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Liberal teenage girls are the most depressed - BCB #45
Also: bridging the divide with political courage, and a working-class view of race and gender
Gen Z has become more anxious and depressed since 2012, but how depressed depends on gender and politics. Blue teenage girls are the most affected, with Blue teenage boys following closely behind.
These changes were consistent across countries with varying politically dominant parties, which means the increase in depression is not due to the political landscape. For example, Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012, when Blue depressive scores seemed to skyrocket. In general, there is no clear association between increases in depression and which side is winning.
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggests that the one consistent factor is technology and social media. Liberal teenage girls spend more time on social media than any other group (5 or more hours a day), which Haidt (and others) argue has detrimental effects on mental health.
Haidt claims that Gen Z has a tendency to externalize blame and think that their problems are systematic and out of their control. He hypothesizes that this may be due to being parented differently: kids do not play freely and take risks without supervision anymore, harming their self-confidence. Supporting this idea, a psychological measure called Locus of Control has shifted steadily toward external sources since the 1990s.
Matthew Yglesius has also weighed in on this data, arguing similarly that since the 90s, “progressive institutional leaders have specifically taught young progressives that catastrophizing is a good way to get what they want”. However, “catastrophizing,” or “believing that you’re in a worse situation than you really are or exaggerating your difficulties”, is often a symptom of anxiety or depression.
Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE, suggests that liberal students believe they are fragile, seeing books and ideas as violent. Basically, in contrast to cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps individuals overcome anxiety and depression by recognizing distorted thinking, universities may today be fostering the opposite effect. Students view their anxieties as accurate reflections of reality and perceive society as divided into victims and oppressors. This mindset embraces cognitive distortions, contradicting CBT principles like catastrophizing, black-and-white thinking, and emotional reasoning.
To combat this trend, Haidt warns against teaching students that they are constantly surrounded by harmful words and "triggers." He also suggests increasing the age at which kids can access social media, to foster mental health and resilience in younger generations.
To address the growing polarization and division within the United States, Peter Coleman and Pearce Godwin, experienced researchers and organizers of civil discourse from opposing sides of the aisle, have created the “Political Courage Challenge” as a starting point for individuals to break free from toxic polarization.
The Political Courage Challenge is a free online resource offering daily micro-exercises over four weeks. These exercises focus on various aspects of participants’ lives, beginning with personal habits and advancing towards fostering honesty within political ingroups, healing politically estranged relationships, and tackling shared community concerns.
One exercise, the Toxicity Inventory, helps participants identify areas of their lives affected by toxic polarization, indicating which aspect of their lives they should focus on most, such as media exposure, workplace culture, and neighborhood. Another exercise prompts participants to consider individuals they admire for their exceptional tolerance and compassion during difficult conflicts. By reflecting on these role models’ qualities, participants can learn to embody similar traits in their own lives.
Through active engagement in the Political Courage Challenge, individuals can initiate the process of dismantling the prevailing culture of outrage in society.
Farah Stockman spent three years with factory workers in Indiana for her book American Made: What Happens to People When Work Disappears. What she found is a very different set of expectations about politics.
There is a deep divide between the upper-middle class life of the cities, where most political commentators live, and the experience of working class people in smaller towns and rural areas. This is part of why Blue ideas about race and gender are so poorly received outside of cities. Stockman reports how a factory worker responds to these issues:
The labor movement for him was a deep presence in his life. I don’t want to excuse his blind spot about race, because he definitely had one. He didn’t recognize his advantage and the heavier burdens that Black workers had. His union would have been stronger if he could have acknowledged that. But here is a guy whose wages dropped by a third over 10 years. He was in no mood to hear a college educated person from the New York Times lecture him about his privilege.
So “privilege” and “supremacy” are alienating terms to many white workers. It would be more effective to say something like ‘working-class white people have it hard, but Black workers have it the hardest.’ I think we should back away from terms that will simply shut down the conversation.
Traditionally, the Blue politics were associated with the working class. But this is changing, or perhaps it’s already changed. As we’ve documented before, the rich increasingly vote Blue. Meanwhile, Blue social justice politics – and language – are increasingly alienating to working class people.
Quote of the Week
“Skeptics argue that America’s government is too powerful for anyone to challenge. Others argue that secession will never happen because our country is no longer cleanly divided along geographic lines. Still others simply cannot believe that Americans would start killing one another. These beliefs, however, are based on the mistaken idea that a second civil war would look like the first. It will not.
If a second civil war breaks out in the U.S., it will be a guerrilla war fought by multiple small militias spread around the country.”