Is our generation anti-political?
Kids these days aren’t what they used to be. Their values are gone, replaced by the worship of the Self. Politics is passé.
Once at the forefront of the People Power struggle, young people everywhere have beat a hasty retreat into their self-centred spheres, turning to drugs, crime, or the latest pop fad in a bid to escape the futility of a system seemingly rigged against them.
It’s the final nail in the coffin, our elders warn, of a society running itself to the ground. Old people have been saying similar things since the days of Socrates.
It’s easy to agree with these depressing assumptions. They challenge Rizal’s messianic vision of the youth steering the country in the right direction. Which may be true in a perfect world, but youth as a social category is hard to pin down. We are hopelessly diverse, with different interests, backgrounds, and ways of seeing the world.
And what brings us all together, apparently, is that which divides us. A shared disregard for politics and collective struggle, which has drifted into irrelevance like the trade unions of yesteryear.
Or at least, that’s the view shared by those who mourn our ‘lost generation,' reared as we were on the eve of an apolitical age.
Some link what they see as the youth’s growing political apathy to a broader assault on academic freedom. A more conservative atmosphere on campus has led to a crack-down on critical thought. An education designed to manufacture compliant cogs-in-the-wheel of the corporate world, after all, will brook no dissent. Others argue that real gains in the education system have made political opposition irrelevant. (READ: Apathy towards poverty is the worst problem we have in the country)
Still others, like anthropologist Jason Hickel, point to the politics of liberalism, or the postmodern condition.
Liberalism feeds into a kind of apolitical politics, which puts a premium on consensus over conflict. Differences in political opinion are erased in the name of balance. There is no right or left, only a vague centrism that ends up reinforcing the status quo.
Yet behind the façade of democratic discourse lurks fear, fear for one’s own plight in a society without safety nets for those who fall behind.
More than ever, opposing those in power can come at the risk of one’s own career, one’s own grades or one’s own reputation. As a result, the real issues – from tuition hikes to democratic rights to global poverty – are systematically downplayed.
What some have called a neoliberal counterrevolution has seen a withdrawal of state support for public services. Across the globe, hospitals are being privatized. Schools sold to the highest bidder. Social services are auctioned off to the “private sector” – well-connected elites deemed more efficient and less corrupt than the filthy hands of the state.
The result? Higher fees charged on people who make up the majority of the population, on top of falling real wages and declining living standards. Everything is bought and sold. People live in chronic insecurity.
It is in this context that the postmodern condition is best understood: a society where the consumer is supreme, and the citizen is reduced to a quaint 19th century anachronism.
Collective action thus gives way to an emphasis on individual solutions and individual blame. At a societal level, we are made to believe our destinies are up to us to decide, as individuals, working alone in our isolated spheres, disconnected from the real world.
Should we fall through the cracks, we have nobody but ourselves to blame. Working for a more just society is condemned outright as the naïve idealism of youth. Short-lived and unrealistic.
So the moment we step into our classrooms, we are made to fit right in with the status quo, like pieces in a puzzle or cogs in a machine. The descent from the heights of 60s-era student radicalism couldn’t be more apparent.
Because the System works, man. Then again, maybe not.
The fire that still rages
Last month, dozens of students and teaching staff of the Marikina Polytechnic College walked out of their classes, raising their voices against corruption by their university administration. Protest banners and the requisite cops built a scene that seemed straight out of the First Quarter Storm (FQS).
Hundreds more did the same at Eulogio Amang Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology (EARIST) last year, when students marched in protest at the collection of ‘development fees’ – part of a broader trend in fee hikes in schools and universities nationwide.
These were scenes many thought had been tucked safely away in the nostalgic days of the anti-Marcos struggle, when young people led university walk-outs in defiance of the powers that be. (READ: FQS: The uprising that created and nurtured people power)
But today the spirit of protest has regained center-stage. Campaigns against tuition fee hikes and the “commercialization” of Education have resulted in solid gains for young people everywhere. Many of these go unreported: small victories that go unnoticed but ease the burdens on our families.
A ‘sixties redux
Twenty years ago, we got rid of a dictatorship only to receive plutocracy in its place. Last week, the 28th EDSA commemoration was a painful reminder of how little has changed since then. (READ: EDSA at ang naudlot na demokrasya)
It was, in reality, dictatorship before and after the fact – today the voices of the majority are still drowned out by those at the top, and the façade of democracy is as worn out as the yellow ribbon ‘round the old Oak tree.
That ribbon’s been ripped to shreds; the tree all but hollowed out. Sold for the price of a billionaire’s kickback. It’s about time for us to plant a better garden.
As the contradictions intensify between what the system claims to do in the name of ‘democracy’ and ‘development’ and what it delivers on the ground, there are signs that the tide is reversing. In a society where 85 of the world’s richest individuals own as much wealth as its poorest three billion, our governments, and the billionaires that are their real bosses, have lost the moral high ground.
The old arguments that there is no money to ensure decent lives for all simply no longer hold – or pacify.
Since the 2008 financial crash, protests have swept across Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America. In Brazil, Chile, China, Turkey, Egypt, the United Kingdom, even Sweden, and countless other countries including our own, students have joined hands with teachers, unemployed youth have marched with blue-collar workers, and all have joined social movements seeking to claim, or reclaim, what has been denied us for so long.
Between our personal dilemmas and a society that is fundamentally unjust, there is a need to forge a vision for the future that inspires real hope and action. The tired-out slogans of our parents’ generation need tweaking.
We live in different countries, speak different languages, but the demands of young people everywhere echo on in the words of Tahrir Square – Bread, Freedom and Social Justice! Their local equivalent:
Lupa, Sahod, Trabaho, Edukasyon at Karapatan! Ipaglaban! – Rappler.com
CJ Chanco is a student at the De La Salle University and a freelance writer on the editorial board of The Daily Opium, a website on the social sciences.