Monday, April 15, 2013


It seems the empiricist “brainset” #DavidBrooks described in his #EmpiricalKids piece has some peculiar side effects. The first among these is apparently broad-spectrum toleration, or social libertarianism. As another op-ed columnist, Charles Blow, writes in the NYT (“The Young Are the Restless”), 70 percent of American #Millennials now support gay marriage – an increase of 40 percent since 2003, while numbers have barely edged among the older generations (including the hapless Gen Xers). Curiously, Millennials are more likely to support some sort of gun control, though they were “the least likely to believe that the shootings in Newtown reflect broader problems in American society,” and “the most likely to believe that such shootings are simply the isolated acts of troubled individuals.” This obliviousness of the the forest, or the workings of broader systemic forces, may also explain the unbending optimism of most Millennials – despite the considered opinion of most experts who prophesy a bleak future for any generation which comes of economic age at a time of crisis and high unemployment (a view reflected in another recent NYT article under a rhetorical question serving as a title: "Do Millennials Stand a Chance in the Real World?").

I was surprised to find out a couple of days ago that the top results Google returned for “empirical kids” wasn’t Brooks’s original article. It was a response to it by an undergraduate student, Baobao Zhang, who proudly proclaimed from the outset: “I am an empirical kid. And I am proud of it.” I initially thought that was a parody, but maybe it wasn’t. Ms. Zhang may, indeed, earnestly believe that “what the world needs is not just another good cause to rally around, but rigorously tested solutions that actually benefit people.” And, of course, she would not be swayed by the numerous critiques of technocratic thinking evoked in #EvgenyMorozov ’s new book, To Solve Everything, Click Here (pp. 135-9); or by the fact that “the best and the brightest” was once stuck as a satirical label on some early adopters of the same empiricist brainset (an earlier generation of “empirical kids” memorably mocked in that late-70’s movie, Go Tell the Spartans). By the way, it's gratifying to recognize Evgeny as a former student, though I cannot claim any credit for the amazing expansion of his intellectual horizon.