Over the past year, I’ve had a number of interesting discussions with people in their 20s regarding current political and cultural issues. I like to know what 20-somethings are thinking, saying, and doing; they will soon be the dominant shaping force in society. I also like to hear their opinions directly instead of reading their words second or third-hand in the media.
After a number of these conversations in 2016, it became clear to me that a definite pattern was emerging. I noticed a common thread of liberalism in their opinions on important subjects no matter their country. While young people identifying themselves as liberal is nothing new, what surprised me was the ideological gap between young and old, and between urban and rural, seems stronger than ever.
I asked a couple of my coworkers from England their opinion of Nigel Farage and UKIP. As soon as I said the name ‘Farage’, I could see the complete disdain on their faces. “UKIP? It’s a joke,” said one. “They have very little support; most of it is in the countryside. Nobody with any brains takes Farage seriously. He’s just plain stupid.” I recall the young man who said this to me had a look of curiosity on his face as well, as if he couldn’t believe I was even asking about this person. I was somewhat surprised at his breezy dismissal of Farage as he had been receiving a fair amount of publicity in America at that time. I watched his interviews closely, and it appeared to me that he had a lot of valid points to make. In fact, he came across as quite intelligent, lucid, and convincing. I had a hard time reconciling my impression of Farage with this young man’s description of him.
A short time later, I was sitting in a different office and was surrounded by young Brits. Without offering any thoughts or opinions of my own, and asking in the most neutral manner I could, I inquired whether England should severely curtail immigration. The Brits all shook their heads. The girl sitting directly across from me offered, “We should be allowing MORE immigrants, not less. Those poor people. England can do more and we SHOULD do more.” I mentioned how many immigrants England had already taken in and some of the negative consequences of that immigration. My colleague dismissed my concerns with a wave of her hand. “Those bad stories are mostly made up by the media.”
Recently, I brought up politics with my young Austrian friend. What was fascinating about that chat was the eerie parallels to my conversation with the young Brits. I mentioned to the Austrian a recent news story I had read about the so-called ‘Far Right’ winning some elections in Austria. What was his opinion? Just as the Brit had scoffed at Farage and UKIP, my friend similarly made a scowl when mentioning the far right parties in Austria. “They’re nothing. Only the farmers, the uneducated, really OLD people, and dupes take that party seriously. Immigration is not that big of a problem.”
Last week, a friend from America and I were having a friendly chat at the park when the conversation turned to the cultural and the political. He made a comment about his friend having a baby and I made a light-hearted remark about his friend doing a good thing for the white race, keeping in mind the historically low birth rates in most European countries which is nothing less than a demographic disaster. Even though I smiled when i said it and was (halfway) joking, my friend, who is white, went ballistic. Literally. I thought he might start hyperventilating. “White race? Did you really just say that? Oh my god! I can’t believe you said that! I haven’t heard someone say the white race in 20 years. Dude, don’t you know that’s racist?”
I momentarily felt as if I had just slipped into the Twilight Zone. But then I remembered my friend was in his early 30s. Though I had a good size dose of cultural marxism, feminism, political correctness, affirmative action, and multi-culturalism force-fed me when I was growing up, that was nothing compared to the onslaught that people now in their 20s and 30s have experienced. My friend went on. “Besides, there’s no such thing as race anyway. Race is just a fiction. I mean, come on. What is the white race? Do you mean Europeans? I myself am a mongrel, like most of my friends. Sorry Brian, but there is no such thing as ‘white people.’
As our discussion meandered on and became more heated, he started to use the phrase ‘The N word.’ He continued, “I’m a comedian and the rule for stand-up is that you can never makes jokes downward, meaning you never make fun of people who are below you in the socio-economic world.” He explained that was why he never made jokes about black people and would never, ever use what he called ‘The N word’ , either in public or even in private.
I asked him, “Since we’re in a park in Asia and there are no black people anywhere to be seen and since I know you’re a decent guy with not a racist bone in your body, you can say the scary word ‘Nigger’ to me. I won’t hold it against you. After all, we’re discussing words and language and it will save you from using the tortured phrase ‘The N word.’ My friend shook his head emphatically. “No way. I’ve removed that evil and unnecessary word from my vocabulary. I’ll never use it.” To try to get him to budge, I even mentioned George Carlin’s famous dialogue on the word ‘nigger’ in which he showed, quite convincingly, that it’s all about context and meaning. My friend was unconvinced.
The conversation mostly devolved from there until we agreed to call a truce. What was especially interesting to me was that, on reflection, his views were more or less the same as my views when I was his age. I too spouted the politically correct liberal line on most every issue. I too was brought up to believe that the white race, and specifically white men, were the cause of all evil in the world and that I should feel nothing but shame and regret for my ancestors. I finally grew out of that conditioning but it’s taken me nearly 50 years to do it. Talking with my friend was like having a conversation with my younger self.
Concepts such as nationalism, national identity, racial pride, and cultural pride are still anathema to many people in the West, especially those under the age of 50 and particularly the kids in their 20s. We can, of course, blame World War II and its outcomes for this. Whenever nationalism has threatened to gain a toehold in Western politics in recent decades, opposing parties simply went on media channels and screamed , “Nazis! Hitler lovers! Fascists!” And it has worked- until now. Those old smear tactics are wearing thin from overuse. The Alt-Right is gaining more traction every day and is starting to reclaim the concept of nationalism from the gutter where it has been rotting for more than a half century. Brexit, Le Pen, Trump, nationalist parties in Austria, Denmark, and many other countries- these are all signs that something is shifting.