Steve Striffler is the Doris Zemurray Stone chair of Latin American studies and professor of anthropology and geography at the University of New Orleans, writes:
Like Loughner, a significant portion of young people are, for very good reasons, profoundly anti-establishment, distrustful of anything they hear from the government or mainstream media. But this does not make them crazy anymore than it automatically leads them toward a coherent critique of the political system. Rather, in a world where fragments of information come from so many sources, it often leads them to the odd place where any explanation of the world is as good as any other, where there is no conceptual rudder for judging one theory or idea against another.
Hence, they draw from wildly opposing political ideologies and are attracted to conspiracy theories. And it often leaves them in a frustrated place where public figures cannot be trusted, and to the conclusion that nothing can be done to change the world (except perhaps something chaotic and dramatic). Hence, the tendency toward apathy and (after a philosophy class or two) nihilism.
How the hell could we expect otherwise
? It is bit ridiculous to ask why so few Americans are politically literate, much less hold politically coherent ideas, after we have gutted public education, turned schools into learning prisons and told young people over
and over again they are consumers and not citizens. Politic al liter
acy, we learn, is no longer even a requirement for seeking political office, but is in fact seen as a drawback.
And an important source of such political guidance, the left, has all but disappeared from mainstream life.
Within this context, it is amazing that any person in their twenties is able to develop anything resembling a coherent political framework for understanding the world, let alone acquire the tools to decipher between news and entertainment, to critically evaluate the fragments of information flying at them 24 hours a day from their TVs, computers and smart phones. Most do not have these tools by the time they arrive
to college, and I long ago stopped expecting them to.
But neither do I hold it against them, or dismiss their views simply because they are (from my perspective) muddled, incoherent and frequently go in completely opposite directions.
I take them seriously both because it is my job as an educator and because I know a better future depends on equipping them with the ability to piece together a critical framework for understanding the world.