Just before the Christmas holidays, the Norwegian students' union decorated a hallway in my school with propaganda posters, the overarching theme of which was that students should know their rights. One poster informed me that the temperature in a classroom is required by law to be between 25 and 28 °C, while another detailed the very specific circumstances under which teachers are allowed to expel students to the principal's office. At around the same time a friend of mine, who is active in the students' union, opined that the youths who were then rioting in London over tuition fees had every right to throw bricks and smash plate-glass windows – after all, he said, education is so important. Later in the conversation, a girl who is also active in the students' union said that it was not ultimately the rioters who were to blame for the riots, but David Cameron's government – it had (according to her) enacted stingy Thatcherite policies, predictably causing misery, unrest, and righteous indignation. She said this as if it were a self-evident truth disputed only by the very evil and the very stupid.
Last week my English class watched the HBO documentary Little Rock Central: 50 Years Later, which is about day-to-day life at a high school in Arkansas on the fiftieth anniversary of its racial desegregation. (History lessons in Norwegian schools are mostly about racism or genocide, and consist mostly of film-watching; other movies in the curriculum include Hotel Rwanda and Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story.) I don't know precisely how many times the word “shocked” and its variants was used in the ensuing class discussion, but the number was considerable. Everyone who said something about the documentary – and here too the union reps did most of the talking – was shocked; shocked by the self-destructive way in which the black students at the school lived, shocked by the continuing presence of “institutional racism” (which was unspokenly taken as the only possible explanation for racial disparities), shocked by the behavior of the whites (who were naturally to blame for the inadequacies of the blacks), and by a myriad other things.
I am telling these anecdotes because I find them highly instructive. More precisely, they show that the generation of Norwegians which is now reaching adulthood belongs to an entirely new class of people. That sounds a tad pretentious, so let me explain further.
I have written before about the cultural hegemony the Left exercises in Norway, and about how it has turned universities and schools into indoctrination camps. The generation of Norwegians born in the late 1980s and early 1990s is the first to have lived its entire life in the shadow of this hegemony. Most every teacher, government official, journalist, celebrity, or family member they have encountered spouts the same leftist talking points; most everything they have read, watched, and listened to to has been carefully bowdlerized to make apparent the wickedness of Western culture, the division of history into oppressor and oppressed, and the goodness of egalitarianism. The members of Norway's Generation Y are not the first to embrace the views of the postmodern, politically correct Left – that dubious honor belongs to their parents and grandparents –, but they are the first to absorb it by osmosis. Given the state of Norwegian schools and culture, most of them have probably never even heard of Lukács, Adorno, or Marcuse. They are not only committed to the Cultural Marxist Weltanschauung, but unaware that there is any alternative to it. The upshot of this is that they are not usually bad or stupid people, just grievously misinformed. None of the anecdotes I give here are intended to mock or humiliate the people they depict, many of whom I consider friends. The fault lies not with them, but with the sociopathoid armchair Berias responsible for their indoctrination.
Norway's Gen-Y radicals are utopians. By this I do not mean that they want a perfect society. They are rarely utopians in that sense, just as they are never radicals in the sense of wanting to overthrow the existing order. Like most of the post-Marxist Left, they have abandoned the pipe-dreams of the first socialists; if they believe in the “end of history” at all, they think of it in terms of managerial welfare-state democracy, not a property-less Eden. No, they are utopians in the sense that they believe social problems to be the result of faulty institutions and social structures, and thus also solvable through the modification of those structures. For them, human society and human nature can and should be engineered. This strips the individual of moral responsibility, promotes a sterile, teleological view of society and an interventionist, utilitarian view of the state, and begets the opinions that hierarchy is always unfair and arbitrary, that crime is never the criminal's fault, and that every social institution hides a Darwinian struggle for “resources” between faceless, impersonal forces.
The radicals also have a hefty sense of entitlement. They do not request things -- they demand them. They are perpetually shocked, indignant, and concerned about something. Their shock, indignation, and concern is most frequently directed at Racism, Poverty (which they are demanding – demanding! – be Made History), War, and all the other Important Causes. These evils, they reckon, are best controlled by expanding the State, dismantling what remains of the European heritage, and empowering left-wing internationalist institutions like the EU and the UN. Like China's Maoists the Gen-Y radicals pursue a perpetual, institutionalized revolution in which all humanity is subsumed into isms, ologies, and bureaucratic duckspeak. Like Italian Fascists they are vitalists who value mass political action for its own sake. (I remember an acquaintance who in December 2009 considered going to Copenhagen and protesting the climate summit; she didn't make it clear why she thought the summit should be protested, and I don't think she quite knew -- the important thing was that going to marches and protests is the sort of thing socially conscious and morally upstanding people do.) And like the Brezhnev era's "conservatives in the Kremlin" they see themselves not as reconstructive radicals, but as defenders of an ongoing revolution.
Now it's easy to dismiss all this as curmudgeonly complaining about the kids these days. There are three reasons why this would be a mistake. First, I am one of the "kids these days." Second, my complaints are not, to labor a stereotype, about garish clothes, loud music, or uncouth manners -- they are about the blinkered way in which young people think about politics. Third, my umbrage is not ultimately directed at those young people, but at the 70s radicals and welfare-state bureaucrats who have indoctrinated them. It is they who are ultimately at fault, and the victory of their cause testifies to the susceptibility of all men to comfortable lies and convenient illusions.