Recently I had the opportunity to attend in New York City a seminar on Individualism hosted by The Atlas Society and The Great Connections. With a diverse group of intellectuals gathered in one place, I was excited to encounter new ideas.
Stephen Hicks’ lecture especially caught my attention––I’ve been thinking about it ever since. The Canadian-American philosopher engaged the audience in a discussion about why so many 20 year olds are socialists today and how to convince them to not be.
Hicks has definitely done a great deal of research on the topic, which became apparent as he shared with us the top ten reasons he believes young people find socialist ideals attractive.
He challenged us to rank those reasons in our own order, as if we were a stereotypical college student, with number one being the most important, and number ten being the least. The choices ranged from believing capitalism is corrupt, to advocating for the environment, to caring for the poor.
As one of the only 20-somethings in a group of adults analysing the exact person I was two years ago, I quickly concluded that in my case, the reason why I identified with socialist ideals was not on the list. Nor was it difficult to figure out: Like so many of my peers, I was a socialist two years ago because I didn’t know any better.
I am not suggesting that Gen-Zers like myself are unintelligent; actually it is quite the opposite. We have taken everything we have heard throughout childhood from teachers who championed socialism, and we have drawn reasonable conclusions from that knowledge. In response, we have adopted a conception of what is right and wrong that is biased toward collectivism.
That bias is what happens when you never hear arguments in favor of individualism, liberty, and capitalism. By the time we reached adolescence, we learned reflexively to despise those words. Because the Left has made anti-capitalist and collectivist indoctrination attractive and part of the core curriculum, while libertarian teachers and professors are marginal, Gen-Zers learned to take anti-capitalism and collectivism at face value.
I used to be the exact person that Hicks was analyzing: a confused, somewhat socialist leaning college student. Of the ten reasons he stated in his lecture about why I was like that, none applied to me. I did not have any personal, political, economic, or philosophical beliefs I was tied to, I just followed what everyone else was doing. I looked up to my teachers and trusted their judgment.
No real analysis is needed to determine why I was a leftist-leaning college student, I was just using the limited knowledge I had to make the best decisions I could. No extensive explanation of why I should think differently was needed for me to change, all it took was a book and meaningful connections with people who believed in investing in my personal growth.
The majority of my peers were the same. Even those who were known for being strongly opinionated were really just echoing what was being said in their environment. They had no deep understanding of what they were saying because they had not considered all angles of the topic at hand.
If you want to genuinely educate Gen-Z on philosophy, economics, politics, or even just common sense, give us the benefit of the doubt. We do not know what we do not know. Spend more time building relationships with us. Do not make us feel bad about our beliefs, but rather encourage curiosity. Guide us toward resources that will challenge our current way of thinking.
If you want to help us develop intellectually, expose us to the resources that have positively influenced you. Give us Ayn Rand’s best work, like The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, or ANTHEM: The Graphic Novel. Invite us to participate in forums, groups, and projects that will expand our way of thinking. Be available to answer our questions, with no pressure to sway our thinking for your own benefit.
Once we have the whole truth available, we will always choose reason. As Ayn Rand said, “Reason and morality are the only weapons that determine the course of history; the collectivists dropped them because they had no right to carry them. Pick them up; you have."
As soon as I read Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, my outlook drastically changed. Her philosophy made sense to me, way more than that of my teachers or peers. All it took was one book with an alternative set of beliefs to enlighten me. While this changed my internal beliefs, it was not until The Atlas Society included me into their community that I became interested in learning more about the freedom movement.