Are America's Young Adults a Bunch of Dim Bulbs?

CNN’s Rock the Vote had this to say about young America and issues facing our nation and world:

“One of the things that comes out of the CNN poll here is that they are three times less likely than their older peers to be plugged into issues and ideas,” he said. “They are our future, and they are hopelessly ill-informed.”

I think young dopers are generally pretty well-informed on most issues, but where do you think the young nation at large falls on the “Dim Bulb - To - Issue-Savvy” scale (dim being a 1)?

Maybe it’s just a reflection of the fact that most young people have a lot more going on in their lives- they’re usually in newer relationships, they’re just starting their careers, they have lots of friends, they’re making plans for the future- so they don’t want to waste their time on a bunch of political crap when all of their political efforts most likely won’t make any difference anyway.

Yeah, Surreal. As opposed to when us loser old fogies were young with nothing going on in our lives!

IMO&E, a significant portion of young adults have always gladly remained pretty clueless about matters political, economic, historical, etc.

Can anyone find the underlying stat to this quote: “One of the things that comes out of the CNN poll here is that they are three times less likely than their older peers to be plugged into issues and ideas”"

I think several factors contribute to the “non involvement” of our youth in political issues.

First of all is the sad state of this portion of our education system. When I went through school in the eighties we no longer tought “citizenship”. And I have learned subsequently that the American History I was taught was laughably inadequate. Basically I think that our fear of teaching morals and our profound misunderstanding of the virtues of the American system has lead to an abdication by our educators of the responsibility to “create citizens”.

Secondly, I think it is a reflection of the successes of earlier generations. Youth simply do not have to worry about as many political issues. It can be said that very few politicians or new laws are going to materially affect your life anytime soon. I think that this is a reflection of the stability of our political system.

Finally, I think that as a culture, we have an odd preocupation with our celebrities. I used to like Jay Lenno’s bit where he would ask college students about current or historical political issues. He would find several students to say the most inane stuff. Then he would ask a question about Madona or JLo and they would all know details about the answer. Sometimes, I think we have replaced the royal families with celebrities.

So, I guess I my opinion is that the current crop of young adults rates a 1 on the political involvement scale. I say that in the hope that the problems cannot get any worse. I realize, that I am probably wrong though.

I get the feeling that the guy quoted in the OP is confusing “plugged into issues” and “being politically active about issues”. In my experience, young adults tend to be more interested in, knowledgable of, and passionate about issues, but less likely to be politically active with regards to those issues.

I’m a young adult (26) and I consider myself kinda-sorta politically in-the-know. Because I often frequent the Great Debate board, I’m usually the first in my circle of friends/associates to know about the shit hitting the fan.

A couple of years ago, though, I was clueless. I was up on my current events, but I wasn’t confident enough to have strong feelings or opinions about stuff.

There are too many distractions in an American young person’s life. Many are in the bubble world of college, too busy getting through organic chemistry or physics to care about the “outside” world. Young people are new voters and taxpayers, so they aren’t used to holding their politicians accountable. Young people, by nature, are selfish and “me” oriented. A bombing on the other side of the globe doesn’t register on their radar since it doesn’t affect their daily lives. Plus, politics is for “grown-ups” who watch the McLoughlin Group and listen to NPR. People in their early 20s don’t identify as grown-ups .

The problem as I see it is not that young people today are stupid, as this is certainly not the case. It’s that they are profoundly cynical.

There are any number of reasons for this, but I think the current fascination the press has with tearing down national myths and debunking cherished legends is playing a big role. Any nation’s history is, more or less, a generally-agreed-upon version of the past, concerned more with identity than accuracy. When this collective version is undermined with ugly facts, heros fall and disillusionment fills in the gaps.

I mean, what are we Americans allowed to feel proud of nowadays? Point to any aspect of American cultural identity, and someone will be shooting it down.

  • You can’t celebrate Columbus Day because the European settlers raped and pillaged the indigenous people.
  • You can’t admire George Washington or his achievements because he owned slaves.
  • You can’t admire the pioneers and settlers because they stole from the Indians and then practiced genocide on them.
  • You can’t celebrate America’s victory in WWII because we fire-bombed Dresden, imprisoned innocent Japanese-American citizens, and used atomic bombs.
  • You can’t express pride that the US won the Cold War because it involved nasty black bag operations and support for evil dictators in the third-world countries where most of the actual fighting occurred.

I grant that the wrongs of the past shouldn’t be glossed over, but we now spend so much time WEEPING and AGONIZING about these things that they overshadow anything good that this country has produced.

Is it any wonder that kids are cynical? There are no more heros. There are no ideals worth believing in. The belief system being shoved down their throats tells them:

  • that everyone is inherently out for themselves;
  • that lying and cheating are fine as long as you don’t get caught;
  • that nothing in life is important enough to WAIT for;
  • that wallowing in victimhood is easier than overcoming obstacles;
  • that the good life is for the taking, not the earning;
  • that notoriety is a good thing.

If I had grown up in that kind of climate, I think I’d be cynical and self-absorbed, too.

Kizarvexius, I pat you on the back for that assessment.

I think you’re dead on about how the triumphs of the past are often accompanied by an explanation of why they were horrible atrocities. In my American History class (AP, no less), we’re studying the industrialization of America and the westward expansion. Every positive point (Americans developed industry to compete with the European market on manufactured goods) is accompanied with condemnation of that same occurrence (Agrarian society and subsistence farming were traded for a consumer and service economy, thus ending the proud agricultural traditions of a nation).
I agree with this method of showing history as a series of events that had positive and negative consequences, not that America was victorious and there were parades in the streets and a good time was had by all. People died. Cultures died. Bad things happened to good people. While it may be cynical and generally misanthropic, it’s how things happened. G.I. Joe does not always save the day and then tell kids not to do drugs. Maybe I’m a product of the jaded and cynical generation (I’m 17, by the way), but I’d rather be fully informed and make my own decisions about history. George Washington owned slaves, but he also led the most decrepit army in the world against a vast, controlling empire and won. I’ll judge in favor of him.
It’s not that we can’t feel pride in what we’ve done, it’s that we are now more informed about the good and the bad of history.

I think that you’re saying there are no ideals left to believe in is a bit off the mark. The SDMB is a good example. It follows the ideal that ignorance can be fought and perhaps triumphed over. It might not be true, but it’s fun and I believe in trying. A sense of community and cooperation and helpfulness. Open debate and the ability to change minds.

That being said, I’ll address the OP:

As far as I know, this has been the general argument about every previous generation (“These whipper-snappers don’t know jack about how to run a country.”). There are some folks who naturally give a damn about world events and know what’s going on. There are some folks who just don’t give a damn and are happy not to (Someone in my AP Geography class was stunned to learn that Hawaii was one of the states. Ugh.)
Are we generally whiney, self-righteous and irresponsible? Sure. Dim Bulbs? Not all of us.

No, I think America in general is a bunch of dim bulbs. But then I’m one of those cynical younglings.

It has been true for a long time. When the voting age was lowered to 18, the number of 18-to-20 folks who voted, using their newfound power, was appallingly small.

Look at it from the other side. When your congressfool decides who to protect, who to spend money on, and who to ignore, he looks at who votes. “Why should I help the poor,” he says, “when only 10% of them vote?” 90% of the rich vote (and they can afford to write checks for the campaign,) so he’ll look after their needs. “Screw the young,” he’ll say, “they don’t vote.” He’s terrified of pissing off the old, because most of them vote.

One caveat I’m Canadian, not American, although to anyone outside of North America that designation is unnecessary and Canadian should likely read “American who gets more snow”.

However I am also one of those young adults in university who chooses not to vote (which irritates some associates, as I’m in the political science faculty)
This is not through ignorance; I spend enough time reading to know the issues and to come to an opinion on them. I can’t obviously speak for everyone, but most of my friends (an admittedly small subsection of society) do keep up with the days events and can discuss politics at some level.

I think it breaks down to one major issue, and one minor one.
The first is apathy
It’s exceedingly prevalent and it’s not something easily fixed. Part of is a loss of trust and faith, in part because of what Kizarvexius mentioned, part of it is isolation from the current political parties. The article brings this up somewhat when it mentions

“The greatest differences among the two groups appear to be on social issues, especially gay marriage and ethnic diversity.”

It’s not in a political party’s interest to offend voters, and when you have a large relatively homogenous body that has historically supported your party and currently is supplying your party with funding through generous donations, it makes sense to sway in there direction.

A specific example of this can be seen in Canada (and its likely to be similar in the States) our rightwing party is referred to as the “Alliance” (ignoring current merger concerns, as well as the PC which at the moment is atrophied) which if you prefer you can read as “Republican” as most (though not all) of their stances on issues are similar.
In general they tend to be fiscally conservative and socially conservative, but this does not line up well with most 18-30 voters, who tend to when being fiscally conservative, often very socially liberal. Because the beliefs of the 18-30 voters do not fit as neatly on the Right-Left spectrum it leads to a feeling of being lost, as they support neither of the major parties positions in area’s they feel strongly about, leading to the feeling that both major parties are invalid.

The good news is this will fix itself, boomers are dieing, younger persons are reaching the age of majority, the tide eventually shifts and for a party to remain relevant it must adapt to the new belief values of the “norm” of society. So 10-15 years or so down the road, probably those who are currently apathetic will be involved, and we can ask the question of why the new younger generation is so apathetic and scratch our heads in wonderment.

There are plenty of young Americans who are interested in politics. I am eighteen and spend a lot of time on this message board. I often talk politics with my friend who happens to be 22.

  1. Apathy is the reason that most of us do not get into politics. Most young people do not see how politics affect their life. At this age most of us are still in school of some kind, most of our jobs are not careers. Bush’s foreign policy has no direct effect on us, so we ignore it.
  2. We don’t like to feel stupid. Every time I step into Great Debates I am humbled. To make informed political decisions on even a trivial topics takes a lot of knowledge. You must know stats, figures, and studies. When I read a thread in GD I am constantly reminded of how little I know.
  3. “I’m eighteen and I don’t know what I want” Mr. Cooper summed that up pretty well. With my limited store of knowledge, it is hard for me to hold a political position. Every year my ideas of what is important to me change. It is hard to make changes that affect everyone, when I don’t even know what I want.
  4. Our view of the world. The world is a bitch. It doesn’t care whether I live or die. Most people around my age haven’t realized this yet. They still believe that good things happen to good people. To them the world is still black and white. Politics change that. You find that sometimes there is no good answer. If you invade a country many people will suffer and die. If you don’t people may still suffer and die. Sometimes you have to compromise and support something you find unsavory in order to further your goals. To them this is unacceptable because the world is good and pure and if they make the right decision everyone is happy. I figured out that the world is not a good place at around 15-16 most people figure it out later in life.
  5. Politics do not impress girls. I have yet to have a girl say “Wow politics. I love politics”
    As a disclaimer I come from a rural Michigan town. YMMV depending on location

Are my peers passionate about issues? Many of the issues, yes.

Are they knowledgeable about them? Not really. Do they know that? Nope.

God bless 'em for tryin, though.

This is the old “Kids these days” argument. It’s baloney and always has been.

It is entirely possible young adults are less interested in politics than older adults but it has always been that way. Probably always will be. The kids today are alright. They will turn out to be a bunch of dorks just like the old people we have now.

I know plenty of really smart young adults. Anyway, what’s different now than the 60’s?

I think everyone here has brought up some good points. And to answer the OP, no, of course Young Adults in America are not dim bulbs. Or rather, they are no more dim than they have been for a while.

Hell, when I was 18 I thought my peers were stupid. And that was some years ago. I don’t expect that it’s changed.

Okay, that’s an overgeneralization. Especially if you saw my grades in high school. :eek: (“Unimpressive” is being kind.) I had my head in the clouds and was too busy reading and drawing and really didn’t want to be there. And yes, I was quite “clueless” on political issues.

But I loved to read. I loved to read. That was my saving grace. I took a “Reading For Enjoyment” class in high school, and the teacher had a chart up in the class showing how many pages of reading each student had done. Each student had a line in the chart and she’d color in a box for each amount of pages (like one box per 50 pages, or whatever).

Three students were way ahead of everyone else. Me, another student (whose identity I forget) and an exchange student (Holland, I think). The teacher had to tack up an extra page to record our progress, because we were, literally, off the charts. Everyone else was poking along, maybe 10% into the chart. I thought that was telling.

I remember a kid tell me that I was a “speed reader” because I could read fifty (that’s a big 5-0) pages in an evening. Yep. That’s speed reading.

I am not saying that these kids who didn’t read much were “dim bulbs.” Not at all. But when you have a whole generation of people who don’t like to read much, then I think you’ve got more problems.

Tell me, is it better now? Do you 18-25 year olds have a lot of peers who love to read? If so, things have truly changed. But I confess, I am doubtful that they have changed that much (even though the “Harry Potter” phenomenon is encouraging).