Whatever intergenerational contracts may have been in place – spoken or unspoken, real or perceived – are largely gone. The promise and hope of previous generations—in the Western world at least, the majority of young people around the world could never dream of such things to begin with—to lead a better life than their parents is a flickering image of the past.
But it’s not the lack of economic prosperity alone that infuriates young people. Not that it wouldn’t be reason enough: close to 90 million young people are unemployed, constituting about half of all unemployed people – and also roughly half of all young people interested in working. And that’s the average – in Syria, to quote but one example, the unemployed young people make up nearly 80% of the working-age unemployed population. The growing youth employment crisis, earmarked by these ballpark figures, has been largely ignored.
Add the unsustainability of the current growth-and-screw-the-environment-mantra and the massively rising social injustice to the colossal employment mess, and you get a highly explosive mix, which keeps bubbling to the surface on the streets across the planet. Young people have to watch how the world as we know it, its economic, social and political fabric, disintegrates, day by day. They don’t like the mélange of the cocktail of political, economic and social disfranchisement, and have begun to show their anger about being robbed of their own future with what Heribert Prantl calls “the sacred rage of the young.”
The exploding and imploding inequalities are one of the most impactful consequences of a well-known dilemma: what Zygmunt Bauman calls the tripod of economic, military and cultural sovereignities has long lost its stability. Economic globalisation and the deterritorialisation of capital and labour leave current political structures crumbling and humbled.
As Bauman puts it in his newest book “Collateral Damage. Social inequalities in a global age (2011)”:
“…the exclusive compound of growing social inequality and the rising volume of human suffering relegated to the status of ‘collaterality’ (marginality, externality, disposability, not a legitimate part of the political agenda) has all the markings of being potentially the most disastrous among the many problems humanity may be forced to confront, deal with and resolve in the current century.” (Bauman 2011:9)
Current events only seem to underline Bauman’s grim analysis:
- whether it’s the civil unrests in 2005 in Clichy-sous-Bois, in 2007 in Villiers-le-Bel or in 2011 in London;
- the England riots and the United Kingdom anti-austerity protests;
- the grassroots protests in 2009 in Iceland, 2010 and 2011 in Greece, 2011 in Portugal and Spain;
- the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt;
- the civil uprisings in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen;
- the protests in Algeria, Chile, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Oman;
– and the list doesn’t end here! The calls for change—various kinds of change, for different sets of reasons, caused by different triggers, each unique and standing in their own right—have a decisively amplified tone, scale and intensity.
Much has been written and said about all of these events,
- from different, diverse and disputed opinions on the London riots
- to the role of young people and the role of social media in the Arab spring,
- from the Spanish grassroots protests including nolesvotes.org, the Democracia Real Ya collective and the acampadas
- to the clash of generations in Greece.
Probably Slavoj Žižek has, with this observation:
“Opposition to the system can no longer articulate itself in the form of a realistic alternative,”
offered an analysis widely shared across countries and contexts.
Without wanting to or claiming to offer a definite understanding for the various protests and movements across the globe, Manuel Castells summarises more drastically what seems to be happening:
“The disgust becomes a network.”
There is a determined and unifying No! to the increasing inequality and a loud and clear Yes! to much-needed change and a different way of living, and living together. It’s obvious that young people, who are expressing their anger and frustration as much as their desire and hope for change so forcefully these days, are determined to shape our times.
“Will it be revolution, evolution, or resignation?” –
so wonder the minds behind One Young World, the global youth leadership summit, in their new 2011 White Paper Beyond the Long Spring of Dissent.
It certainly doesn’t look too much like resignation right now…
In his article The dead end of globalisation looms before our youth, Pankaj Mishra argues that we are witnessing a fresh political awakening, a world awakening with rage about “a condition of prosperity without equality, wealth without peace.”
“all those who claim this generation is apathetic should know: the revolt of the young has only just begun.”
Current events certainly suggest that Mishra and Gründiger are spot-on.
Yet, the question remains:
Where are we headed?