HERE we go again – yet another year of record high grades for pupils at GCSE and A Level. The pupils are ecstatic, their parents are well pleased, and universities are smugly awash with increased applications. Some medical schools have even offered sweeteners of up to £10,000 to secure the top candidates, just in case they are faced with the ‘inconvenience of moving’. The poor darlings.
And what does this ballooning grade-fest actually produce? Witness Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon cornered by groups of young protesters in her Southside constituency, for her failure to oppose the Cambo North Sea oilfield development. Rather than see a welcome economic bonanza, they are fixated about CO2 emissions. Well, perhaps it’s not the best advertisement for the UN COP26 conference in November.
Listen to them. ‘I’m terrified about when I’m going to start losing my friends and my loved ones to wildfires and floods and things like that. We might have decades of this, if not a century,’ ‘It cannot go through without major violence to poor people, the young, and other disenfranchised communities, and everyone else.’ This is full Greta ‘People-are-dying’ Thunberg, confidently predicting the world a hundred years hence.
Meanwhile Nicola is busy doing her ‘I’m-here-to-listen’ thing, all faux humility confronted by – yes, a political decision. As she unchallengeably says, ‘Tough things for all of us to address, and make decisions about’, and ‘about whether things are totally commensurate’, and ‘I totally get that’. Nicola never lets us forget that she was the first of her family to go to university, and anyway, the project will no doubt get the go-ahead, because Scotland has its bills to pay.
This is an indication of how easily our young people, especially the university educated, are being persuaded to embrace socialism (even full-blown communism, if we are to believe Ash Sarkar) as the only way to create a future world worth living in. A recent Ipsos-Mori voting poll shows that it’s trades people and traditionally working-class groups who are now more likely to vote Tory, while the better educated are more heavily represented among potential Labour, LibDem and Green voters.
Similar trends are evident in the US, where teenage girls are embracing socialist and Marxist ideologies. One 17-year-old has stated, ‘For my generation, a fascist president administration, pandemic, economic collapse, and a historic uprising for Black Lives has shaped our world view.’ They are disillusioned with capitalism, white supremacy, soaring student debt and youth unemployment, encouraged by the Left-wing leanings of their teachers and college professors. A role model like AOC – far more inspirational than any pop star – and a cult magazine like Teen Vogue light the fuse.
They probably haven’t a clue what a genuinely socialist, far less Marxist, society would mean for them. They see socialism as ‘the only system that will guarantee a livable planet and life unburdened from economic exploitation, crushing debt, and racial castes.’ All they can think about is organising, mobilising, demos. They are the quintessential products of the Post-Truth era. This expression is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’ Or as Lord Sachs would have it, ‘Just lies.’
This fixation with emotion is a dangerous distraction. Edward Glaeser suggests a role model like Bernie Sanders, with his criticism of economic injustice and calls for empathy and compassion, has side-tracked the current generation into talking rather than doing. Glaeser reckons that encouraging entrepreneurship could be a solution. Satisfaction comes from doing, not having, and freedom, not socialism, empowers doing. He is particularly hostile to the now all-pervasive state interference that threatens individual freedom.
Such a turnaround would need a more practical input from the education sector, and he advocates not just a stronger role for trade schools rather than universities, but also a move towards teaching entrepreneurship. The trade school argument has already been strongly made by Jordan Peterson, but this has coincided with a period when technical schools in the UK have been neglected. Successive state interventions into apprenticeship schemes have failed to get off the ground. More to the point, the idea that entrepreneurship can be taught, rather than encouraged and given space to develop, is dubious.
Take the case of James Dyson, one of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs. He has described the things he learned most powerfully in his childhood: ‘My mother taught me to sew, knit, make rugs and cook. I had watched my father do carpentry. I taught myself to make model aeroplanes, to start their engines and fly them, and to repair my bicycle. Doing things by hand, and with an almost total lack of fear, became second nature.’ Dyson describes his progress towards a successful business career as being not a flash of inspiration but a daily slog, a succession of failures, which he found exhilarating and rewarding. It took him, he says, 5,126 failures before he finally created his vacuum cleaner, the result not of genius but sheer bloody-mindedness.
He believes risk is the best antidote to inertia, which is one reason his efforts went down so well in the US. ‘The thing that really struck home with American consumers was that I had made 5,126 prototypes. They like entrepreneurs.’ Many friends advised him to sell up early, in case he lost it all, or just because he’d done all he wanted. But this was missing the point. ‘I like living on a knife edge, competing and building the business. I didn’t work on those prototypes or even set up Dyson to make money. I did so because I had a burning desire to do so. And to this day, I find inventing, researching, testing, designing and manufacturing both highly creative and deeply satisfying.’
Dyson is a doer, a risk-taker, a practical problem-solver. And he didn’t learn that in school. His example – the failures, the dogged determination, the challenge of making things work – is the opposite of everything young people are now being brainwashed into believing, that nothing should be allowed to get you down, that all must have prizes, that safety is the priority, and that the emotional response is what counts. Even Olympic athletes are now admired for succumbing to ‘mental health issues’.
It is easy for the young to identify with what Chris Hedges has written: ‘We now live in a nation where doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, universities destroy knowledge, governments destroy freedom, the press destroys information, religion destroys morals, and our banks destroy the economy’, and feel hopelessly threatened.
But that is the world the Boomers have been creating since the mid-50s, through welfare fixation, inertia and risk aversion. The new generations can do much better. What they need more than anything is the experience that everything they do will have consequences, and that with maturity, they will take responsibility for themselves. That even failures can lead to successes. It’s time to move on from the obsession with safety and human rights and protection, and go for the freedom, opportunity and self-reliance that gets them doing things, not just talking about them. To achieve that, they need to learn the difference between the practical realities of Truth from the crippling emotional excesses of Post-Truth.