Gen-Z: Apathetic nihilism is everywhere

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

You may have read about the Lost Generation – the cohort of young adults who grew up, disoriented, amid the chaos engendered by World War I and its aftermath. It included some of the era’s literary giants, among them F. Scott Fitzgerald, E.E. Cummings, John Dos Passos and – most famously – Ernest Hemingway, who popularized the term in his 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises.

But it was Gertrude Stein who coined the term.

“You are all a lost generation. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction . . .You are all a lost generation,” Stein said to Hemingway.

Today’s generation of young adults are also lost – on account of the chaos engendered by a culture war that has turned the sexes into interchangeable genders, made facts subservient to feelings and instilled a generalized nihilism-apathy everywhere.

It is what’s to be expected when nothing matters.

When no one even reads. Apparently, Gen-Z doesn’t read.

Even college students. Especially college students.

How does one learn without reading? Without even paying attention.

University of Tennessee Associate Professor Kenyon Wilson found out just how many of his students were reading – and paying attention.

Which was none of them.

Within the course syllabus he provided to every one of his music seminar students were instructions to open a locker – within which the professor had placed a crisp $50 bill. It was easy money. Free money. Isn’t that what young people want? Free stuff? No strings attached. The locker number – and combination – were provided. All a student had to do was open it. It was a minimal effort exercise.

But that was predicted on their reading about it.

The instructions to the free-and-easy money were embedded within the text, as follows:

“Thus (free to the first who claims; locker one hundred forty-seven; combination fifteen, twenty-five, thirty-five) students may be ineligible to make up classes . . .”

Right there, in black and white.

But you had to look to see.

And no one did.

When they found out what they’d missed, the students found it funny. One of them – Haley Decker said she thought it was “hilarious” that none of the students had read the syllabus, which is like not reading chapter one of a novel. It’s hard to know what comes next – or make sense of it – if you never read what came first.

Decker told CNN that she and other students presumed they already knew what the syllabus said, saying the information was “repetitive” and for that reason “students know what to expect and don’t take time to read (the syllabus) like we should.”

Well, if you should read it, then why not read it?

The results of Wilson’s little experiment are both interesting and tragic.

Interesting, in that it reveals the disinterested, apathetic insolence of students – italicized to emphasize the irony of a cohort of young adults whose purpose in being where they are is to pay attention; to read and to learn. To be . . . interested. To not be apathetic.

It is also indicative of what else they’re probably not learning on account of not reading – or paying attention regarding. Perhaps because they think they already know it all.

Which brings up the tragic aspect.

Those who do not read, who do not pay attention – who think they already know – do not learn differently. Or more. They cannot learn. They are inert, in stasis.

How then can they think?

The answer, of course, is that many do not. They feel – and react, based upon those feelings. Without thinking – the thinking being done for them, by those who have learned the value of thoughtlessness and passivity.

How to manipulate the feelings of the thoughtless.

It helps to explain why there is so little thinking going on in American colleges and universities. And why we are seeing the consequence of that, writ large, across American society.

College boys swimming with college girls – who are not allowed to object to being forced to swim against boys who claim they feel they are girls – and that their feelings trump the fact that they are boys.

Facts about sickness suppressed by “fact checkers” who claim to be merely purveying their “opinions,” which are to be according the same weight as facts.

Two plus two equals five – if that’s how you feel at the moment.

Bridges don’t get built this way – but societies do fall apart this way.

When people stop caring. When they stop wanting to care.

More than thirty years ago, another professor – Allan Bloom – warned about the Closing of the American Mind in his book of the same name.

And here we are, some thirty years hence, reading about American college students who can’t be bothered to read anything, at all.

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A.J. Rice

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