He’s getting a lot of grief for this abbreviated Twitter argument today, but I suspect that many will agree with Joe Scarborough on his overall point. Early today, the Morning Joe host lamented the cultural turn taken by the US with the advent of smartphones and video games, especially among young adults. He complains that they spent far too much time on insular activities rather than, say, preparing to march on fascism wherever it raises its head.
Like, say, college campuses? Actually, the catalyst here is immorality rather than insufficient martial preparation:
Our smartphone culture impacts young men in the most profound way. It is often younger women who suffer the most. https://t.co/cagBUD9rUE
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) August 7, 2017
Young men in the 1940s liberated Europe from Nazism and the Pacific from the Japanese Empire. Today, too many stay home playing video games. https://t.co/e7FTe0O20P
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) August 7, 2017
Scarborough initially tweeted Rod Dreher’s post, mainly consisting of a lengthy e-mail from a reader decrying the isolation of the digital era and the erosion of moral fiber that comes with it. The prevailing attitude is misanthropy, his male correspondent argues, and that feeds into an isolating cycle of porn obsession to replace human contact:
Now regarding porn use, which I know you’ve blogged about a lot recently: you’re right. I’m a high church Christian myself, but was an active member of Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) all through college. RUF is a conservative Presbyterian ministry, and they take Christianity seriously, which means deep and lengthy sermons, an appreciation of hymnody, and a higher than average level of real devotion among the members. RUF is about as far from the stereotypical entertainment fluff stereotype of youth / college ministries as you can get. And yet in my senior year when I tried out a couple of community groups, which were split by sex, I found that I simply couldn’t join them. To the best of my recollection, every single male besides myself in both RUF community groups I visited (and there was no overlap of people) was an active porn user, or had been relatively recently. As the discussions went on in both groups, I found myself uncomfortably silent — I’ve never watched or even wanted to watch porn, but I didn’t want to say so and sound impossibly holier-than-thou.
So there I sat, listening as guys whom girls I know and deeply respect had crushes on and wished would ask them out, go on about how porn was just too hard of a habit to break because of dopamine addiction. The young women who were taken with these young men would no doubt be shocked and horrified to know what these gentlemen spent their evenings doing, and were at risk of walking into a relationship with a porn-addicted man who would almost certainly conceal his private habit from this girl until she was emotionally involved enough that breaking off the relationship would be hard. Because of the confidentiality involved, I couldn’t warn these girls off from dating these guys, and I couldn’t bear to think about the indignity these women would be subjected to in dating these men, so I left and never went back. Most of my good platonic friends in college were women; and I consider the lack of male community where perversion was not the accepted norm to be one of the principal causes of that fact.
In that context, Scarborough’s complaint makes more sense, even if it still has a whiff of get-off-my-damn-lawnism. His larger point is that we aren’t preparing our younger generation for rough times, whether it be for war in case it becomes necessary, or even for healthy relationships that might produce the next generation. Scarborough’s not pining for war, but merely pointing out that we’ll have trouble if one comes.
But how true is that really? One doesn’t need to be particularly adept at managing social skills to go to war, nor does it take a great deal of sophistication. The military does a good job of training people for the skills necessary for enlisted positions, and the academies still churn out an excellent class of young officers. Motivation might be a problem; my father remarked how different the response was on the days after 9/11 to the days after Pearl Harbor, when young American men lined up to wreak revenge on the enemy. A lack of cultural cohesion might have been responsible for that, but it also might have been the lack of a large-scale enemy to fight and the framing of the war as something America could handle without large-scale sacrifices, too.
The larger problem is still the one cited by Dreher and his reader: the lack of social cohesion in other contexts. A generation that does not know how to engage with each other is one that will not produce a robust next generation, which has implications for societal decline. That has less to do with video games than the porn addictions, though, and there are plenty of other distractions besides those two that keep people obsessed with their smartphones. Social media might be a worse problem, as it limits social engagement in ways that build communities in real life rather than in cyberspace. Liking one’s neighbors and interacting with them sustains the structure of culture and physical communities more than poking them on Facebook will, at least when engaged at the extreme.
In the end, perhaps professional cuddling and safe spaces on college campuses are more of a warning sign than smartphone addiction, at least in the context Scarborough addresses. The biggest red flag arguably is that this generation seems very confused over what fascism actually is.