tl;dr: The goal is to be antifragile and thus able to thrive and make a difference.
Several notes as preface:
In one of his books, Nick Offerman notes that he doesn’t understand why “woke” is an insult. Would you rather be asleep? Especially when there are real structural issues even today? (Just one example.)
I know I’m a straight white middle-class American dude. But that doesn’t make my opinion worthless. Opinions are worth considering regardless of the person’s race, gender, or sexual orientation.
If only people who agree with you are allowed to have an opinion, how strong can your argument really be? Isn’t that like election-denying Republicans, “I’ll accept the results of the election if I win”?
Finally, I’d like to note: I only want happiness for everyone. </preface>
A story as I remember it:
Anne and I were at the commencement of a top-rated (and extremely well-endowed) liberal arts school. One of the speakers was a graduating senior who was the first in her family to go to college. She told the story of how happy she was to be able to go to this magical place on a full scholarship – beautiful grounds, great programs, a supportive system, and the full resources of five of the best schools in the entire country. It wasn’t a dream come true, because it was more than she had ever dreamt.
It didn’t last. Relatively soon, she “learned” how everyone is racist, how she and her family had been discriminated against and exploited, and how students, faculty, and staff were assaulting her with “microaggressions.” She raged for much of her speech.
Now, after four years at the best school in the country, she had gone from ecstatic, excited, and enthusiastic to anxious, angry, and accusatory.
Here was a young woman who had a rare chance to be in a far better position than the vast majority of people in the world. She could have left with the education, credentials, understanding, and contacts to succeed beyond her wildest dreams as a 16-year-old.
Instead, elements at this school had taken this passionate and joyful young person and broken her. I can’t help but think she would have been better off going to UCLA or even the University of Arizona.
And at this country’s elite schools, this is not an isolated incident.
Of course our society (and humanity as a whole) is racist, sexist, transphobic, classist, etc. This is why we need to strengthen our children to be able to deal with the world as it is. We have the understanding and ability to help young people become antifragile. That will allow them to thrive in an unfair world and help change it for those truly suffering.
Instead of building up our best and brightest, some choose to beat them down with a steady water torture of the world’s horrors, until they have been programmed to think everything is irredeemably horrible – even when their own situation is awesome.
This is also the point of the Greta Thunberg chapter in Losing My Religions.
PS: I see imperfect parallels with animal advocacy. As Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer noted, “In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.”
The world is objectively hell for non-human animals. I have seen this overwhelming, unnecessary, and intentional cruelty break many sensitive, empathetic souls. This reaction is entirely understandable.
But only dwelling in the horrors – which I did for many years – does not help. As I talk about in the chapter “The End of Veganism” in Losing My Religions, only documenting and “bearing witness” to brutality actively hurts animals.
I’ll conclude with what I have said and written many times – but only because it was one of the hardest lessons of my life. I believe it applies to anyone who wants to make the world better:
It is not enough to be righteous, or even a dedicated, knowledgeable advocate. The animals don’t need us to be right, they need us to be effective. In other words, we don’t want to simply “win an argument with a meat eater.” It isn’t about winning. Instead, we want to open people’s hearts and minds to making compassionate choices.
To do this, we must be admirable. Regardless of the sorrow and outrage we rightly feel at the cruelties animals suffer, we must strive to be what others want to be: joyful individuals with fulfilling lives. Only then can we do our best to really make a real difference.