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Alex Blanes

Student, Vancouver Island University


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How can we cultivate courageous, non-violent dialogue between youth and power?

Today, August 12th, 2011, the United Nations' "International Year of Youth" draws to a close. It has been a very interesting year—one of the biggest in recent history for youth-instigated riots, uprisings and revolutions. Perhaps not what Ban Ki-Moon had in mind when he made the statement, "Youth should be given a chance to take an active part in the decision-making of local, national and global levels"!

However, I believe their initial intention to sponsor "Dialogue and Mutual Understanding" between the young and the elite was, and is, a very important one. In fact, I would argue that many of the riots this past year could be attributed to a very profound lack of communication between youth and power.

I believe that if we lack a healthy relationship between ourselves and the unknown, it's difficult to be courageous. The young people of today, myself included, do not have any healthy way of relating to the unknown, seemingly mindless politics of their elders. This is why so many young people lash out—it is their violent form of questioning the silent authority. Neither method is indicative of a real conversation.

So my question is this: how can we stimulate a courage that is constructive, based on communication and positive risk, and not merely on reckless deconstruction of the old paradigms (which is not truly courageous at all)? How do we reconcile the passion and novelty of youth with the sensibility and experience of older generations? How do we enable youth to challenge their leaders, and how do we solicit leaders to challenge their youth—in a mutually respectful dialectic? How do we inspire youth to follow the wise words of Buckminster Fuller: "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete"?


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  • Aug 12 2011: Honestly, I dont see the riots as a lack of communication between youth and power. I see it as a conflict of real interest. Power has power and resources and wants to keep it, and youth seeks power and resources, and wants access to it. To pretend its just a matter of communication, I think, is to miss the real point.

    Those in power are very willing to use violence to keep it, and its a bit hypocritical as I see it to pretend that youth using violence to get access to it as some aberration in the young. We need to be very realistic about how the powers that run the world operate. Torture, bombing to get access to resources, instigating the malcontents in a society to push them to overturn powers reluctant to do business with our established elite.

    The older members of a society who are on the short end of the financial stick dont tend to riot because by a certain age, they have gathered some material things, may have a family, etc. They arent doing great, but they have what they have and for them, the risk of rebellion is not worth the cost. They have something to lose, and they dont anticipate much gain. They will only be moved to riot if what they have is taken from them.

    The very young have very little to lose, and everything to gain. Of course they will the most willing to begin to fight. Especially in a world where it is very clear that they will have little chance of doing as well as their parents if they dont.

    If we really want to inspire the youth to do what Buckminster Fuller suggests, we should model that for them. We need to face the fact that our leaders do little more than resort to bullying, economic and physical, and thats what they model to our youth. If we want the youth to behave differently, perhaps the older adults should be that which they wish to see in the young.
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      Aug 12 2011: I read Alan Ginsberg's "Howl" a few months ago. I remember thinking of it as "an anguished cry of the human who cannot fit in his father's mouth, who cannot because he is too large, his vision is too large, his future is too large, because he is not food; he is human..." I felt Howl, especially Part II, was a linguistic portrayal of the Cronus archetype, seen in such paintings as "Saturn Devouring His Son" by Goya and Rubens.

      I am a self-confessed idealist. I see the usurpation of children's futures by power as a preventable consequence of the cycles of pain and suffering extant within the human condition.

      Nonetheless, your statement "We need to be very realistic about how the powers that run the world operate" is paramount. This is the current reality, and if we ignore it, we do so at our peril. As Norway's PM said after Breivik's killing spree, "Our answer is more democracy, more openness and more humanity. But never naivety."

      I am very aware, and very appalled, by the lack of real maturity in our "established elite"—and I name real maturity as humanism, global compassion and an attention to *reality* instead of political and economic games. How pathetic—in the original sense of the word—their delusion, and the suffering it begets themselves and all they subjugate.

      Your conclusion is a summation of my "current" life's work. I agree with everything you say here; the first two sentences sent a chilling realization down my spine. Pretence is the farthest from my objectives, and so I thank you immensely for your wise contribution.
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        Aug 12 2011: The relationship between youthful activists who want the power to change and those in the established power group will always be at best a tenuous, guarded relationship. Generational shifts in politics (power) wealth (power) and societal norms (power) occur much like earth tremors and quakes. Very unpredictable - but you know they are inevitable. If there is one thing that can usurp power from those that have it, it is the force of a good idea communicated effectively by a charismatic leader or group. A leader who can galvanize people to action in the face of danger has something more than power at their disposal - they have the antidote to power: the will to change.
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          Aug 13 2011: Jim really I believe in the antidote of will to change, but sometimes the antidote is the use of local enforcement. (Sadly but true)
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          Aug 13 2011: Jim, Luigi --

          I agree with you both, but I think there is more.

          I think the power of galvanized, contagious and fomented passions -- negative or positive -- trumps both will and enforcement as change-making fuel and/or antidote.

          A negative example: London. A positive example: Egypt.

          The difference I observe between the two is:

          London was disorganized and fomented by the long-experienced circumstances that lead up austerity reactions. There was no planned movement, method or leadership, just an angry mob. Aggression was the means. To their credit the authorities didn't react in kind.

          By contrast, Egypt was organized, but also benefitted from unexpected circumstances when internet went down, this got people out from behind computers and into streets.

          Movement leaders' flexibility and ability to adapt, combined with structural strategic strengths to sustain the energies. Non-voilence was a key part of the movements immutable ideals.

          Sadly, authorities' enforcement strategies didn't match the nonviolent methods of the movement.

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        Aug 13 2011: Alex any idealistic utopias have to be achieved with a lot of hard work. Maybe the actual youth (whatever means that) simply dont want or dont know hao to work. Playing the role of victims are fruitless. The things have to be done and the youth generation have the time and energy. Maybe all the youth need revelation instead of rebelion or revolt. We were young some day and in my generation Ginsber was an icon but also Bucky or other likeFerlinghetti or burroughs but all without exception calmed our thirsty in the profoun meaning from the Eclesiastes and then Pete Sieger invent a song: Turn Turn Turn. In the sixties we reborn to a new way to see the world. Today we dont loose that strenght and we all keep working.
        • Aug 14 2011: I think you need to look more frankly at the rioting in Egypt. It began much as the London riots did. Thuggish and violent, random and angry. The big difference is what another large power within the nation did ( the military.) In London, no one in power wanted to take advantage of the rioting to get the entrenched leaders out. In Egypt, there were elements in the military who were more than happy to use the situation to force Mubarak out. Not ot liberate the Egyptian people and give them real democracy, but to position themselves to take the kind of financial advantages of power that Mubarak had been.

          In Libya, there were elements outside Libya who were willing to use the disgruntled to force the entrenched powers out, even though it the movement clearly did not have majority support of the Libyan people.

          In Saudi Arabia, the outside powers helped the entrenched powers maintain control.

          If you look at each individual case, you will see unhappy people as a common denominator, and unhappy people willing to get violent. The biggest difference is not how many of the other members of the population share their ire, but whether any bigger powers find their violence useful and act to support it.

          I also think that pretending that the situation of the young today is comparable to the situation of the young in the west 30-40-50 years ago is a little blurry eyed. Their economic prospects are NOT the same. Globalization has forced everyone into the same labor pool essentially. And not only is it now a global labor pool, rather than a national one, its a larger labor pool by billions. And supply and demand sets price for labor as well as any other commodity.

          The youth today have to invest more for education than their predecessors did, for less return, and less job security, less benefits, less everything. To be "competitive" means doing more for less. I think we need to be realistic about that.
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        Aug 14 2011: Luigi - I hear you! But I still think that ultimately the legitimate will to change wins out over the illegitimate enforcement that tries to stop it - but you are right; it is a force to be reckoned with...

        Andrea, I think I see the will to change and your "galvanized, contagious and fomented passions" as being the same, in a general sense. You really make a great observations re: the Egyptian revolution, but I think the rioting in London was as much the actions of thugs with no agenda other than to take and destroy as it was fomented reaction to austerity measures... But these things happen much like war does - in a fog - so it's really hard to tell...

        Alex, that's the most amazing interpretation og Ginsberg's "Howl" I've ever heard! I think you just might be on to something!
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        Aug 14 2011: Alex,

        I second Jim's comments. I'm inspired and deeply impressed by what you've written here.


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