The college freshman of 2017 were toddlers when airplanes flew into the World Trade Center. They were in first or second grade when social media giants like Facebook and YouTube launched and when the first iPhone was released. Whereas their parents had to wait until film was developed and organized into photo books, they’ve grown up watching their childhood on digital cameras and smartphones. They were pre-teens when they witnessed the United States elect its first black president; now, they are old enough to cast ballots themselves. The speed at which they can access information has gone from the “pony-express” of dial-up to the supersonic algorithms which now predict what they want before they even know they want it.
An entire broadcast booth is carried with them at all times: lights, camera, action. Journalism and advocacy is not something for the professionals to do, it is right there on their touch screen. They are their own news curator, with no editorial process to filter them. Far off events now show up before them and publicly expressing their reaction to such news is as everyday as blue jeans. In the days of newspapers, a small minority wrote letters to the editor; now, every social media user is obliged to publish their reaction: outrage, support, disillusionment, endorsement or sorrow.
This generation has obviously been shaped by all of this. They are clay about to go into the kiln and will soon emerge hardened and ready for the purpose for which they’ve been shaped. Regardless of your worldview and religion, there is an instinct to ensure that our progeny grasp our ideals, values, and ethics. As we look at these freshmen, they answer the question, “What is this culture’s values?” It would seem that Secularism has successfully pervaded our ethics, for they have instill in this generation the notion that self-discovery and self-expression are the highest of virtues. “You can be anything,” is the mantra they’ve been raised with, but the underlying assumption is that they must value, above all else, self-discovery and self-expression. “Here’s what we believe,” says Secularism, “so you should too.”
when a culture embraces the self-absorption of individualism as the supreme virtue, it can only shrivel up into a black hole of lonely meaninglessness. This incoming class is both more connected with each other than ever before, and yet their obsession with individualism is perhaps unrivaled. Steeped in a customization culture, social media profiles are the pages upon which they can try to tell their own story of self-discovery. They have been instructed in the praiseworthiness of charting their own course. However, when a culture embraces the self-absorption of individualism as the supreme virtue, it can only shrivel up into a black hole of lonely meaninglessness. Their education has taught them to react in accord with the rule of the “self-expression of their individualism.” But has it taught them to think? Wisdom, after all, is different than feelings. Wisdom requires us to move beyond ourselves, and submit to a higher authority than our subjective flinches and feelings. For all the lectures in individualism, they have, as yet, never been shown the beauty of being a part of a bigger story.
This is why history matters. Either we are meaningless molecules banging together in an eternal cycle of creation and destruction, or we are a part of a divine drama, being played out in real time, with a rapidly approaching denouement. If Darwin was right, then we are merely an accident of time and chance. Thus, Darwin’s story necessarily leads to individualism of the most ingrown kind. One must clamor against the universe, demanding a purpose, a glory, a reason for being. It insists on being heard, grasps at doing something meaningful, clawing to defy the vacuum of the nothingness from which we came and to which we go.
Perhaps the most grievous lie which Americans have believed is that they can trust Government-run education. As the older generations look at this rising tide of individualism, we must ask, where did this come from? The easiest thing to do would be to blame technology. Many generations before us have gladly blamed the problems found in their young ‘uns on the new-fangled technology. But this places the problem outside of the human heart. The wonders of iPhones or the platform of Social Media that has not produced this rampant individualism which has no tether to the safety of family, the beauty of principled art, the courage of objective truth. The culprit is the story which educators have told the last several generations of children. Technology has only been the screen which has broadcast our sad narcissism.
As we consider a new class of freshmen and the era in which they’ve been raised, we should be confronted with the hard question: “Is our passivity towards education and our implicit good-faith in the Public schools to blame for the toxic individualism of this generation?” As a nation we have trusted this sacred task of education to the Government, and assumed that politicians would impart our values to our children. We are then shocked when our children are perfect models of John Dewey’s vision for self-determination as the primary rule when it comes to a child’s growth and development.
Where do we go from here? While it is easy to blame the government for producing mushy brains, fully indoctrinated in Darwinism and Humanism, the real fault lies at those who shirked the responsibility to tell their children the true story of history. The responsibility lies with fathers who neglected to tell their children the story of where we came from, and where we are going. We are individuals, yes; but individuals who are a part of families. Where did these families come from? Well, let me tell you about our great-great-grandfather Adam, which of course means we have to talk about God.
This leaves us with two options. Either Darwin is right and incipient individualism is the only way to make us feel like there is meaning in this cold, purposeless universe. Or else the Bible is right and God is telling a story about His family, where we find belonging, love, and meaning. That is something to tweet about…