A brief survey of the mindset of the global youth culture reveals a heightened sense of angst, discontent and disillusionment in authority. This mindset is collective and is growing. Its symptoms are wide and deep in the global society, but there is one thing that binds them, a call for a renewed sense of justice. We inherited a world in which ecosystems are collapsing and financial markets govern the world more so than democratic institutions (or any government for that matter). We have witnessed the rise of the democratic capitalistic model emerge as the dominant mode of existence and means of production. We are the first to be raised in a truly hegemonic mode of existence without any genuine challengers to its authority. At least our parents had the soviet communist model to aspire to. If not aspire to, then to compare to. We are the first generation who will have been fully immersed in the World Wide Web from cradle to grave. The emergence of the web has also fundamentally changed the means in which we produce things, and therefore by Marx’s logic changes the ways we interact with each other.
The world is fragmented. Coinciding with the disillusionment with authority there has been a definitive shift in power relations between individuals, firms and governments. This division I call the fragmentation of authority. There is a new balance being reached because of new technologies, the individual and small groups now have the ability to influence the state of affairs throughout the world at a faster rate and leverage than ever before. Governments and firms have aptly responded by developing an increasingly sophisticated security force to protect their interests from the perceived threat of change agent groups.
Young people are fundamentally change agents. The inevitability of young people coming to be in positions of power is only one reason it is the youth that is the ultimate driver of change. Older folk either accept the new ideas, designs and tools that the youth develop or they stagnate and loose their positions of power. Youth must leverage the nature of their relationship with those in positions of power by recognizing the new condition of a shifting asymmetry between the two groups of people because of the technological and historical context in which this relationship developed. I use the term “youth” loosely. Youth is not an age. Youth is a state of mind, it is the consciousness that comes in degrees at different points in time, but can nonetheless be maintained for a continuous period, in which the agent has an open, receptive, actively engaging attitude towards the unknown, new and different. Comporting with this consciousness are new ideas of fair, right and normal. Thus, what is deemed fair, right and normal is changing.
Young people today have coalesced in new and exciting ways. It was only two years ago that the Arab Spring stirred the Middle East and North Africa. It was only two years ago young people took to the streets and encamped themselves in the US’s cities during OWS. Say what you will about the faltering of these revolutions and movements, they nonetheless successfully inserted a renewed focus on distributive justice into our contemporary political debate. We also must remember that movements often take decades to climax. Recall the civil rights movement, it was over ten years after Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus before the civil rights act was signed into law.
Young people are crying out for environmental justice as well. It is not a question whether climate change is real; it is a question about how to solve the problem. Products and firms that are environmentally conscious have a clear market advantage amongst young people compare to their counterparts.
Young people are turning away from “pop” culture in increasing numbers, by choosing alternative lifestyles. The concept of getting a career after school is either not feasible, or not desired. This is because of economic factors (in many parts of the world with youth unemployment exceeding 50% in much of Europe and the Middle East) and growing disillusionment in the consumer lifestyle handed down to us from those in power.
These movements are globally interconnected, largely because of technological changes, but more importantly because of the hegemonic paradigm of consumer capitalism and its consequences on planet and social relations between people. Furthermore, the incompetence of governments (whether they be sophisticated democracies or age old dictatorships) to solve the problems facing us today provides a common context for a certain consciousness to arise. The recognition that one struggle against oppression is fundamentally interconnected with all others allows us to be in solidarity globally.
There is not yet a name for this common consciousness, for this common uprising. Perhaps it does not yet need a name, it is still in its infancy. But it needs to be nurtured and sustained. For if we fail to continue and persist in these struggles the consequences will be dire. The power structure that we are trying to change is highly organized and global in scale. In order to counter this I submit that this movement must also do better to organize itself, to utilize the billions of young people and their corresponding allies in unison to manipulate the sea changes in the world for our benefit and the benefit of the planet.
We can see the endgame of the current paradigm, a pillaged earth with less than 1% of the population controlling social and political outcomes, perpetual warfare on behalf of industry, and incompetent democratic institutions to protect the interests of those who need it most. The global youth movement needs to develop its endgame, it needs a common vision that we can always compare our efforts against. We all may have individual visions, but these need to be linked to something greater than ourselves. When we act collectively results emerge that we could hardly deem possible.
I am calling for new foundations, out of the ashes of the postmodern fragmentation of power. New institutions need to emerge, new foundations worthy to stand upon. WE need to consolidate our power so that there may be a legitimate counter to the powers that be. Institutions acting for the good, and foundations rooted in a collective consciousness of collective struggle. I have many ideas about how to go about this, but I thought I would lead with the why.