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A Crisis of Reason? Whatever!

For the last five decades and more, youth culture has been a driving force in our society. As young people gained increasing amounts of discretionary spending power, purveyors of products and entertainment became increasingly interested in “what the kids like these days,” to the point that much of our popular culture—music, movies, television, web content—is geared toward the interests of adolescents and young adults. It seems, though, that this influence of the youth is not limited to shaping the way we seek pleasure, but has even seeped into the way we think and express ourselves.

This aspect of the phenomenon can be summarized in one word: “whatever.”

We’re well familiar with this stereotype: the disaffected teenager, rolling his eyes at authority figures and responding to attempts to reason them into a position or behavior with a spat-out dismissal: “whatever.” All the reasonableness the parent can muster breaks against the walls of “whatever” like waves upon shoreline cliffs.

“Whatever” rejects reason. It is an assertion of pure willfulness: “I dismiss your facts, your arguments, your appeal to my intellect. I simply say no. I will not. I refuse. You cannot move me.”

We encounter this “whatever” reasoning (or anti-reasoning, as it would rightly be called) in far too many places. It fills internet threads and comboxes like a torrential rain, ceaselessly pounding and drowning out all else. Seriousness is replaced by snark. Consideration is pushed out by callousness. Fair-mindedness is swallowed up by foul language.

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