Prevailing theories maintain that college kids exist in one of two states: coddled children or preserved snowflakes. I say this because some young people may have been so insulated from dissenting opinion that they may have not heard the criticism so many hurl at them.
However, I’m not here to blame millennials. I won’t even blame the liberal adults who took a page from Saul Alinsky in teaching them. Too many adults have taken a Facebook page from a preteen. The problem is not that young people will never leave their metaphoric snowflake bank or literalist university campus, it is that people never quite leave the virtual world of their social networks.
So here’s a list to help keep these tendencies out of our un-virtual lives.
Not Everything’s a List
Unlike most of what you were supposed to read in college, not every article or policy will link to handy bullet points someone else made for you. And when they do, don’t rely on them.
Don’t consult your professor’s SparkNotes version of speakers invited to your campus. Don’t turn to your go-to pundit on foreign policy. These summary-makers, in a predictable Buzzfeed-like fashion, tend to recycle the same tropes anyway: e.g. “5 Ways Charles Murray Is a Racist,” or “6 Ways of Saying Healthcare is ‘Broken’ Without Statistics.”
Not Every Question Is a Personality Quiz
When someone asks you what you think about entitlement spending, she is not asking what Disney villain you are. Answers based on facts and reason can never deplore you personally.
Similarly, don’t take the “how you feel” part of the question literally. Here, we professors are to blame, as we often force students to discuss books they’ll never read. But your comments about “Bleak House” making you feel lost are no more valid than claims that the idea of President Trump makes you feel unsafe. We all know that even Dickens barely read “Bleak House,” and we all know fewer people heard anything beyond “Muslim travel ban.”
Also, your opinion is not an opportunity to talk about yourself. No more is this phenomenon more apparent than in the post-mortems we read online, such as “Lena Dunham’s homage to herself after the death of Mary Tyler Moore” and “Cheerio’s commercial campaign after the death of Prince.”
The Space on Your Phone Is Not an Actual Place
As awful as it was to see a man dragged off the plane, activism does not simply translate to sacrificing the space on your phone to record, comment, or tweet. Sparing your time, your intellect, or maybe just an actual space on a plane will always be more meaningful than generating awareness for the sake of showing how aware you are.
Guilt Is Not Food
Nothing is as clickbait kitsch, or clitsch, as posting a picture of some extravagant meal that you know no one else could make or afford. In a similar way, too many aspire to dish out healthy servings of guilt and write pieces about problematic appropriation of belly dancing in Slate, Daily Banter, and the like. (Yes, apparently a white woman moving her hips in the privacy of her home is a real threat to Muslim women.)
So by insisting that we abstain from products and activities that may offend those from other cultures, a writer often poses with his micro-aggression articles as if they were artisanal breads he baked in every shade but white. Worse still, he treats minorities as if they’re as helpless and sensitive as children shielded from processed foods.
Your Face Is Not Your Facebook
Everything you hear is not your SoundCloud. Everything you see is not automatically uploaded to Instagram. So when you witness something you oppose, you’re not somehow liking or sharing it. Speakers invited by your peers are not the sand into which you place your feet for your vacay-selfie; they’re actual people you can challenge. Sure, you can block them from your mind, which will soon devolve into a biased newsfeed. But in real life, this just means you lost the debate.
Nor do you follow or friend everyone with whom you engage. You see, principles used to be something people could choose to follow. Also, friendship used to exist outside of Facebook.
To those who have not boycotted, rioted against, or walked out of reading this, may I offer this platitude turned truism: whether you agree with me or not, the future belongs to you.