It could just be that peanuts might turn out to be the antidote to social media and save democracy at the beginning of the third millennium.
It’s a long shot, but this is why.
Universities have turned against free speech and help provide a mind set for the next generation. They are laboratories that form the most influential people entering society. Although perhaps given the nose dive in standards and drop in applications from men on the arts side, not quite as much as they used to. But still, they set people up to be skilled either for discovery , or more recently, with censorship from the Left, to be afraid of discovery.
Around about 2013, the move from enquiring to being afraid to find things out, began. This was when the kids who were born in and after 1995 began to turn up at university. I too easily lose track of which generation is called what, but this lot have been called ‘Generation Z’, or more memorably ‘iGen’.
Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University did some research and discovered that there was a sudden and alarming step change in rates of anxiety and depression as well as a serious growth in suicide rates after the Millenials (those born roughly between 1980-1998.) had given way to the iGen. This constitutes a disaster for our children and their future. We need to know what caused it and what it will cause.
What happened to these children to cut the emotional and psychological ground of self-confidence and safety from under their feet?
It looks like it was social media. The iphone was introduced in 2007 and by 2011 most teens could check their social media to see how they were interacting with the world, and many did. The intensity of the social bubble, and what you thought others thought of you became tangible, immediate and hard to escape from.
In parallel to the enormous growth in the cloying claustrophobia of health and safety among the grown ups, the children of iGen began to be very worried about their own health and safety. Although they were one of the safest cohorts of children ever bred, perhaps even as a direct consequence of that, they fixated on emotional health and safety.
The trouble was, they began to understand safety to be not just emotional safety, but safety started to mean being safe from people who threatened you by disagreeing with you. Disagreeing became not ‘liking’ – and not liking became hating.
And this is where the peanuts come to our rescue.
As recently as 2015 the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases published a ground breaking study called LEAP (Learning About Peanut Allergy).
The background to the study was the discovery that peanut allergies had also rocketed. In 1995 four out of a thousand children suffered from a peanut allergy. But by 2008 the number had tripled to 14 out of every thousand. What was going on? Why the flaky immune systems?
Two trial groups were set up of children who were identified as being most likely to develop an allergy. One was fully protected from all and any exposure to peanut products, and the other group, just as vulnerable, was fed food that contained peanut products, three times a week.
The results were astonishing and exactly the opposite of what common sense might have dictated. Amongst the group who had been protected 17% had developed the allergy. But in the group that had been ‘force-fed’ peanut products, only 3% did.
The conclusion becomes obvious. It’s the vaccine principle. Our complex immune systems needs exposure to real danger and threat to develop a resistance that protects us.
As with the body, so with the mind. Nietzsche was wrong when he said “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” some events and experiences can damage us woefully and leave long and painful scars. But equally, people need a certain amount of stress and challenge or, like unused muscles, we decay and atrophy.
The reason that democracy is increasingly under threat is because a frightened culture is trying to protect itself from talk and ideas that stretch our complacencies and comfort zones.
In universities it takes the form of no-platforming people and ideas; and in the media it has turned into a terror, maybe almost an irrational phobia of what is mistakenly cast as ‘hate speech’.
What we should really ‘hate’ and do away with are the false and fatal ‘safe spaces’ where ideas about sex, politics and religion, can’t be tested, improved and discovered.
We need to allow our psychological and social autoimmune systems some decent exposure to ideas and thoughts that other people want to ‘protect’ us from. The more fuss, the more censorship, the more public anxiety, the more we need to hear them. It works to defend us against allergies that attack the body; it works also to save us form allergies that attack the mind.
Whether its about Brexit, immigration, gay marriage , gender dysphoria, trans athletes, the surrogate production of children, abortion, exposure to things we may find initially uncomfortable, will allow us to getter a better grasp of what is real and what works. It may save our children; it may save our freedom.