A new class conflict is emerging across the world. You can see its face in the mass protests over COVID-19 restrictions from Paris, Berlin and London to southern California and Melbourne. The protestors are often cast as a death cult of ignorant rubes, but they are exposing a new class conflict that’s pitting two increasingly irreconcilable populations against each other: those who wish to obey and those who refuse restraints.
To be sure, a serious public hazard like Covid-19 requires that steps be taken to protect the vulnerable and develop vaccines and treatments. Resisting a jab, as all too many Americans have done, does suggest that there is no vaccine for stupidity, as one writer put it.
But at the same time, the attempt to achieve total safety—notably in places like Australia and parts of North America—has expressed itself in a highly authoritarian approach that even to some on the Left seems more about social control than just an emergency response.
Lockdowns in particular have sparked an incipient civil war between rival classes, not just in the U.S. but across Europe. “There are people who can work in the virtual world, which tells them how to act and think, and they can stay safe,” Laure Mandeville-Tostain of the Paris-based Le Figaro noted astutely. “Then there are those who object to the rules—people who have to go to work and see this as another way in which the elite is telling them how to live.”
The division Mandeville-Tostain lays out—between an online obedient class and a real world resistance—exists all over the world, from the U.S. to China. And though the obedient class have good jobs, many of them constitute what the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis recently called “lost generation,” given how little financial stability they have. As a result, this generation is embracing a circumscribed, digitized reality and is as a result highly amenable to suggestion and monitoring.
Every country has its name for this generation. In America, they are called millennials and Generation Z. In Japan, they are known as shinjinrui, the pioneers of “a new sort of high quality, low energy, low growth existence,” as journalist David Pilling put it. Apparently they don’t need much energy; almost one third of Japanese adults entering their thirties have never had sex. Similar patterns can be seen across the West and even in China, as young people are increasingly giving up on marriage, family and even starting a business.
Often eschewing physical ties for the safety of digital connections, this generation’s sense of reality is all too often shaped by media, which seem most concerned with whipping their audiences into an emotional frenzy by alarming rather than informing them.
And you can see this effect in the way Americans think about the pandemic: A Gallup study found that Americans are “deeply misinformed about the severity of the virus for the average infected person” and that we wildly overestimate the likelihood of hospitalization. In response, the authority of organizations like the CDC is often blindly accepted as something emanating from Moses at Sinai, despite the often changing edicts and general incoherence.
Read the rest of this piece at Newsweek.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.