Generation X and Political Correctness: Ideological and Religious Transformation among Students

By Trenton, Thomas Norman | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Generation X and Political Correctness: Ideological and Religious Transformation among Students


Trenton, Thomas Norman, Canadian Journal of Sociology


1. This paper is based on one presented at the 29th annual conference of the Atlantic Association of Sociologists and Anthropologists, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, October 13-16, 1994.

Abstract: A longitudinal study follows first-year university students' values and attitudes from 1983 to 1994. Liberalism and puritanism scales are negatively correlated every year. Their crosstabulation produces a four-fold typology. Political correctness represents a unique blend of a liberalism which supports disadvantaged minorities and a puritanism which supports institutional moral controls. Over twelve years, the dominant ideology shifts from a religiously oriented fundamentalism to a secularly oriented political correctness. Traditionalism all but disappears and new leftism, the most secular ideology, remains constant. Political correctness, as a secular liberal-puritan hybrid, is placed in the larger social context.

Resume. Une etude longitudinale suit l'evolution des valeurs et attitudes des etudiants de premiere annee universitaire de 1983 a 1994. Chaque annee, on etablit une correlation negative entre le puritanisme et le liberalisme. Cette etude a produit une typologie de quatres categories. Ce qui est politiquement correct represente un melange unique de liberalisme et de puritanisme; ce dernier veille a la moralite des institutions alors que le liberalisme valorise les minorites desavantagees. Pendant douze ans, l'ideologie dominante va d'un fondamentalisme d'orientation religieuse a ce qui est politiquement correct, une ideologie d'orientation seculiere. Le traditionalisme disparait presque et un leftisme nouveau, l'ideologie la plus seculiere, reste constant. Ce qui est politiquement correct, un hybride seculier liberal-puritain, est place dans un plus grand contexte social.

Introduction

The youth of the 1990s have been variously labelled in the mass media as the "MTV Generation," the "twentysomething generation," "slackers," "busters," or "Generation X" (Coupland, 1991). In Boom, Bust & Echo, Foot (1996: 18-22) divides youth into two groups: "Generation X," born between 1960 and 1966, and the "Bust Generation," born between 1967 and 1979. Some authors maintain that this new generational culture is a myth--"an imaginary resolution of real contradictions" (Star, 1993). Today's youth, for example, is said to be both "politically disengaged and politically correct" or disenchanted with traditional religion yet desirous of spiritual direction. There is too much fragmentation not only for a shared collective identity but also for a cohesive personal identity. In Mosaic Madness (1990) and Fragmented Gods (1987), Bibby attributes this to the prevalence of individualism, relativism, and pluralism in Canadian society. The collective good is sacrificed in favour of disparate single-interest groups pursuing individual and group rights in the context of increasing secularization and selective consumption. Over a twelve-year span, this study examines ideological fragmentation and contradiction among University of Prince Edward Island students' views on two specific aspects of the relatively broad liberalism-conservatism dimension. In particular, the focus is on (a) personal views toward minority or subordinate groups and (b) views on the role of the state, the mass media, and religion regarding moral issues.

Classical liberalism, among other matters, is concerned with equality of opportunity for minorities; the government is there to "ensure that the rules are fair and equitable." The state is there "to regulate the marketplace" in a neutral fashion while society represents a collection of individuals striving for individualistic goals (Marchak, 1988: 10). The state should not compromise individual rights and liberties by legislating morality. The individual should also be free to reinterpret or even reject traditional religious ideas. A social democratic version of liberalism places a more collectivistic emphasis on compassion for and on equality of condition for disadvantaged minorities (Marchak, 1988: 10-11).

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