I am an optimist. Tomorrow, in aggregate at least, will be better than yesterday. Our knowledge grows, technology improves lives and, given a fair chance, free markets raise further thousands from abject, life-shortening and painful poverty. But I am just a little bit worried as I peer into my scratched, dull and flickering crystal ball.
Pew found that 40% of respondents ages 18-34 said they agreed that offensive statements could be outlawed.
The over-65 generation does not accurately represent our country, because they are overwhelmingly white and actually vote. So, unfortunately, we're going to have to bar them from voting.
Millennial support for populist and authoritarian candidates conforms to several recent studies showing widespread youth disaffection with the whole idea of democracy. Only about 30% of Americans born in the 1980s think it’s “essential” to live in a democracy.These are just three examples from a host - from support for bans on drinking through fat shaming to turning genuine concerns about harassment into witch hunts led by a frothing media mob. Everywhere I look I see attacks on the fundamentals of what I see as liberal democracy. It's not merely that young people - like just about every past generation - start off foolishly believing there's a better way to improve our world than freedom and choice but that they've gone beyond this to embrace a neo-puritanism that is anti-freedom, anti-democracy and definitely anti-choice.
And my worry isn't just that I don't agree with this neo-puritan authoritarianism - whether it's the young Austrians and Germans voting for the populist Right or British and American youth embracing the left-wing equivalent. Or for that matter "centrists" wanting to limit democracy because they don't like its results. No, my worry is that democracy and liberty will be restricted by governments seeking to pander to this neo-puritanism - an ever wider definition of "hate speech", classing any heterodox behaviour or belief as anti-social, banning of books and videos, all mixed in with cults of health and the idea of the 'good person'.
This anti-liberty, anti-choice new-puritan doctrine will be used by governments to stifle debate on-line, to close down challenging (and sometimes inaccurate) platforms or websites as 'fake news', and to police private behaviour to a degree never seen before. Each of these attacks on choice and freedom will be presented as protective of young people (allowing them to grow without fear of witnessing such unpleasantries). And, as we''ve seen with the response to Jo Johnson suggesting universities should promote free speech and open debate, many authorities with smile benignly as the mob screeches and screams at the few brave enough to challenge the right-thinking of neo-puritan youth.
If there is one thing people who believe in liberty and choice should do in 2018, it is to speak out - again and again - against these affronts to the core values of our society. For all our talk of "British Values", we seem very coy at saying that free speech, free assembly and democratic choice are right at the very heart of those values. Nor should we allow these neo-puritans to indulge their cult of health, to let them tell us that somehow we are not responsible for our own bodies and that the NHS is somehow greater and more important than our rights.
This isn't a resolution - I've been challenging the attacks on liberty for some while - but, as they extend their reach, we need to make more effort to say that freedom and democracy cannot be sacrificed on the altar of youthful insecurity, disappointment or distaste. They are too damned important for that.