The Cult of the Young

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

April slipped by almost unnoticed, hardly granting us time to sing an ode to it, so much did the summer heat overstay its welcome over the past five months. The refreshing cool breeze of April which we yearn for after months of sweating and avoiding mid-day glare has become a sweet remembrance of things past for the last ten years. From being a serious issue climate change will not drift into a fake religion, hopefully.

Media-fabricated heroes and heroines in the age of the Internet is a trend which suspends all discernment and shoves all deeply-committed fighters for a cause away to the background of current events. A trend which prompts some of the opiniated lot, middle-aged and older, to rush headlong into joining the chorus of enthusiastic fans singing the praises of the newly acclaimed hero. When you see crowds, heads of states and even Nobel Peace Prize committee go berserk, you can’t help thinking of the idealization of young people and youth culture for more than half a century.

Experience teaches us to be wary of all sorts of enthusiasms.

When a President invites 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, the latest oracle ringing the bell of future catastrophes, a real consecration for a young lady, it is demagogy at its highest. Journalists of all hues make themselves ridiculous when they go into ecstasies over a few sentences posted on social networks. Reportedly, she is autistic with no intellectual or language difficulties but with a handicap to relate to others. She barely speaks in interviews and is always accompanied by someone. Whether she has been manipulated by her relatives to draw attention on the net is not a far-fetched possibility.

Hers is a new voice amid the alarm bells rung by erstwhile US presidential candidate Al Gore in a fully documented study of the causes and consequences of global warming, the melting of ice caps and devastating effects of deforestation. So many other committed environment-minded individuals produced documentaries over the damages done to bio-diversity and sustainable development.

Greta Thunberg’s voice galvanizes young crowds worldwide who probably needed a spokesperson of their own age group to take to the streets, and merrily skip classes at the same time. An adolescent who speaks out and encourages her peers across the world to do the same, if we go by journalists’ ecstatic outbursts. Lest we forget, modern pedagogy in the educational field has been putting children ‘at the centre’ of the whole system for the past 30 years with the aim to make children speak and be autonomous. It has even been included as a ‘skill’ which is assessed in end-of-term school report. Autonomy of judgement does not matter really in the skill as long as children ‘speak’.

Education as transmission of knowledge from teachers to youngsters has been made obsolete. In the process, hierarchy based on experience, status, roles and age takes a blow. The end result of children and adolescents being considered as adults earlier and earlier. Youth glorification and triumph.

Two causes of endless exploitation of natural resources worldwide are demographic explosion and consumerism. Industrial growth and non-stop technological progress are perceived as being a necessity. Demography is almost a taboo subject especially if it explodes in Africa for fear of being labelled as ‘racists’ if you ask for a regulation of uncontrolled number of births taking place every week, and likely to make of them climate refugees knocking at the gates of Europe in the future. So young protesters as their elderly mentors refrain from raising the topic.

Targeting youngsters as in marketing has been a key component of capitalism ever since nuclear families enable parents to provide a more comfortable life and deposit their savings in bank accounts. What part of family budget goes to the superfluous demands of acquisitive children should be a comprehensive case study. The pestering power of kids who fall prey to all kinds of publicity on television, billboards and across the net and insist on parents’ buying things for them is nothing new. Brand sneakers, latest brand tee-shirts, electronic gadgets, mobile phones, etc, you name it. Crowds of conformists to consumerism who fleece their parents’ budget. A far cry from the ideals of the 1968/70 generation.

However, a promising phenomenon is the increasing awareness of food habits with disastrous impact on the environment among young people. Videos on cruelty to animals in slaughter houses are accessible to one and all online. Meat-based diet is more and more questioned and consumption of products from organic farming is getting popular. It started roughly 8 or 10 years ago much before media went crazy over 16-year-old Greta Thunberg’s online call to save the planet. A Japanese citizen stands out as the initiator of minimalist living, an appealing alternative to many. From too much to as little as possible. A first step to preserve the resources of the planet.

* * *

Are they modern Frankensteins of the legacy of 1968 generation? They raise the question of too many rights granted to individuals and an unscrupulous abuse of them by thousands of protesters in democratic countries. At the other end of the spectrum, citizens are persecuted and silenced for daring to express views by dictatorial governments. Journalists are killed and their bodies dumped by the roadside like burdensome garbage. Torture chambers are the fate of opponents in the most brutal regimes.

The old cosmic order was given a gradual burial with the advent of the individual ‘at the centre of everything’; gone were the days of social order, hierarchy, experience, duty and age, and the equally abusive behavioural pattern they generated. Emancipation from the yoke of tyranny placed citizens on the threshold of limitless freedom. It is all blown out of proportion in countries like France with a long tradition of endless claims for equality coupled with the Gallic temperament unfolding in violent rampage. ‘There exists in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom,’ Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in the mid-19th century.

Widespread destruction spree on public buildings and monuments built by taxpayers’ money and private property owned by risk-taking businesses calls for a review of too much freedom given to individuals who are all supposedly equal in claiming rights, given the rising cost of living and taxes which really make it difficult to make ends meet for some. What street protesters of all hues, yellow or black, need in western countries like France is some degree of spirituality to accept and deal with adversity in life, as an antidote to the rampant atheism which makes matters worse, if anything.

* Published in print edition on 3 May 2019

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