US, where “free speech” is defined quite differently.
Also, in contrast to Fox I think that words can
hurt and do severe damage. I fear that outright dismissing this notion or ridiculing the concept of emotional abuse, like Fox seems to do, is not going to help the discussion in any meaningful way. Of course you have to differentiate if two children fight on the playground and one tells the other “I don't like you, you stink” - or if there's an abusive relationship where one partner constantly tells the other how worthless they are. Or if parents keep telling their child that their lives would be so much better if said child had never been borne. Of course that's one hell of a difference.
But it's this nuance that I miss in Fox's rant. And it's a pity, because neglecting nuances makes it all too easy to dismiss her points, her very important, very valid points
, in return.
What's more, I fear she'll end up preaching to the choir here. Which is also a pity, because I think her conclusion in the third part, addressing 'Generation Snowflake' and 'Anti-Snowflakers' alike (stupid terms, by the way), are well worth considering.
(As a sidenote, I don't get her problem with adult colouring books. But to each their own, I guess.)