Do you have a favorite thought leader? I do: Fareed Zakaria—CNN host, Time editor-at-large, "the most influential foreign policy adviser of his generation," and the author of at least one "relentlessly intelligent book."
Zakaria has an essay about millennials over at the Atlantic. It’s a great piece. You should check it out. It really bowled me over. Here, in no particular order, are six things I learned from reading it.
1) "The notion that young people are callow is not a new charge. In 700 BC, the Greek poet Hesiod wrote about it. The philosophers Xenophon and Plato were dismayed by the moral decay of their youth."
It isn’t, is it? Wow. Given that it isn’t a "new charge," we should probably just not worry about it. If people have been saying something consistently for millennia, pretty sure it’s safe to ignore it and move on. Plus: Hesiod was a poet—a Greek poet! Good to know. Also: Xenophon and Plato were both "philosophers." I used to be under the impression that most people considered Xenophon a historian. As for Plato, well, like most adult readers of opinion magazines, I really hadn’t heard much about him. What he was up to … well. Let’s just say it was a little hazy. Glad to have that cleared up!
2) "More importantly [sic], students’ focus on achievement has not produced young men and women who are, in any way, immoral, by which I mean, selfish, or cruel."
Hear that? Not "immoral"—not "in any way" immoral. None of ’em. I think that "in any way" is important, especially coupled, as it is, with his definition of "immoral." Young people are not selfish. Or cruel. In any way. To be honest, this surprised me a lot. It also made me really happy to be a member of such an achievement-laden, unselfish, non-cruel generation.
3) "But that lack of enthusiasm for politics again reflects a broader social trend: Most Americans are deeply disenchanted with politics."
As my friend B.D. McClay, the associate editor of the Hedgehog Review, a noted animal blog, points out, Zakaria’s editors must have been really wowed by this:
EDITOR AT ATLANTIC: "You realize that you just said that a lack of enthusiasm reflects a lack of enthusiasm, right?"
— BDM (@bdmcclay) June 10, 2015
This is precisely the sort of deep, compelling analysis that reminds one that Zakaria’s reputation as a thought leader is entirely deserved.
4) "Today’s students don’t seem as animated by big arguments as generations of the past did. They don’t make big speeches about grand philosophical issues. They don’t stay up late arguing about Nietzsche or Marx or Tolstoy. But that is part of the tenor of the times, something students reflect rather than create. … Young people reflect today’s realities."
It hadn’t occurred to me before, but if young people today aren’t interested in literature or philosophy, it’s not something they can help. I mean, who has ever just picked up a book? It wouldn’t really "reflect today’s realities" now, would it, if someone, totally out of keeping with "realities," just picked up a book and read—never mind talking about it later with a friend or two.
5) "It is inconceivable that anything like The Day After would be made now, let alone trigger much discussion."
Staggering. Astute. First rate. I know I’m being fairly liberal with my adjectives of praise here, but I just can’t help it. I mean, Zakaria’s just so right. It is "inconceivable," isn’t it, that a movie or something on TV these days might touch on the issues of the day? As for people weighing in, well, I mean, good grief. Who would ever take the time to have thoughts about pop culture? Again, it hadn’t occurred to me, but Zakaria nails it here.
6) "While Islamic terrorism is a security threat and did provoke some debate after 9/11, it has limited potency and certainly has no chance of seducing a non-Muslim country."
I know this doesn’t have anything to do with millennials, but I couldn’t help drawing your attention to it. Really sharp of him to point out that that there was "some debate" about terrorism after 9/11. But more important is his insight in the second half of that sentence. "Limited potency" is exactly how I’d characterize the relative strength of Islamic terrorism in the Year of Our Lord 2015. And when he writes that Islamic terrorism "has no chance of seducing a non-Muslim country," the adverb "certainly" is really key. I mean, there’s just no way it could happen.
Published under: Fareed Zakaria