I have been thinking about the rise of ‘grievance politics’ over the past few years; specifically, why so many people, especially millennials and gen-z, feel so angry and victimized that they have taken to ‘extreme beliefs,’ be it grievance studies, grievance politics, ‘cancel culture,’ or ‘wokeness;’ and, not just to pick on the the left, conspiracies such as q-anon, for the ‘right’ .
The etiology of the problem, I hypothesize, is two-fold:
The role of leaders is not just to create policy or enforce order, but also to inspire, guide, and provide hope, but two generations of young people–raised by career-focused parents and secular schools, and given the pitiful and pathetic state of America’s political leadership, and without any sort of blueprint, vision, or moral code to abide by such as religion (whereas in the past, family formation was typically expected of young people, but Covid and various social trends have disrupted this)– are increasingly forced/required to create and find their own meaning, values, and purpose in life, and this can and manifest itself in holding views that some may deem ‘extreme’ or anti-social.
Second, both sides of the aisle are increasingly dissatisfied with the direction or course America is going in, and equally dissatisfied with its leadership, and this perceived abandonment and antipathy by America’s ‘ruling class,’ manifests itself in expressive forms of outrage and anger, to at least try to tilt the scales of power, however slightly, to a more equal and just state and to make their grievances and demands heard to a deaf ruling class, and when combined with extreme beliefs, compounds the problem..
Moreover, we live in a society that increasingly, especially since 2008 and even more so since Covid, rewards cunning and ingenuity, over virtue. Making millions of dollars with GameStop options makes you an important, respected person, not virtue in and of itself. Unable to find virtue in America’s political and ruling class, and lacking direction, purpose, or guidance, ‘identify’ movements, on either side of the spectrum, fill this void, and provide a worldview for adherents to rationalize their own mediocrity, as victims of forces outside of their control, whether it is structural racism or liberal elites. . Unless you are cunning and smart, American society and its bureaucracy it would seem has little to offer to you (but stimulus checks and entertainment to keep everyone placated, or as some say, bread and circuses), so these movements, on both the far-left and far-right, are an increasingly attractive proposition.
There is the widespread, bipartisan belief that society is irreparably and fundamentally broken corrupt, and that America’s ‘ruling elite’ –but also financial and business elite– are increasingly deaf and indifferent to their constituents, and that America’s bureaucracy seeks to only serve and perpetuate its very existence, as opposed to promoting and advancing the wellbeing of society. Trillions of dollars have been spent on Covid relief and stimulus, yet a pittance it seems have reached the very businesses and individuals who need it most, with much of the money squandered on, again, perpetuating the existence this hulking, cobbled-together system (or what Hobbes called the Leviathan), much like how a rocket expends so much fuel by virtue of rocket fuel itself being so heavy, and the rest of the money indirectly going to Amazon and Walmart..
Consequently, with so much of the Covid stimulus money effectively being a ‘big tech’ bailout, the fortunes of Musk, Gates, Bezos and other tech billionaires have ballooned since the pandemic (although forever-low interest rates and having your competition forcibly put out of business, does not hurt either). Stories about rocket launches, record-number of Tesla deliveries, and Bitcoin are making headlines, while everyone else has to contend with business closures and joblessness due to Covid, with no end in sight to the restrictions in spite of hype about vaccines. Yeah, Tesla delivered a million cars in a recession, but to whom? A lot of people perceive that things [in America] are going to shit and cannot retreat to their podcast studios or private islands in the way that the elite can.
As an example of how America’s ruling elite play by a different set of rules, California Governor Gavin Newsom infamously made headlines a few months ago after being spotted dinning at a posh San Francisco restaurant with his acquaintances, and clearly not adhering to the very social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines he enforces on everyone else. Religious leaders have also failed, caught up in scandal and lining their pockets with donations to fund mega-churches and a lifestyle that sanctifies and aggrandizes the greatness of the church itself, not its teachings or god.
In conclusion, lacking a blueprint or framework for a ‘moral and just society’ that would normally be delineated by political and religious leaders, family, or cultural mores, young people have created their own blueprints and are projecting/imposing this warped idealization their ‘ideal society’ unto others in the form these emotive protests and outbursts, be it social justice, wokeness, or cancel culture, in an attempt to be heard and express power, when everyone else has turned their backs to them and confronted with powerlessness against forces out of their control, and lacking any sort of vision or hope for a better tomorrow. Shaming people for not wearing masks, as was the case with viral photos of Tom Brady not wearing a mask during the Super Bowl, is a way for people who that feel marginalized and ignored to express power by going after individuals who are much more powerful. Likewise, the Jan 6th capital protests were a similar expression of collectives power by a weaker mob against a priced powerful oppressor..