Politicized, woke and afraid: Gen Z needs to start thinking critically

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In our increasingly digitized, secular, and ideologically polarized era, my generation — Gen Z — has overwhelmingly turned to political activism in their search for meaning. The rise of BLM protests, climate change rallies, and LGBTQ pride parades over the last half-decade have given young people a religious sense of community and a kind of spiritual mission: that of fighting for “equality” and “justice.” 

On the surface, young people involved in political activism have good intentions — to fight the evils of racism, misogyny, and homophobia — and feel genuine compassion for the historically underserved. However, in the quest for “justice,” a brewing ideological radicalism and prevailing orthodoxy has swept Gen Z. 

Capitalism and all its manifestations are now considered dangerous, while advocating for “socialism” — the new requisite philosophy for entering the cool kid’s club — is viewed positively by 61 percent of Gen Z. A third of young adults polled last year supported abolishing the police — more than any other age group. Blinded by myopic visions of cultural revolution, some young people even justify violence. One poll showed 64 percent of college students agreed that last year’s anti-police “rioting and looting is justified to some degree.” 

This rise of orthodoxy comes with a growing intolerance. Alternate perspectives that deviate from the mainstream aren’t just discomforting to young people, they’re treated as a mortal threat. Just over 50 percent of Gen Z college students believe “shouting down speakers or trying to prevent them from talking” is sometimes or always acceptable. 

At the same time, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of college students say the campus climate prevents them from expressing their true opinions for fear of offending their classmates. Despite the dogma of culturally emboldened young progressives, many Gen Z thinkers actually crave greater diversity of thought. 

Though I just turned 20, I have taken the path less traveled throughout my formative years and now as an opinion writer, consistently seeking out ideas that challenge me. Here are my five tips for how my fellow “Zoomers” can do the same: 

1) Be skeptical of conventional wisdom 

What’s popular and culturally dominant isn’t always right. Oftentimes, trendy ideas turn out to be the exact opposite of what they purport. For example, the popular trend of racial bias training tends to reinforce rather than reduce racial stereotypes. Black Lives Matter leaders advocate for solutions — namely reducing police presence — that put more black lives in marginalized communities at risk. Never blindly “trust the experts” or mindlessly do what is advertised as “anti-racist” or “pro-LGBTQ.” Skepticism is essential to temper the radical currents underlying the popular social movements of our time. 

2) Identity is not destiny 

The pervasion of identity politics has many young people making it their spiritual mission to either vigorously surrender their privilege (of being white, male, heterosexual) or engage in “victimology poker” (“I’m more oppressed than you because I’m both black and gay”). This is toxic. Immutable attributes — your race, gender, sexual orientation — don’t define human experience. They limit it. Clinging to your identity promotes a kind of solipsism that hinders your personal development and self-growth. Build your personality and invest your time around your cultural interests, intellectual curiosities, and creative musings, all of which are fluid and forever open to change, refinement, and evolution. Ideas are boundless and so is your human potential. 

3) Stay open-minded 

Standing up for what you believe in is important but don’t marry yourself to your current opinions. Your views are bound to evolve, stretch, and grow as you get older. In practice, this means don’t isolate yourself in ideological echo chambers — left or right. Come out of your comfort zone and give the other side a fair hearing. Just because you disagree with someone doesn’t mean they’re your enemy. In fact, your perceived political differences are probably not as irreconcilable as you think. Most people are a mixed bag of ideas, with various leanings one way or the other. Be open to changing your mind and shifting your perspective as you become exposed to new strands of interpreting the world. 

4) Watch your news diet 

The key to being open-minded is watching your news diet. Striking a balance between intelligent voices on the left and right is essential to thoroughly grasp an issue. Ask yourself: Are you only listening to Shaun King and AOC talk about how racist our society is on Instagram Live? Are you solely watching Ben Shapiro “DESTROYS Leftists” videos? If so, your image of the other side might be a caricature: Most liberals are not feelings-centered, anti-factual snowflakes and most conservatives are not uncompassionate, callous bigots. Young people are much better suited listening to “The Joe Rogan Experience” — which offers a diverse range of perspectives — than they are just Fox News or CNN. Also, read independent writers, such as Bari Weiss, Alex Berenson, Glenn Greenwald, and Matt Taibbi, who defy more boxes than they check and have little incentive to follow party lines. 

5) Spend less time on social media 

More than half of Gen Z gets their news from social media, particularly Instagram. The left-leaning algorithms of social media drive young people to an increasingly radical direction and distort their perception of reality. Spending all of our free time on Instagram posts, Netflix binges, and Twitter wars is also a waste of precious time. Young people should be investing in themselves before spending a lifetime worrying about taxes, kids and other adult responsibilities. Water your creative spirit and be wildly ambitious. Start sketching, make a YouTube channel, or try slam poetry. Don’t be afraid of what others think. When I first started blogging about funny anecdotes from my life and the latest trends in hip-hop music in 11th grade, I was widely mocked and ridiculed by my peers. But I brushed it off and kept honing my craft. Now I have the privilege to share my opinions with you.

Establishing your own footing and individual agency in these times has unfortunately become a costly endeavour. Any dissent is met with scorn and derision. As the great American philosopher Kanye West bluntly put it in his recent podcast with Joe Rogan, “Telling the truth is crazy in a world full of lies.” But as long as you’re not engaging in conspiracy theories or provoking just to get reactions, having a contrarian edge is usually a sign of critical thinking. Mindlessly following the social justice trend du jour may earn you social credit in the short-term, but it comes at an ultimate cost: selling your soul to the mob. 

Rav Arora is a writer based in Vancouver, Canada, who specializes in topics of race, criminal justice and culture. Twitter: @Ravarora1

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