There’s plenty of blame to go around for the disappointing results of the last week’s election: the current post-Covid rules (or lack thereof) for voting, mismanaged ballot collection and counting, Republican leadership, and American voters. Naturally, all of these factors played a role in helping a party that has failed on multiple fronts to stay securely in power.
However, one major reason for Democrats winning was Gen Z voters coming out in large numbers to vote for them — though this was not quite as big a reason as Democrats believe. This cohort was responsible for electing cognitively impaired man-child John Fetterman and incompetent shrew Kathy Hochul as well as reelecting Covid tyrant Gretchen Whitmer. Less unsurprisingly, they’re also responsible for supporting the legalization of marijuana and expanding abortion.
Why did these young people feel motivated enough to go and vote against their interests and keep the country on a downward trajectory? Do they like rising crime, high inflation, mass illegal immigration, homeless encampments, high gas prices, and a shrinking economy? Did they really think Biden would pay off their student loans? Are they just brainwashed zombies who comply with the narratives of TikTok?
Based on my extensive experience as an English teacher, I would say that yes, the average Gen Z American is largely indifferent to important issues that affect the country, even ones that affect their general quality of life. Every day, I witness their lack of reasoning skills and personal drive. This in turn causes them to be disturbingly introverted and handle most of their interactions with people through social media. Many have no real community or deep-seated beliefs and act more on feelings than principle.
Instead, they spend most of their waking life on the internet, consuming mindless content and dreaming up fake personas for themselves. And as a result, they are largely immature, lonely, and neurotic.
This much is argued by writer and former English professor Mark Bauerlein, who writes that Gen Z, “will be the most conformist cohort in American history, already favoring cancellation more than any other age group, and politics will be a primary mode of grouping.” This generation is told what to think by various online influencers, and they passively comply. Because of screen addiction, they will never learn to think or act for themselves, nor will they ever really want to.
The propagandizing effect of heavy social media usage cannot be overstated. For young people, nearly every narrative and social phenomenon now originate from the internet. This means that it’s the dumb and disturbed “influencers” online, not parents or teachers, informing this next generation about politics, economics, and culture. And the algorithms of popular social media sites are designed to curate and amplify this same defective messaging a million times over. The subversive effect on people with still-developing frontal cortexes is not all that different from the “Ludivico technique” in “A Clockwork Orange” in which criminals are forcibly bombarded with images and music in order to condition them against misconduct.
Why is Gen Z so glued to their screens? Two friends and fellow teacher-writers Jeremy Adams and Shane Trotter have examined this question in depth. In his book “Hollowed Out,” Adams argues how the breakdown of family, schools, and the culture at large has left today’s young people morally and intellectually adrift:
Not working? Not supporting oneself? Playing video games all day on somebody else’s dime? Not feeling a crumb of shame about it — even describing such a state as happy? That is hollowness.
The many norms and standards (these things that would “fill in” a person) that used to be reinforced by their parents, pastors, teachers, politicians, entertainers, and artists simply aren’t anymore. Should it surprise people that the kids carelessly withdraw from the world and play on their phones?
In Trotter’s book “Setting the Bar,” he attributes the failures of Gen Z to low standards and a permissive parenting culture that coddles kids:
The typical modern youth experience — from the school environment, to the parenting norms, to the broader cultural value structure — is ingraining limiting beliefs and destructive habits that leave our kids ill-equipped for the challenges that lie ahead of them.
No one challenges the kids, so they grow up soft and slow, making them the perfect sheep to be manipulated en masse.
Adams and Trotter demonstrate how circumstances have turned many Zoomers into sad, confused individuals doomed to have an impoverished adulthood. Instead of receiving lessons on independence, critical thinking, and disciplined living, too many of them are protected from all forms of adversity and given an iPad to keep them pacified. This treatment insulates them so much from reality that they never come to know themselves and are bored to the point of despair.
Ironically, understanding this dark reality may be the key to generational reform. True, it might be easy to agree with Bauerlein that Gen Z is hopeless and will probably bring the rest of the nation down with them, but this theory assumes that the Gen Z lifestyle is actually sustainable. The students in my classes all share a natural desire to be better people. I do what I can to offer them a way out; that is, I talk to them and push them to do more. At first, they resist and resort to their phone for comfort but this attitude changes when they feel the profound joy of actually learning and accomplishing something.
Conservatives can shake their heads at today’s young adults refusing to grow up, or they can actually try to reach these kids. It’s not like they want to be lonely, ignorant, or “neurodivergent.” And most, if they’re being honest, don’t want to be slaves to their smartphones. Rather, like everyone else, they want goodness, beauty, and truth. They want loving relationships, authentic experiences, and some degree of mastery over their emotions and impulses. Above all, they want meaning.
If they have those things, then they will stop voting for corrupt mediocrities and suicidal social policies. More importantly, they will stop wasting away their lives on frivolity and enjoy a fruitful and fulfilling adulthood. Although election results are technically a political matter, what they reveal about voters is a cultural and moral one. We should treat this midterm as the Gen Z cry for help. It’s time for us to go out and save them.