Back in September, Peter Wehner of Commentary explored “Our Lack of Moral Vocabulary:”
Earlier this week, David Brooks wrote a fascinating column on young people’s moral lives, basing it on hundreds of in-depth interviews with young adults across America conducted by the eminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith and his team.
The results, according to Brooks, were “depressing” — not so much because of how they lived but because of “how bad they are at thinking and talking about moral issues.” Asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life, what we find is “young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary to do so.” What Smith and his team found is an atmosphere of “extreme moral individualism — of relativism and nonjudgmentalism.” The reason, in part, is because they have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to “cultivate their moral intuitions, to think more broadly about moral obligations, to check behaviors that may be degrading.”
This is part of a generations-long phenomenon. In his 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom wrote, “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” And the university, Bloom argued, is unwilling to offer a distinctive visage to young people. The guiding philosophy of the academy is there are no first principles, no coherent ways to interpret the world in which we live.
But there’s one thing that they’re certain of:
Of course we’re going to riot,” Paul Howard, a 24-year-old aerospace-engineering student at Penn State University, told the New York Times. “What do they expect when they tell us at 10 o’clock that they fired our football coach?”
The coach in question, as we all know, is Joe Paterno, the decades-long patriarch of Penn State football. Paterno was fired by the board of trustees for his part in a reprehensible non-response to the alleged rape of a ten-year-old boy in the locker-room showers.
You have to wonder what’s wrong with our society when someone can say, “Of course we’re going to riot,” but not over the cover-up of pedophiliac rape. Rather, students feel it is their obvious right, perhaps even duty, to throw violent temper tantrums when a multimillionaire football coach is fired, simply because the coach is part of their “college experience.”
But almost 45 years ago, Bobby Kennedy told them that it was, quoting William Allen White in his speech to Kansas State University:
“If our colleges and universities do not breed men who riot, who rebel, who attack life with all the youthful vision and vigor, then there is something wrong with our colleges. The more riots that come on college campuses, the better world for tomorrow.”
Of course, Bobby never told them what to rebel against. As another young deep thinker asked, whaddya got?
Related: “See, though, the thing about tribalism is that it often works. “