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‘What Do America’s College Students Want? They Want to Be Oppressed’

To remind you how far this sort of thinking goes back*, in the midst of speeches from leading intellectuals telling college students that one way or another, Planet Earth was Dooooomed before the arrival of the 21st century, Tom Wolfe caught a college student asking his professor, "when does it all hit you?", in his classic mid-1970s essay “The Intelligent Coed’s Guide To America”:

I was so dazed, I was no longer wondering what the assembled students thought of all this. But just at that moment one of them raised his hand. He was a tall boy with a lot of curly hair and a Fu Manchu mustache.“Yes?” said the ecologist.

“There’s one thing I can’t understand,” said the boy.

“What’s that?” said the ecologist.

“Well,” said the boy. “I’m a senior, and for four years we’ve been told by people like yourself and the other gentlemen that everything’s in terrible shape, and it’s all going to hell, and I’m willing to take your word for it, because you’re all experts in your fields. But around here, at this school, for the past four years, the biggest problem, as far as I can see, has been finding a parking place near the campus.”

Dead silence. The panelists looked at this poor turkey to try to size him up. Was he trying to be funny? Or was this the native bray of the heartland? The ecologist struck a note of forbearance as he said: “I’m sure that’s true, and that illustrates one of the biggest difficulties we have in making realistic assessments. A university like this, after all, is a middle-class institution, and middle-class life is calculated precisely to create a screen—”

“I understand all that,” said the boy. “What I want to know is—how old are you, usually, when it all hits you?”

And suddenly the situation became clear. The kid was no wiseacre! He was genuinely perplexed! … For four years he had been squinting at the horizon … looking for the grim horrors which he knew—on faith—to be all around him … and had been utterly unable to find them … and now he was afraid they might descend on him all at once when he least expected it. He might be walking down the street in Omaha one day, minding his own business, when—whop! whop! whop! whop!—War! Fascism! Repression! Corruption!—they’d squash him like bowling balls rolling off a roof!

Who was that lost lad? What was his name? Without knowing it, he was playing the xylophone in a boneyard. He was the unique new creature of the 1970’s. He was Candide in reverse. Candide and Miss Cunégonde, one will recall, are taught by an all-knowing savant, Dr. Pangloss. He keeps assuring them that this is “the best of all possible worlds,” and they believe him implicitly—even though their lives are one catastrophe after another. Now something much weirder was happening. The Jocks & Buds & Freaks of the heartland have their all-knowing savants of O’Hare, who keep warning them that this is “the worst of all possible worlds,” and they know it must be true—and yet life keeps getting easier, sunnier, happier … Frisbee!

How can such things be?

Of course, it’s even worse for people who take their belief in the coming planetary horror with them beyond graduation – it could lead them to publicly announce, via the air conditioned giant server farm that powers Twitter, to decide not to have kids to save Gaia. Or if they do decide to have kids – how do they tell them that the world is coming to an end in five years/ten years/20 years, or whatever the current final countdown du jour is set to? (There are so many to choose from, and so many more that have come and gone, Planet Earth no worse for wear.) As I mentioned before, it’s a bit like Sarah Connor telling her son, just back from shopping for Guns & Roses T-shirts at the Galleria, that Skynet, Terminator robots and nuclear armageddon are all just around the corner.

At the point, someone on the left will likely say that the Tea Party is an attempt to create a similar fervor on the right. But the Tea Party has a very different mission: they’re not trying to ban everyone’s lightbulbs, jack the price of gasoline up to sky-high European levels, and make everyone drive a Prius or ride “intercontinental high-speed rail” as the president calls one of his many boondoggle FDR-era retread big government projects. They want the government to leave everyone alone.  (And their detachment from the self-imposed oppression of the global warming doomsayers is a reminder that a little distance is always a good thing.)

In 2011 Rush Limbaugh and Steve Hayward of Power Line each compared global warming doomsday alarmists to Harold Camping, the Oakland California evangelist who believed that the earth was coming to an end on May 21st, 2011. As Hayward wrote:

People often ask me why environmentalists tend always to incline to apocalyptic conclusions about the state of the planet. “Because it makes them happy,” is my standard response. This is not tongue-in-cheek. There is something about certain kinds of personality types that derives a frisson of delight from contemplating the end of the world. And if you point out that the end of the world is not at hand, it makes environmentalists very unhappy, in part because it deprives them of the opportunity to play savior to the world.

As Kurtz wrote this week, college students want to feel similarly oppressed. If so, keep cuckoo and carry on. If you want to believe that the earth is doomed, put on a sandwich board and have at it -- as long as it doesn’t interfere with my life or anyone else’s.

* Curiously, the left’s perma-malaise and related apocalyptic climate and overpopulation obsessions began right after the Great Society demonstrated that it wasn’t going to immanentize the eschaton. If Obamacare fails to even get off the pad, what will that do to the already delicate psyches of leftwing true believers?

Related: At PJM, Kathy Shaidle adds:

If it hadn’t been for “crazy right wingers” challenging the received liberal wisdom about the “evils” of DDT all these years, there’s no way the WHO and groups like Malaria No More would be as open as they are to using it, and who knows how many lives have been saved.

So hang in there, my fellow “global warming” “denialists” — one day we might very well get the last laugh.

Well, at least on that particular topic. The left will always need something to feel oppressed about -- and an Emmanuel Goldstein to oppress -- no matter how powerful their influence.

(Artwork created using multiple Shutterstock.com images.)