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Eternal Sunshine of the Youthful Mind
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Eternal Sunshine of the Youthful Mind

Every generation believes it is the first to discover socialism.

Well, I’m back. Who among us can contain their excitement?

Don’t answer that. 

If you read my (underrated) book The Tyranny of Clichés or are a regular Remnant listener, you know the story about George Will seeking advice from William F. Buckley. (I suppose you could have heard about it from Will, too. He does write and speak now and again.) Will landed his syndicated column and despaired at the prospect of writing two columns a week. He called WFB and asked how he could possibly maintain such a pace. Bill answered (I’m paraphrasing) “Oh, at least two things a week will annoy you. Write about that.”

As I wrote on the first page of TOC

Buckley was right. Annoyance is an inspiration, aggravation a muse. That which gets your blood up, also gets the ink—or these days, pixels—flowing. Show me an author without passion for what he holds to be the truth and I will show you either a boring writer or someone who misses a lot of deadlines, or both. Nothing writes itself, and what gets the writer to push that boulder uphill is more often than not irritation with those saying wrong things righteously.

Now, I should say, writing just about what annoys you is probably not a good idea because that way lies madness, crankery, and long tirades about the implausible shapes of clouds. But in a pinch, it’ll do to get over the hump. 

So let’s start there, with this ad:

The relevant line: “When it comes to progressive leadership, it’s not your age that counts, it’s the age of your ideas. And Ed Markey is the leader that we need.”

I only found out that this was an ad about five minutes ago. I had heard Rep. Ed Markey—who just beat the Ginger Kennedy in the Democratic primary—invoke Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s line, and that annoyed me. But given that it was part of an important endorsement commercial, it’s significant enough—and annoying enough—for me to say: “What?”

Socialized medicine, again.

Like a lion approaching a cow with large eyes drawn on its butt, it’s difficult to know from which direction to pounce on this. 

Okay, I guess I gotta explain that. A new study found that, in the words of Smithsonian magazine, “Painting Eyes on Cow Butts Could Save Cattle and Lion Lives.”

Anyway, let’s start with the ideas Ocasio-Cortez categorizes as young: Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. 

These are young ideas? By any measure—and by any label—Medicare for All is not a new idea. Whether you call it socialized medicine, universal health care, social insurance, or M4A, this idea was old not merely when Ocasio-Cortez was born but when Ed Markey was born. Bismarck’s Germany implanted compulsory sickness insurance in 1883. Scandinavian countries started subsidizing mutual benefit societies—the precursors of health insurance companies—in the 90s … the 1890s, that is. Of course, the notion of communal ownership of, well, everything, goes back either to Francois Babeuf, who many consider the first Communist, or to some prehistoric caveperson (or cavepersons) whose monosyllabic grunt of a name has been lost because no one invented writing for another couple hundred thousand years. 

Indeed, one of the best arguments for socialized medicine is that it is, in fact, a very old idea. That’s part of Bernie Sanders’ whole shtick when he describes Scandinavian countries—often inaccurately—as free health care success stories. For the better part of a century, American progressives have been looking longingly at European health care systems like cartoon bulldogs outside a butcher shop window.

Forever green.

And then there’s the Green New Deal. I don’t think I need to spend a lot of time explaining that the New Deal is not a new idea. That’s why they use it! The New Deal isn’t scary (to some people) precisely because it’s an old idea that has largely defined the Democratic party for about 88 years.  

Yes, yes, they slapped the word “green” in front of it; and “green” is a good word with young people, and it even means “young” in some contexts: “Cut her some slack, she’s still green,” is something you could say about AOC, for instance. But the practice of using “green” as an adjective isn’t new either. One of the worst but most influential books of the last 50 years was The Greening of America, which wasn’t about environmentalism but counter-culture whippersnappers. It came out in 1970, when Ed Markey, 74, was in law school. 

But most of the ideas in the Green New Deal aren’t exactly new—and quite a few, like Medicare for All, aren’t even about environmentalism. Now, in fairness, renewable energy seems like a newish concept (funny that it doesn’t look newish) because it’s only become an obsession in recent decades. Even so, in another sense it’s like super old. According to the Environmental Encyclopedia published by Earth Times (I know you are a regular reader, too), “Until the middle of the 18th century renewable sources of energy were the only forms of energy available, but then, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, fossil fuels began to be exploited.”

According to Wikipedia, the oldest form of renewable energy—not counting sunlight, I suppose—is burning stuff. That dates back at least 1 million years. The second oldest form of renewable energy, wind power, is much younger, at about 7,000 years. I’m not sure I completely agree with their analysis—animal power is probably older than that. But you get the point. 

Still, Professor Pedia does note that the fear of running out of fossil fuels arose almost immediately after we started using them. “The time will arrive when the industry of Europe will cease to find those natural resources, so necessary for it,” wrote Augustin Mouchot, inventor of the first solar powered engine, in 1873. “Petroleum springs and coal mines are not inexhaustible but are rapidly diminishing in many places. Will man, then, return to the power of water and wind? Or will he emigrate where the most powerful source of heat sends its rays to all? History will show what will come.”

So even solar power, in the modern sense, is pretty old. This points to one of my great peeves about the green energy crowd. They claim to be all for advanced technology, and in one sense that’s defensible. But the things they tout are advanced forms of ancient technologies. The first windmills date back to either the first century AD or the 9th. The windmills cluttering the Midwest are much better than the old versions, but if someone came out with a vastly superior metal sword, you wouldn’t marvel at this “new” technology would you?

Meanwhile, the most promising, cleanest, and newest serious form of energy is nuclear power, but the Greens reject it because it’s icky (I’m paraphrasing). 

Youth as renewable energy.

Of course, this “young ideas” thing might not be literal. Maybe what Ocasio-Cortez means is that Markey’s ideas are “young” in the sense that young people like them. Lamentably, there’s a lot of truth to this. But, just because young people like something that doesn’t make it “young.” Studies show young people disproportionately like to get drunk and have sex (though perhaps less than they used to). Young people also like to sleep late, defy authority, and all sorts of things. Ask any old person whether these are new. 

I’m not going to go on another long stemwinder about the stupidity of investing in young people some quality of special wisdom, or insight, or moral authority. But since I am tapping my spleen like a keg to write this, permit me a short one.  

 “I have never met a stupid child,” Hillary Clinton wrote in It Takes a Village, adding that “Some of the best theologians I have ever met were five-year-olds.” 

As St. Augustine liked to say, “Big, if true.”

I mean, not only are there stupid children (you can look it up), but one of the defining features of even the smartest kids is that they do stupid things. Moreover, many of the most horrible things ever done by human beings to other human beings were done disproportionately at the hands of young people. Young people are more likely to murder than older people. They’re more likely to riot, rob, loot, and run with scissors. Don’t get me wrong, many of history’s greatest monsters were pretty old when they put the big numbers on the board. But virtually all of them started their careers as killers pretty young. 

My point here isn’t to play guilt by association. Many of history’s greatest heroes were young, too. But just as guilt by association is wrong, so is credit by association. And that’s what fetishizing young people boils down to. As I often rant, youth politics is often the dumbest form of identity politics. Saying an idea is good or necessary because young people like it can only be understood as a form of power-worship.   

Young people have passion and energy, we’re told. And that’s true enough. But passion and energy aren’t substitutes for arguments. I don’t care how intensely you feel that we should be able to cram 50 pounds of bovine excrement in a 5-pound jar, you’ll still be wrong. 

Moreover, so much of the passion and energy young people bring to politics stems from ignorance. There are very few new ideas and there are even fewer new good ideas. If you ever spent time around young people who suddenly get inspired by an idea they think is new, you know that the vast majority of the time it’s because they don’t know that the idea is in fact very, very old. 

That is the enduring curse of civilization: It is constantly beset by invading hordes of people who literally have no idea what came before the moment they were born. This is a scientific fact—unless it turns out that the premise of Baby Geniuses was correct. Ever debate a baby about the merits of the League of Nations? It’s incredibly frustrating. 

We’re all born ignorant and dumb. This condition is only remedied over time, as parents and society explain how the world works. The process begins with some really basic stuff: “Don’t put that in your mouth,” “That’s not where you poop,” etc. And, over time, if conducted properly, the process continues to things like “you’re not the first person to think of socialism.”  

Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, enormous lizards roamed the Earth. More immediately prior to that, Jonah spent two decades at National Review, where he was a senior editor, among other things. He is also a bestselling author, longtime columnist for the Los Angeles Times, commentator for CNN, and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. When he is not writing the G-File or hosting The Remnant podcast, he finds real joy in family time, attending to his dogs and cat, and blaming Steve Hayes for various things.