A new kind of echo chamber
Perhaps President Donald Trump was right when he claimed that climate change is a hoax — despite increasing global temperatures, there are millions of young “snowflakes” at college campuses nationwide.
The so-called snowflake generation has become defined by its diplomatic, fragile, politically correct culture that, as some politicians decry, has gone too far.
“The American university was once the center of academic freedom — a place of robust debate,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a speech given at Georgetown University Law Center in August. “But it is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.”
Sessions is not wrong — there are echo chambers within American academia, and they are becoming deeply damaging. But his implication of the “fragile” college student as the mastermind behind these ideological echo chambers reeks with hypocrisy.
What Sessions fails to realize is that conditional freedom of expression is not new — America has been rife with censorship for over a century. In 1873, devout Christian Anthony Comstock and the Young Men’s Christian Association sowed the seeds of American censorship. They created the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, which worked to instill Christian morality across America. They reached out to the legal sector, lobbying for national anti-obscenity laws. They ultimately garnered Republican support; thus, in 1873, Congress passed the Comstock Act, criminalizing erotic literature, imagery and information discussing abortion and contraception.
Despite the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state, the Christian, conservative definition of morality became integrated into America’s legal framework and culture. In the 1960s, in response to liberal hippie culture, Christian morality crusaders helped form the modern movie labeling system, which which we now know as G, PG, PG-13 and R. The original premise behind labeling movies was to make the theater a safe space by warning viewers of gory, vulgar or subjectively inappropriate content.
This use of warnings and safe spaces is just the sort of coddling of the “fragile ego” that politicians like Sessions have been quick to vilify in the millennial generation. Society must be alerted about impending nudity, or gory content, lest the screening of genitals and exploding human bodies burn the innocent eyes of the American public; but how dare trauma victims ask for something operating on a similar premise, like a “trigger warning”, in any and all contexts? Millennials did not invent safe spaces and trigger warnings — they merely revived these trends.
So when Sessions, later in his speech, asks:
“But who decides what is offensive and what is acceptable?”
The answer is something along the lines of “you” — millennials, as it turns out, were merely born into the great echo chamber of fragile, conservative, Christian America complete with trigger warnings and safe spaces of its own.
While it is a gross misstep to conflate all of Christianity with conservatism, it is important to understand that, as the Pew Research Center found, 82 percent of Republicans are Christian. There’s nothing wrong with Christian monotheism; religion enriches the lives of many and the cultures of all. But Christianity, as it relates to the conservative movement, becomes a problem when people like Sessions criticize universities and millennials for instigating a culture of homogeneity and suppressing academic freedom, when really, the American government has been homogenizing the public and suppressing ideological diversity for over a century.
And there’s no denying that this sentiment is still present today.
“We know that it’s the family and the church, not government officials, that know best how to create strong and loving communities. And above all else, we know this: In America, we don’t worship government,” Trump said at the 2017 annual Value Voters Summit, an event for supporters of the governmental integration of religiously conservative values. “We worship God.”
His actions support the prescription of a conservative Christian framework; he has vowed to increase religious influence in politics by calling for the the demise of the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt religious institutions from endorsing political campaigns, thereby influencing its congregants. And so, America is, and continues to be, trapped in the age-old echo chamber of conservative Christianity.
Though millennials have invented countless bizarre phenomena — adult onesies, overpriced avocado toast and chlorophyll-infused juices for non-photosynthesizing humans — ideological echo chambers are not one of them. Millennials may be fragile, but they are certainly not the only snowflakes out there.