Since I generally stay away from the popular press for sanity and utility reasons – tends to drive me crazy and be useless – I don’t know how that whole ‘front row kids’ thing from a few years ago went over. I suspect that Arnade’s division seemed obviously true to many people, and obvious balderdash to many others. I’d also imagine that, of those two groups, the first would be a lot more engaged in talking about and promoting this analysis, while the second would be more likely to role their eyes and find something better to do.
Accepting for the moment this front row/back row division of the world: for a front row kid, this idea that he is defined by his place in school is very appealing; I’d go so far as to suggest doing otherwise is almost unimaginable for him. Unfortunately, I’d say the same for most back row kids.
What’s lurking here: school is the primary formative experience of all front row and most back row kids. Coming from a rootless, cruel, and self-centered personal life, where mom and dad have divorced, moved, and remarried, often several times, school for such emotionally battered children is an oasis of order. Unlike their relationship with their parents, the rules in school are pretty clear: to be valued, to get approval, just do what the teacher says.
In the process of seeking personal fulfillment and career success, they have learned from their families, such as they are, to casually sever whatever non-work related relationships they may have otherwise formed. A child leaves a house full of emotional and sometimes physical insecurity, and spends most of his waking hours in a place where success is clearly defined for them.
To tell such a child, now grown into a physical adult and inescapably defining his success in terms of compliance, that something an authority figure has told them is wrong, is never going to be seen as a mere intellectual dispute. It is an attack on that which defines who he is. It is an assault on his entire world.
Here’s Arnade’s definitions, from a Forbes article (in which the writer seems to accept the distinction, and has moved on to worrying over what to do about it). This is a masterpiece of Orwellian newspeak. I’ll offer my corrections line by line:
Front row kids:
Mobile, global, and well educated (Rootless, disdainful of local loyalties, thoroughly indoctrinated)
Primary social network is via colleges and career (Social network is shallow, diffuse, and ephemeral)
Intellect is primary. (Compliance is primary) View world through framework of numbers and rational arguments (Has internalized the idea that compliance is rational, and that only the numbers and arguments presented by authority figures count regardless of their inherent soundness)
Meaning (and morality) comes from careers and intellectual pursuits (Has no concept of what meaning and morality are)
Faith is irrational. (Has internalized a strawman) They see themselves as beyond race and gender (They are obsessed with race and gender)
View their lives as better than their parents and their children’s lives will be better than their own (Contrary to what they see all around them, they accept the fantasy that success in school guarantees success in life)
Back row kids
Stay where they are born. (Are loyal and patriotic) Education beyond high school degree is via smaller state schools, community colleges, and trade schools (Recognize, however dimly, that college is a fraud)
Primary social network is via institutions beyond work. (Don’t think of family, etc., as ‘institutions.’ Love, and has a visceral loyalty to the people who love them and recognizes a duty to love and be loyal in return.) Such as family, geographic community, and Church (Finds fulfillment and meaning as part of a family, village or neighborhood, and church)
Faith is central. (They know what faith means. They reject the strawman) They find meaning (and morality) through the “Decency of hard work” (They work for reasons other than mere personal fulfillment – they find fulfillment in performing their duties to the family, village, and church they love)
They have “traditional” views of race and gender (They reject the authoritarian indoctrination of the schools)
They view their lives as worse than their parents and their children’s lives will be worse than their own (They have a toehold in economic reality – it will be a lot of work for them and their children to get as far as their parents.)
A front row kid’s sense of reality will always be tenuous, because it will always be contradicted by experience. The approval of teachers and schools, the gold stars, the pat on the head, the straight A’s, the diplomas, the advanced degrees – these are what stand between them and the abyss of abandonment they experienced in their family life. On this level, a front row kid really is triggered by simple, harmless words – any words that point out the contradiction. ‘Fake news’ points out the perfidy and incompetence of their peers. Those elite journalists went to the best schools, got the best degrees, and are front row kids to a degree to which most front row kids can only spire. That they are getting mocked for being such obvious frauds is unendurable! Those journalists are both front row kids like us, and stand in the role of teachers as the vanguard of the institutions that give meaning to their lives.
The key here for today: front row kids truly believe that parroting what they hear from whoever stands in authority IS science, logic, intelligence, and reasonableness itself. Agreeing with teacher IS morality. Opposing what the person in authority says IS anti-science, irrationality, and stupidity, and EVIL. They have been told that they are the best educated, most reasonable and most moral people the world has ever seen – and, as the price to be paid for acceptance and approval and something that almost feels like love, they believe it. This price, this membership in the kool kids klub, demands any who express doubts about any part of the program be treated as heretics.
As of today, I have had someone I know, who has an advanced degree, unload on me for calling the COVID panic a fraud, and, with complete disdain for any evidence, logic, math that might enter into the analysis, call me tool for stupid, evil politicians who want to get us all killed out of pure malice. I was accused of promoting conspiracy theories, which was backed up by a stream of conspiracy theories.
A stranger called me a monster and insane for pointing out something completely obvious from all the available data: that a child stands virtually no risk from the Kung Flu. Unlike the case above, this time I got a chance to point to the CDC data that backs this up; pointed to the IFR calculable from that CDC data. It simply was not possible to change her mind, because it’s not a question of thinking. It is a question of personal identity established over 16 or more years of schooling.
Simply raising questions about the government’s response to COVID, simply pushing back at all on the assertions of the talking heads, is enough to trigger a strong emotional reaction in front row kids. To take any pushback seriously would be to shake the very ground upon which they stand. To accept any view contrary to the front row kid group-think would be to cast oneself adrift, to sever social ties (such as they are) and force a reevaluation of the premises upon which your life has been built.
To say this is difficult is a wild understatement. If an authority figure comes along and says something diametrically opposed to what was said yesterday, front row kids will believe it without a moment of cognitive dissonance. COVID was not a problem – until it was. Masks didn’t help at all, until they might help some, until they are mandatory. And the front row will switch allegiance accordingly, and woe to him who points this out!
For change to happen, the easier route, which has happened many times, is simply to change the authority figure. Our current authority figures are fighting this with desperate fury. Or, I suppose, enough cognitive dissonance might eventually get through. Resistance to this level of fundamental, definitional change is strong, life and death strong.
I do not need to point out to regular readers that this transference of loyalty from family to state via a certified agent of the state – a teacher – and the replacement of thought with obedience is exactly what Fichte proposed way back in 1807.