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In his most recent article for the New York Times, David Brooks attributes a lack of understanding of the basic tenets of mistake theory as the fundamental flaw within Millennial movements.
The political analyst presents this as the latest condescension in his series of opinion editorials, which are all seemingly based on the idea that the millennial generation is made up of a bunch of overly-passionate snowflakes, a term widely overused, but widely underdefined.
Scott Alexander, who Brooks references, defines mistake theory in its most basic form as follows: mistake theorists believe that the state is diseased and that theorists are scientists or doctors seeking a cure. Debate is essential, between two symmetrical sides – one that seeks to further an agenda, and one that wants to detract from it. It holds that increasing intelligence while detracting from passion is an essential part of that. At its core it appears to be the antithesis to chaos theory, but in Brooks’ usage, it apparently also encompasses “racial blindness”. If you are unfamiliar with that term, it basically refers to the people you meet who insist that they “don’t see colour, just human beings”. It fails to understand the levels of difficulty different social groups face in achieving the same ends. Racial blindness is not a prerequisite to becoming a mistake theorist. It is an outdated concept but has been adapted to fit a changing social landscape.
If I can join Brooks in oversimplifying the ideas of an entire generation, a key factor in Millennial culture is that of intersectionality. Intersectionality refers to Crenshaw’s feminist sociological theory that the relationships between people are complex and encompass multiple dimensions, like race, gender, and sexuality. The points of intersection between these dimensions form the basis of social groups and relationships, and are a way of measuring the inequality between social groups and finding some happy medium to allow us to co-exist and equalise the inherent differences and prejudices between us.
This also means that as with all societal groups, Millennials are divided within the framework of age group by other intersecting ideas and social groups. Where this differs from Brooks’ assertions is that I believe this perspectivism is one of the strengths of our generation, and the movements we organise and support. It recognises difference, and works to mediate this. We are not “smashing the structures others defend”, but trying to find ways to incorporate those structure in our progress.
This is not “tribe versus tribe”, or passion above logic. It is the melding of outdated worldviews into something that can continue evolving beyond us, when our ideas become outdated in the inevitable march of progress.
I want my generation to build upon the social progress that each generation before me has added to in the same way, since long before Brooks or I were even born. The thing about social progress is that it will continue despite the roadblocks implemented by older generations, and will evolve along with humans and their society. One day, almost inevitably, I will climb upon my soapbox and protest the ideas of my daughter’s generation. But that’s progress for you, it doesn’t begin or end with Millennials. It incorporates us all.
- Link to the original article: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/08/opinion/student-mobs.html