Sunday, August 14, 2011

Flash Mob Generation

It's been a while, but I just have to get this out.

The youth street riots in England show us what happens when government flat out ignores the needs of young people for too long. When government no longer seems to work for the people, regardless of age or social class, the people become disillusioned with it, and angry with it, and angry with the society that embraces it. The behavior of the rioters is reprehensible and by no means do I wish to endorse it, as there is no doubt it has nothing to do with legitimate protest. There's been a lot of speculation about the cause though, and a lot of accusations against indirect cultural influences, but no inciting incident or clear motivation can be tagged. This is simply because the uprisings are instead the inevitable product of years and years of pent-up social frustration with a civil society that has continuously sidelined the millennial generation.

It comes with great shame to me, being a member of that generation, that they have resorted to this, but while I can't endorse their unbridled destructiveness, I can at least sympathize with the spark of frustration that caused it. I seem to remember a year or so prior to this unrest, the UK government unequivocally shouting down mass youth protests--legitimate, non-violent protests--against the government's insistence on shutting down student loans and increasing interest rates on them, all while tuition in the UK is set to double by next year, and all while youth unemployment is up to 20% in the UK.

The old guard in government, who rode through college in the age of state-paid, free tuition, effectively see nothing wrong with sending young people out into the world with debts reaching up to six figures--and while that is good news for the same "old guard" special interests (who never have to share any of the fiscal burden), it is bad news for young people who would have to make the sacrifice. So the young people fought, and the government refused to listen, and when the government no longer listens, the young people got frustrated.

And they have a right to be frustrated, regardless of where they live. They have been given no reason to believe that government actually works for anyone other than the wealthy and the corporations, and it's because for decades the government really hasn't worked for anyone other than the wealthy and the corporations. With average citizens being unable to affect change against massive special interests who pay their way into politician's pockets, they lose faith in the system, they lose faith in democracy, and they lose faith in civil society. Once that happens, they constitute for themselves a civil disorder--and it may very well be a psychological release of pent-up energies, a joy ride of smashing and looting--but nevertheless, a riot.

What shames me about the riots is the indiscriminate path of their destructiveness, affecting small business owners and other private property in particular. These local merchants and residents did not deserve being so much as touched, as they had nothing to do with the government being unresponsive to the needs of young people. The young should have been using their social media to a call for non-violent resistance and organize walk-outs and sit down strikes. All they accomplished in pursuing violence was to throw their oppressive government into overdrive. Thousands of arrests have been made, and youth curfews have spread all over the world (Philadelphia for example). Instead of dismantling civil society, young people should stop it from being able to function. The government has to be starved by its disaffected until it realizes why it needs them.

If government no longer works for you, you ought to no longer work for it. It's called the social contract.

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