More than 130,000 Americans died in World War II, but MSNBC host Joe Scarborough wants us to look on the bright side: The suffering wrought by the war helped build character, which is sadly lacking among young people today. Linking to an American Conservative blog post on high schoolers’ and millennials’ smartphone use, titled “Deforming Teens’ Moral Imagination,” Scarborough tweeted:
Scarborough has never never served in the military, but many young people today do. In fact, Americans continue to die in the country’s longest conflict ever, in Afghanistan, now in its fifteenth year. Framing war as a character-building exercise also whitewashes the enormous damage it does to survivors and civilians alike. World War II was a necessary evil, but in an ideal world all young people would enjoy peaceful lives, whether playing video games or doing anything else.
Scarborough’s imbecilic tweets are merely an extreme example of an argument that’s gaining salience among centrists and moderate Republicans: Kids today are lazy, socially isolated, and immature. This complaint is as old as it is tired, but has a particular salience today as the U.S. population ages—and its politicians do, too.
“Smartphones and social media are creating a society where people are radically atomized, and do not know how to interact with other people—not even their families,” American Conservative columnist Rod Dreher declared in the piece Scarborough linked to. Dreher’s post, in turn, linked to a much-discussed article in The Atlantic’s September issue that poses a characteristically hyperbolic question, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” The author, Jean Twenge, argues that people born between 1995 and 2012 are consumed by smartphone use and social media, and even “more vulnerable than Millennials”: more depressed, more suicide-prone, and more likely to stay home alone than hang out with friends or date.
Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a former university president, fretted recerntly inThe New York Times that the hard physical labor he did as a farm boy was no longer the norm. “The time our students didn’t spend in school was mostly spent consuming: products, media and entertainment, especially entertainment,” he wrote. “Another thing I noticed was an unnerving passivity. When I saw students doing their campus jobs, they seemed to have a tough time. Over and over, faculty members and administrators noted how their students’ limited experience with hard work made them oddly fuzzy-headed when facing real-world problems rather than classroom tests.”