In light of a letter describing how poorly-written one of my pieces in the Gauntlet was, I started to think that maybe students taking Physics shouldn't get into anything so Humanities-driven as the school newspaper. It was then that another thought struck: obviously, my article wasn't the worst story in the Gauntlet since 1974; this was simply a case of ageism.
Ageism, like the other isms one can come across, is a form of discrimination: discrimination against those of a particular age group. It seemed to me that my column was just fine, but I came to the conclusion that because it was written in a pseudo-offensive style youth like myself like to use, and it contained a naÃ¯vete on my part with respect to a word choice, it must simply have been dismissed as being written by a dumb kid. My conclusion, however, could have just been trying to explain away my faults, so I left my thoughts at that.
Later in the week, when I was walking down 40th Avenue after a drink with a friend, an incident made me realize how big a problem ageism actually is. The police pulled over beside us after having driven by us three or four times. The officer on the passenger side of the vehicle rolled down his window. They had apparently received a complaint that "some young people were stealing signs," and we fit the bill, so they asked whether it was us. When we replied in the negative, they treated the answer as though it were false and persisted in asking.
The incident left me unsettled. How did we garner such disrespect? I came to the realization that it was a cosmic sized denial of the antecedent fallacy. In general, our cultural rule is: if somebody is older, they deserve more respect. This does not translate into young people deserving less respect, however; to think so is to fall prey to the fallacy.
To be fair, we deserve a small amount of cynical treatment. Youth and young adults commit more petty crimes than adults. But to think that this modicum of skepticism toward youth merited by our group's general behavior translates into grievous errors in treatment that we occasionally receive would be like the cops persisting in asking when they received reports that "a black guy was stealing signs."
I do think that my article was fair, and I enjoyed the tone it presented. It was definitely guilty of the folly of egoism, but that doesn't make the points I made any less valid. It seems a shame that ageism is so culturally ingrained, however, that this article will probably be brushed off by offended readers as only written by a stupid kid.