Being Right

Because someone has to. And, no, not that anyone is afraid of student activists. Afraid for them, more likely. And therein lies a huge difference, which many parents now are rightly starting to assert.

The problem is an utterly childish presumption: that a bunch of kids has the knowledge, experience, and wisdom to change the world.

But the fact is, they don’t.

As Jordan Peterson puts it, you have children (and people below 24 are children) pontificating about politics, the environment, the economy. And yet, kids don’t — not even undergrad economics students — “know anything about the economy. It’s a massive complex machine beyond anyone’s understanding and you mess with at your peril. So can you even clean up your own room? No. Well you think about that. You should think about that, because if you can’t even clean up your own room, who the hell are you to give advice to the world?”

Ah, but weren’t national heroes young men (and women) when they changed their world?

But many of the US “Founding Fathers” (whose constitutional system we inherited) were (in 1776) grown men by 20: Alexander Hamilton and James Monroe, for example, politicked only after being hardened by war. And many already had families of their own.

Our own “Founding Fathers” were older: Apolinario Mabini started his revolutionary career at 29, Emilio Aguinaldo at 26, Bonifacio was 33 at Pugad Lawin, the Rizal of the Noli was a well-educated, well-traveled 26.

And then there’s this report (from the Mental Health Daily in 2018): “Although brain development is subject to significant individual variation, most experts suggest that the brain is fully developed by age 25.” Thus: “The fact that our brains aren’t developed until the mid 20s means that ‘legal adults’ (those age 18+) are allowed to make adult decisions, without fully mature brains. Someone who is 18 may make riskier decisions than someone in their mid-20s in part due to lack of experience, but primarily due to an underdeveloped brain.”

But wouldn’t activism widen a young student’s perspective and thus learn better? In today’s context: No.

Many student activists nowadays (as Courtney Martin, “The Problem With Youth Activism,” November 2007, describes it) are “surrounded by professors reminiscing about the glory days of youth activism.”

And most such professor inspired activism is irresponsible, as the great economist Thomas Sowell correctly puts it:

“By encouraging, or even requiring, students to take stands where they have neither the knowledge nor the intellectual training to seriously examine complex issues, teachers promote the expression of unsubstantiated opinions, the venting of uninformed emotions, and the habit of acting on those opinions and emotions, while ignoring or dismissing opposing views, without having either the intellectual equipment or the personal experience to weigh one view against another in any serious way.”

Take legal education, for example.

A well-known 2005 study by John O. McGinnis, Matthew Schwartz, and Benjamin Tisdell found that 94% of Stanford Law’s faculty contributed to Democratic candidates. This one-sidedness is hugely disconcerting.

At the “elite” level, the same could arguably be said of Philippine law schools. At least undeniable is that the portion of the Philippine legal community deeming themselves as secular “progressives” or “radical” activists is unabashedly noisier.

For such politicized universities, students are dictated and manipulated at precisely the time their thoughts are still developing, to adopt hate and cynicism as default mindsets.

Much of today’s so-called activism is simply an excuse for indoctrination, with no room for opposing, traditional, or conservative thought.

The obvious problem with indoctrination is it makes students narrow-minded. And quite dull.

Or as John Henry Newman, who founded one of oldest universities in the world (the now University College Dublin) foresaw: “too often it happens that, in proportion to the narrowness of his knowledge, is, not his distrust of it, but the deep hold it has upon him, his absolute conviction of his own conclusions, and his positiveness in maintaining them. He has the obstinacy of the bigot, whom he scorns, without the bigot’s apology, that he has been taught, as he thinks, his doctrine is from heaven.”

And one sees that around us: for all the passion, technology, and information at the youth’s disposal, even the most basic of student manifestos can make grown-up English grammarians break down and cry.

That such students could morph into unproductive or unemployable adults, lacking skills but possibly possessed of criminal records (as many student activists are susceptible to), is tragically conceivably real.

This is not to mean students should remain indifferent to injustices and other human wrongs. But there’s a time and place for everything.

And long experience confirms to us that the university years are better served learning not only about the world but also of oneself, that instigating positive change requires self-mastery.

So, parents we support you: rather than children programmed to “speak truth to power,” instead encourage them to love the power of truth.


Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.

Twitter @jemygatdula