×
Here Come the WonkstersHere Come the Wonksters

Here Come the Wonksters

"The harsh events of the past decade may have produced not a youth revolt but a reversion to an empiricist mind-set," says David Brooks. He calls it a tendency to think in demoralized economic phrases like "data analysis," "opportunity costs" and "replicability," and a tendency to dismiss other more ethical and idealistic vocabularies that seem fuzzy and, therefore, unreliable.

Robert Joustra
2 minute read
Like Convivium? , our free weekly email newsletter.

After the hippie, the yuppie, and the hipster, the cool people are now . . . wonksters?

"The harsh events of the past decade may have produced not a youth revolt but a reversion to an empiricist mind-set," says David Brooks. He calls it a tendency to think in demoralized economic phrases like "data analysis," "opportunity costs" and "replicability," and a tendency to dismiss other more ethical and idealistic vocabularies that seem fuzzy and, therefore, unreliable.

This, then, is a piece of demographic, social psychology that isn't just nervous hand-wringing about gentrification and "coolness" but which connects real world events—the loss and disillusionment that have so characterized the 21st century (so far)—to the cultural zeitgeist of the young. These are the people galvanized not so much by one or another political ideology, but by the incredulity of what their parents have handed them: bankrupt treasuries, emptied savings accounts, ghastly morals, a strip mined civil society. The wonksters are not the occupiers, or the greenies; their ideology is not thick, but variable and pragmatic, pivoting on a political slogan not unlike "the boomers screwed us."

Brooks is citing one of his students, Victoria Buhler, who argues that this mentality has shaped a now powerful cultural personality. She writes, "We are deeply resistant to idealism. Rather, the Cynic Kids have embraced the policy revolution; they require hypotheses to be tested, substantiated, and then results replicated before they commit to any course of action."

Far from the most entitled generation, the wonksters are watching whole systems, like the European Union, buckle and break under entitlements. They watch with envy as boomers enjoy entitlements that in all likelihood will never be theirs, the benefits of a system that is fast bleeding out before their eyes. Cult pop sensations like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead aren't dystopian exceptions, they're now the rule. When asked whether his novels were too cynical, George R.R. Martin responded "they are realistic." The wonksters crave them.

So just when the world badly needs the affluent, educated young to risk everything on an audacious idealism, something beyond themselves, beyond the fear and uncertainty of global recession and collapse, #firstworldproblems are getting deadly serious. The wonksters live not only with a dour cultural dystopia, but with the disempowering sentiment that they are also rapidly being eclipsed as the "best and brightest." It's no longer clear that the wonksters in North America are, in fact, brighter or better than Chinese students packing in 12-hour school days.

Disempowerment is the ironic consequence of the grand old orgy of entitlements. The Wonksters, says Buhler, "don't like the system—however, they are wary of other alternatives as well as dismissive of their ability to actually achieve the desired modifications. As such, the generation is very conservative in its appetite for change."

Pendulums swing, no doubt there, but the most painful loss that wonksters betray is not better banking regulations, more thoughtful foreign policy, environmental protections, entitlement reforms, or so forth. No, the Cynic Kids have lost something to believe in. This is a demographic in bad need of a little idealism—something more than "realistic" paradigms frankensteined together from the evening news and from life's disappointments.

Here come the Wonksters, no question. Let's hope to God they find something worth believing in.

You'll also enjoy...

Holding Onto Memory

Holding Onto Memory

One Christmas, as we were carving the turkey (memory provoked perhaps by the stuffing), he reminded my wife: "You tossed away the leader of an entire fictional universe from our childhood Here, no matter what either a reductive materialist science or the Daily Death Rattle might say, is the God-give...

A Eulogy for Atlantis

A Eulogy for Atlantis

That race was as much about international politics, about the control and mastery of space, a nuclear and technological confrontation with the Soviet Union, as it was about exploration and mystery ...

From the Personal to the Public to the Political

From the Personal to the Public to the Political

In the wake of the destruction of his personal dreams for his academically successful daughters, his personal grief and loss is being channelled into the public good It occurred to me that while the acrimony in Canadian and American politics now goes from the political and public to the personal in ...

Join Convivium

Convivium means living together. Unlike many digital magazines, we haven’t put up a digital paywall. We want to keep the conversation regarding faith in our common and public life as open as possible.

Get a weekly wrap up of the latest articles delivered right to your inbox.