It is never a good thing to call people names, to attach labels or to make sweeping generalisations and that is what is currently happening, especially in certain sections of the press. Older people, with their greater knowledge and wisdom (?) should know this.
The dictionary of urban slang defines a snowflake as someone who thinks they are unique, or special, just as each flake of snow is supposedly unique. Its first use in that context is attributed to the 1999 film “Fight Club”.
The term has, however, come to have wider connotations, especially in relation to the ability of people to deal with ideas that contradict their own, without taking offence. Typically, a snowflake would, allegedly, take offence from anyone who expresses an opinion that is different to their own.
The reason why I am worried about such name calling is that the people who are doing it have all been through similar experiences and should know better. Pretty much since the term ‘teenager’ was first used, in the 1920s, the older generations have looked down on the younger and criticised their opinions, their ideas, their values, their music, their clothes and their hair styles.
It is in the nature of things that the younger generation want to shape the world around them. After all, they’re still going to be living in it after the previous generations have shuffled off this mortal coil. It is also in the nature of things that this should start during the college years, as that is when young people are first exposed to the most radical ideas and it is these that are the most exciting. They seem to ignore the fact that those ideas have also been exposed to the generations before them, but hey, we can forgive them that.
If these young people never do this, where would we ever get our next generation of politicians? Hmm, maybe that wasn’t such a good argument, given the quality of the politicians we seem to get.
For the first time for many of them, young people are free from parental influence and free to develop their own identities and opinions. They are finally free to drink to excess, to form inadvisable relationships and to adopt views that are different to those of their parents.
The fights against racism, homophobia, misogyny and a dozen other evils would never have started if it wasn’t for young people, especially students, encountering new ideas and championing the cause.
Generally speaking it has to be the young who do this, because once they leave university they do what every generation before them has done: they get jobs, get married, have children and no longer have time to fight the good fight. They will do what they can, of course, they will still support campaigns for change, but they are rarely as active as they were while at university – unless they go into politics, but only a minority ever do that.
Now, forgive me for pointing this out, but students have always had a ‘safe space’ where they can shut out the ideas that offend them. They’re called their rooms. Go in, lock the door, pick up a book to read or turn on the TV. You will be quite safe there.
A college or university can never be a 'safe space', because part of the skills that need to be taught are those of critical analysis and part of critical analysis is the ability to examine arguments and expose their weaknesses. In a safe space you will never be allowed to examine the ideas that support bigotry - which can only ever strengthen bigotry.
It was that master of warfare Sun Tzu that said “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles." But you can't know your enemy if you never hear what they have to say.
Students don’t need a special safe space set up for them. This is, in my opinion, a way of manipulating the young. ‘Come in here, where you will be safe and don’t have to listen to that nasty man/woman.’ They are told. But of course, once inside they can be exposed to the ideas of the people running the safe space, which might actually make it an unsafe space. This will be denied, of course.
You don’t defeat an argument by refusing to listen to it. You defeat an argument by exposing its weaknesses. You don’t defeat an argument by denying its proponents the right of free speech, you defeat it by developing stronger counter arguments. ‘No platforming’ just turns objectionable people into martyrs for free speech. It earns them sympathy for causes that should never have any sympathy.
No platforming and safe spaces aren’t a way of winning an argument; they're a way of avoiding an argument. Or, to put it another way, they are the equivalent in political debating terms of sticking your fingers in your ears and singing 'la la la'.
It is sometimes said that the snowflake generation won’t be able to survive in the ‘real world’, because they won’t be able to deal with the sorts of ideas they will be exposed to outside of their safe spaces. Funnily enough, pretty much every generation is told something similar and every generation manages to muddle through, somehow. It won’t always be easy for some people, but that also applied to earlier generations.
So, snowflake generation, keep fighting the good fight and just remember, in 20 years’ time you, too, will be saying ‘What’s wrong young people these days?”
And the answer will be the same as it is today: ‘Not much.’