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Philosophy professor Mark Kingwell (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Philosophy professor Mark Kingwell

(Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Mark Kingwell

Generation Snowflake? Not the millennials I know Add to ...

Mark Kingwell is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto.

Let’s start with the obvious: There is no more fragile ego in the universe than the man who, after winning an election, labels protests about his competence “very unfair.” If the charge against certain younger members of the electorate is that they can’t handle views contrary to their own, the new commander-in-chief is a beacon of childish pique. This is a man who would not acknowledge the validity of the contest he won until he won it. Sad!

Worse, though, is the middle-aged glee that has pervaded a large chunk of the punditocracy. “You won the popular vote? Get over it!”

“He’s a racist and misogynist who has no business in the seat of power? Aw, poor widdle babies!”

“His chief strategist is an avowed white nationalist and anti-Semite? Too bad, little pearl-clutchers, stop your whining!”

The last time I checked, political protest is not whining, except to jackasses, opponents of free speech and the power-mad. There’s nothing in the democratic rulebook that says you have to shut up once the votes are counted – on the contrary, especially if the winner has spent 18 months spewing toxic nonsense. Message to the protest-deniers: Stop telling people how to behave. If you don’t like the arguments, try to come up with some counterarguments.

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More damning than all this, though, is the creeping belittlement of a whole generation of voters who are unhappy with both the election results and other parts of the world that it bolsters, such as routine sexism in the workplace and routine bigotry in the public sphere. We’re told that we should disregard these delicate sentiments because their purveyors are bubble-wrapped millennials who can’t brook anything that feels like conflict or resistance. They are Generation Snowflake, too special and fleeting to weather the heat of debate.

I have a message for all those columnists and commenters who are peddling this nonsense, gleaned from actual contact with said generation. They’re tougher than you, friends, and a lot more adaptable. They are the future, you are history, and they know it. It’s only you who don’t.

If, like me, you actually deal with people in their 20s on the daily basis, you are free to disagree. Send me an old-fashioned e-mail. If you’re just another blowhard boomer with a safe job and a weekly newspaper space, and no direct experience of the campuses and workplaces of the new century, I suggest you get stuffed.

You have probably heard a lot about the outraged sensitivity of these young people – how they must be coddled and shielded from adverse opinion. Real evidence of this is hard to find. My students are reliably willing to discuss anything and everything, with no cries for safety or warnings. They don’t demand new pronouns in class, but if they did, I would probably oblige – why the hell not? They don’t balk when I ask them to raise their hands before speaking. Respect is a two-way street.

Or isn’t it? I get a strong whiff of resentment and fear from these critics of younger people, especially when it comes to anything political. Who do they think they are? What, it is demanded, has become of common sense?

Here’s the news: Common sense is a form of ideology, a particular way of going on that is sanctioned by the great hand wave of “what everyone knows.” Who is this everyone? And what, exactly, do they all know? Common sense is a myth of asymmetrical power disguised as the obvious. There is no such thing, except in the minds of people who don’t want to change the way they look at the world.

Donald Trump’s victory has been cast as a positive referendum on retrograde values. That’s very likely true, and alarming all by itself. But I have faith in critical thinking, especially among people whose views are not yet so ossified that they feel any opposition to them counts as something to mock. I have faith in people who are strong enough to adapt, smart enough to know what works and what doesn’t and critical enough to call B.S. when they see it.

And boy, do they see it right now.

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