This week, it was reported that among 18 to 34-year-olds in Canada the Conservative party is leading. Such a result would never be obtained here — among most of the twenty-somethings I know it is decisively uncool to be a Tory.
Indeed, to care is part of the don’t-care aesthetic on Gen Z Instagram; support for Palestine strung through candid polaroids. Protests for XR, Black Lives Matter and Sarah Everard are heavily attended; parliament.uk petitions dropped in group chats as insouciantly as an Eventbrite link.
Part of me likes that it is cool to be progressive — I realise this is how LGBTQ+ and civil rights have cascaded into awareness. But I’m increasingly nervous that using up energy on appearing righteous leaves some too exhausted to actually do what’s right. “Woke blokes” who turn out misogynistic are a trope — but every woman I know recognises the Shoreditch-inhabiting “trustafarian” guy, who talks about feminism as a sort of magician patter to distract from their sleight of hand where women are concerned.
Most of all, I feel uncomfortable that young Conservatives are often social lepers. Vice, the ultimate young-person site (about drugs, sex and so on), has a whole series tagged “young Tories”, featuring interviews with various earnest, bespectacled types, as though they were as freakish as meteor showers or a leaf-tailed gecko meriting a London Zoo exhibition. The cool-dash-Left-wing confederation appears to me insular; cruel towards a group of people assumed to lack compassion because they don’t conform to a singular definition of it. Because isn’t that what school bullies did — snorting with derision at the sweater vest-ed, jerkily awkward who pledge allegiance to Ayn Rand and Burke rather than Stormzy or Chrissy Teigen? And if you would be uninvited from parties, ostracised by your peers as nasty for having conservative views, can it be said that you are coming to “progressive” views with full and informed consent, in a way that is healthy for the “cause”?
I find it telling that it is those who were popularity-obsessed at high school, stepping over social outcasts, who display most loudly on social media how much they care for the marginalised. They wear their “be kind” political position like they once did a Jane Norman bag, so everyone might see they’ve attached themselves to the most noble of causes. Some who were once intensely homophobic glitter themselves densely, to show their solidarity with Pride.
You might say this is good: cultural trends clearly have the power to change people for the better. But my fear is that anything which is in vogue, including caring about other people, can just as easily go out of fashion.