A strange thing happened on the way to making a more tolerant society. We produced a less tolerant, more bigoted generation of American citizens.
For the last decade or so, we have seen what Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff rightly called the “coddling of the American mind” — the “safetyism” woven into all levels of education, and intentional minimization of students’ stressful experiences. Manifest in the now-pervasive “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces,” the coddling culture has resulted in increased sensitivity to stress, rendering many college students and other young adults unable — or at least unwilling — to listen to views with which they disagree.
Although many Gen Z-ers are stalwart conservatives very critical of abortion, socialism, censorship, the trans agenda, and other leftist values, on the whole, the generation tilts more to the left than previous generations of Americans. And the trend of generational intolerance of contrary points of view reflects this fact.
Today, many Gen Z college students struggle to tolerate those with whom they disagree. As hypersensitivity has grown more acute, their fears and accusations have expanded to the point of hysteria. Some even deploy the “silence is violence” meme, which construes the literal absence of words as tantamount to a physical attack.
How ironic, then, that so many Gen Z leftists defend the Hamas terrorist attacks on Oct. 7 and conduct anti-Israel demonstrations at colleges all around the country. The same generation quick to declare civil scholars, political commentators, and comedians offensive or even too stressful to hear has released dozens of statements in support of Hamas, an organization whose charter calls for the complete annihilation of Israel.
The Hamas attacks involved some of the most extreme genocidal atrocities since the Holocaust — the murder of children, decapitation of toddlers, tearing babies from their mothers’ wombs, forcing parents to watch the slaughtering of their children, and countless rapes, some so violent as to fracture victims’ pelvises. How can coddled, “sensitive” minds so callously defend unthinkable cruelty and torture? How does a generation supposedly committed to tolerance and racial equality support mass genocide?
The answer is actually simple. While Gen Z-ers may have been coddled, they have also been trained to believe that the end justifies the means. This is the consequentialist approach to social action famously proclaimed by Malcolm X in 1965: “We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary” (emphasis mine).
Rhetorically potent and even noble-sounding, Malcolm X’s maxim is not only dangerous but self-defeating. Martin Luther King Jr. knew this, which is why he sternly opposed such thinking and promoted nonviolent resistance, marked by the peaceful demonstration and reasoned dialogue from which American society benefited immensely.
Yet consequentialist extremism is alive again in America. In fact, it never died. The civil rights groups Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary and BAMN (the full name of which is the “Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Immigration & Immigration Rights, and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary”) build the phrase into their organization titles. And the logic embodied by such organizations is evident in the terrorist-condoning responses to the Hamas attack.
For example, the statement from the San Francisco chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America euphemizes the horrors, claiming that “Violent oppression inevitably produces resistance. Socialists support the Palestinian people’s, and all people’s, right to resist and fight for their own liberation.”
There is a conspicuous absence of calls for serious dialogue or debate from the pro-Hamas crowd in the aftermath of Oct. 7. What we get from them are only bald assertions, bullying, and intimidation. But what other recourse is there when a perspective is morally bankrupt and rationally indefensible?
“By any means necessary” thinking is blind to justice. It’s all about the end game — achieving the final goal, whatever it takes, no matter how much pain and misery is required.
And this, let us take note, is essentially the rationale for terrorism.
What we are witnessing in all these sympathetic responses to the Hamas attacks is the culmination of years of growing sympathy with BAMN thinking in the West. In short, it is the mainstreaming of the illogic of terrorism — the justification of murder, rape, and other atrocities for the sake of a political end.
If significant numbers of students at major U.S. colleges and universities are part of this movement, we have reason to fear for our future. And if, as Lincoln would say, we are not somehow touched by the better angels of our nature, this is not going to end well.