A recent conjunction of news stories started me thinking, and this post is the result of that process. Given the subject matter, it may be slightly less comic than usual (then again, perhaps I over-estimate the usual degree of comic content).
Sections of the media, and broader establishment, spend much of their time trying to find new things with which to terrify us. The ongoing Manichean project to take every word in the language and decide whether its subject either does or does not cause cancer continues unabated as does the important work to prevent woman from acquiring an excess of self-esteem. However, much of their important work is to ensure that those over the age of 30 (say) remain terrified of the young. (I would like to point out to my fellow over-30s, that it will be the young who will be funding our pensions and/or putting us into a home, so perhaps we could think about treating them a little better). Much of this fear-mongering urges us to see them as “feral” creatures who indulge in every depravity – so unlike our own tender years when even hardened criminals would swoon at the sight of an uncovered table leg. As a result, we must be constantly protected from them and they must be protected from the real world, while the system prepares them for life in the 1870s (or maybe that is only Mr Gove’s plan). I have met a few young people (though not a properly randomised sample) and they generally strike me as rather impressive and far more adult than I was at their age (or am now for that matter). As noted before, I have rather more faith in their ability to run the country than the current incumbents – though admittedly, they are setting the bar pretty low (as did their predecessors).
The latest scare is that our young people will become “radicalised” – though if the young don’t become radical I’m not sure who will. I recognise that there are concerns here, the young will sometimes lack the life experience to recognise that the information they are being fed is very partisan, mis-leading or untrue – though, I would note that this is true for the rest of us as well (if you are in any doubt, can I recommend Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre as a useful corrective). The current worry is about young people (mostly Muslim I assume) going off to Syria to help one of the groups fighting against the totalitarian regime there.
As this news story has been rumbling on, we have also been celebrating the centenary of the birth of Laurie Lee. He was a big noise with English teachers when I was at school, though may be rather frowned upon now in the Govian state (not sure he is entirely sound on how great war is). This reminded me (via As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning) of the young men who left the country in the mid-1930s to go and support the forces fighting against the fascist regime of General Franco in Spain. I suppose these men had the “advantage” of white skin and being (at least nominally) Christian, but I do wonder how the newspapers of the day reported their behaviour. Given its enthusiastic support for Fascism and the Nazis, I assume the Daily Mail’s editorial stance was much as now. I may be drawing an inappropriate parallel between two very different sets of circumstances – and I’m not sure if any great writing or poetry has emerged from Syria yet – but idealistic young men going to support a cause in which the believe and oppose tyranny does suggest at least some parallels exist. (BTW, I freely admit to being an authority on neither the current situation in Syria nor the Spanish Civil War).
Our leaders seem very keen on educating the young, to the extent of making them pay for it and denying them benefits if they don’t keep it up. At the same time, it seems to care very little what happens to these educated young people once they leave the system – well, as long as they don’t cost the tax-payer any money. The educated, idealistic young are an enormously powerful resource – if society is unable or unwilling to find an outlet for their energies, then someone or something else will (even if that is a life of crime or hedonistic nihilism). Civil society is a fragile construct – very hard to build and very easy to break and we seem to be doing a worryingly good job of disenfranchising the young (who, let’s face it, could take the rest of us in a fight – though our low animal cunning and willingness to cheat would partly counteract their youth and vitality) – even without the help of multi-millionaires with back-combed hair.
The young need a stake in society – and hopefully not one driven through its heart at midnight. They are (inevitably) a product of society rather than its cause. So, when looking for scapegoats to shoulder the blame for society’s ills, I think we need to look rather further up the age curve to those creating the conditions under which they young have grown up.
And here endeth the sermon. Normal, more frivolous service will (probably) be restored.