Are Gen Zers Becoming More Authoritarian?

Charles Sykes

Is the authoritarian left succeeding in its effort to control speech? When it comes to younger Americans, the answer might be “yes.”

On a recent episode of the “Dr. Phil Show,” titled “Boomers vs. Zoomers: An Old-Age Debate,” the host asked the Gen Z group: “Why are comedians not even willing to come on college campuses anymore because they’re scared to death they’re going to say something that offends?”

Victoria, a young content creator, argued that “social repercussions have always existed” and that “as a generation, we’re becoming more aware of how bigotry, even if it’s in the form of a joke, really negatively impacts people.”

“And so I think that while social repercussions are nothing new, what we penalize people for saying is changing. And I think that that’s a positive thing,” she concluded.

Neekolul, a young Tik Tok personality, said: “Stereotypes used in comedic stand-up is just simply just, like, not ok anymore. So you can say whatever you want, but you need to be also ready for the repercussions of what you say.”

On the other side, libertarian commentator Brad Polumbo pointed out that “You’re not free to say whatever you want if you get fired for an off-color joke. How would you feel when it’s you who is out of step with the social mores of the day?”

Still, Victoria insisted that cancel culture in 2022 is being used for positive reasons:

“I think you’re still acting like this is something new, though. People have been fired for things that they’ve said for forever, but now we’re seeing an era where, if you’re disrespectful or bigoted towards someone, you get fired for that, I don’t see that as a bad thing.”

Dr. Phil pointed out the problem. “The point is, the threshold has really gotten low.”

Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), explained how depression among young Americans has surged.

“I really want to address the idea that what’s going on currently with regard to free speech is in any way normal,” he explained. “We checked our latest data on attempts to get professors canceled on campus. It’s 770. It involves over 40 tenured professors getting fired. You didn’t have these kinds of numbers even during McCarthyism. So the idea that this is just business as usual is just wrong. They’re going to be studying this in 100 years and be like, ‘What on earth happened?’”

Dr. Phil brought up how this trend began in earnest when people started claiming words were like physical violence.

“Yeah, and this really started kicking up around 2013, ’14, when they started medicalizing these words essentially by saying, ‘This hurts me, this damages me,’” he said.

“You know, I grew up with the old ‘sticks and stones will break your bones, but words shall never hurt you.’ But that changed when they start saying, ‘This hurts me. I don’t feel safe. Now it will have to be dealt with by administration,’” Dr. Phil continued.

This is the crux of the matter. If you can persuade people to believe that words are violence, it can justify almost any measure to put a stop to harmful forms of expression. After all, if someone saw a person beating a defenseless child, most would intervene to protect that child, right?

But since words are not violence, this phenomenon is having an increasingly pernicious impact on the principle of free speech. It is creating an environment in which people censor themselves out of fear that they will be punished for expressing unpopular viewpoints.

In fact, a RealClearEducation report released in 2021 revealed a disturbing increase in the tendency among young people to self-censor. The researchers found that “more than 80% of American college students in our latest survey say that they self-censor in the classroom, on campus, and online.”

A New York Times/Siena poll found that younger people were more likely to have been harshly critical of another person over something they said. “Adults 18 to 34 years old were far more likely to have done so than older Americans; liberals were more likely to have done so than moderates or conservatives,” the report read.

Nothing surprising there, right?

This is precisely the scenario the hard left seeks to create among Americans. The Marxist crowd thrives off intimidating their opponents into silence. When they can scare people into keeping their views to themselves, they don’t have to worry about censoring them or finding other ways to suppress opposing voices. But the good news is that this method is a paper tiger. When enough people are willing to speak out, cancel culture becomes impotent. After all, they cannot cancel everyone, right?


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