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An Addiction to Consensus

An Addiction to Consensus

Last week, the Café talked about a ‘perception problem’ for those who were politically active.  

According to a new study, while the public at large might agree with politically active folks, they are simultaneously dissuaded from taking further action themselves.  

Yesterday, ran an article that sheds some more light on this phenomenon, at least among younger adults.  Robert Nelson asserts that for the Millennial cohort, whose group consciousness was shaped by 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Great Recession, one response to these events has been to seek consensus, to not take sides, lest someone’s feelings get hurt or they get left out.  (In a world that appears as dark as a terrorist attack, two wars and global economic disaster presents, this makes sense.) 

Problematically, this need for consensus frequently prevents much engagement with the real work of political change.  Politics require clear stands, and long debate.  

Waiting is not an option. Not just because people in our generation are suffering right now, but because democratic governments work only for those who bother to get involved. If we continue to sit on the sidelines and wait for the day when we will be in charge, we will be disappointed both now and in the future. Now, because those in power will continue to feel free to ignore us. And in the future, because even when most of us are middle-aged and theoretically control the system, if we are surrounded by politically active youngsters and seniors, the elected officials of our own generation will pay more heed to those threatening them with electoral defeat than to the needs of their fellow millennials.

Ultimately, if we as millennials want our lives to be better, we must develop sharper elbows and stiffer spines, and accept that some of us will not agree with where the majority of us are headed politically. Our collective failure to accept this is the reason we feel so frustrated and at a loss. Our lack of success generationally is not caused by a sense of entitlement or a string of bad luck, it is that we are timid.

Read the whole thing here.

While this is an article about younger people, my hunch is that it applies to many beyond the traditional generational boundaries.  What do you think?



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I’m still wondering when the Prince Charles of the generational divide “Gen X” is going to get air time between the babyboomers and the millenials. Oh, right, we’re too busy being the sandwich generation–keeping our heads above water taking care of both our babyboomer AARP parents and our boomerang, school debt, underemployed millineal kids–to garner any significant political clout.


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Dcn Scott Elliott

I wonder if this is related to the new norm of near-total absence of civility in how people go about engaging in controversy. What is called “spirited debate” is frequently more like vicious abuse, and not at all like free exchange of ideas.

If my experience of controversy were mostly of that kind, I’d be pretty conflict-averse, too!


I think most people in most times are conflict-averse, especially if engaging is going to cost them something, materially or psychically. I work in politics and I often try to explain to others I work with that “most people” only “do politics” (take up a cause) in the hope of escaping politics. I don’t think we can put people down for this aversion, but it is not healthy for democracy. There are many forces that manipulate this very human tendency to their advantage.

Jan Adams

Elizabeth Kaeton

Another thought: Is it that technology limits human interactive communication so we have a generation of people who are “timid” because they don’t have the same kind of experience of the human engagement of generations before them?

Ann Fontaine

Or do you think it is because this group grew up in more communal settings (like day care) where consensus and agreeableness was more valued.

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