Why the supposedly progressive moral certainties circulating on social media are no different from the rigid dogmas of old
A few evenings ago, over the dinner table, a sensitive and kind fourteen-year-old I know quite well expressed her horror and outrage upon learning that a long-married couple had had a significant age difference. The husband had just died at the age of 102, while his wife was in her early sixties. This was, the fourteen-year-old informed me with all the fervor of absolute certainty, both “inappropriate” and “creepy.” She was certain her opinion was the only permissible one because TikTok had told her so.
At fourteen we know so little of the world, yet we crave certainty so much, that we inevitably embrace the opinions of others and clasp them tightly to us like a drowning person desperately clasps a wooden log. Today the collective wisdom of TikTok and similar platforms is available to teens the world over, and from these dubious sources they form what they imagine to be reasonable attitudes. These attitudes must be reasonable because so many other teens are also expressing them!
We cannot fault our teens for their naiveté and we must hope that as they age they develop some capacity for independent thought. Alas, a great many never do, and grow up to be adults who are convinced that simple-minded nostrums are sufficient to guide them through life.
In previous ages, intellectually incurious people would absorb the babblings of priests and pastors, convinced that whatever half-baked mythology they were accustomed to was the repository of all true wisdom and moral values. Today, wokist warriors compete with priests to claim the supposed moral high ground, spewing out their incoherent nostrums over social media and attempting to condition a generation to conform to their narrow and wholly inadequate notions of rectitude.
The problem is that most of life, and therefore most morality, is relative to particular circumstances. Anyone who can’t grasp this needs to contemplate the well-known trolley car problem. It’s why folk wisdom and mythologies alike always have thesis and antithesis, so as to provide simple-minded soundbites for every occasion. Look before you leap, but he who hesitates is…