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  • Ken Ilgunas

Why aren’t we revolutionaries?

David—a boomer who lived through the 60’s—recently posted an entry noting the curious absence of revolutionary discourse among today’s twenty-somethings. It’s an interesting topic of discussion. While my generation has hardly dabbled with civil disobedience, his generation protested the Vietnam War, took part in civil, women’s, and environmental rights crusades, and caused havoc on college campuses and city streets everywhere.

In my 27 years, I don’t think I’ve once heard even a murmuring of revolution. Yet, things are hardly peachy keen. In addition to global warming, suburban sprawl, and a mind-boggling disparity of wealth between the mega-rich and everyone else, my generation must deal with record-breaking loads of student debt and an alarming scarcity of jobs. In July 2010, 51.1% of 16-to-24 year olds didn’t have jobs. (The official unemployment rate—which takes the desire to have a job into account—was still an unreasonably high 19.1 percent.) We are jobless, indebted, and disenchanted with politics.

The unemployment numbers are almost as bad as several of the Middle Eastern nations that recently experienced youth-led rebellions. Twenty-five percent of Egypt’s youth were unemployed, similar to Tunisia’s 30%. Young people coping with poor job markets have led protests in European countries like Spain, which has a 45% youth unemployment rate, and the UK, which has a 20%.

So the question begs to be asked: Why isn’t my generation rebellious? Why aren’t Americans protesting? Why aren’t we causing hell like the disenchanted 60’s generation?

1. Things may be bad, but I guess they aren’t bad enough. While we have a similar unemployment rate, Egyptian youth—at the time of the revolution—were much worse off. Not only did 40% of Egyptians live on $2 a day, but their rights were severely curbed by an authoritative regime. Things may be bad here, but even the most desperate college grad could get a job at McDonald’s for $6 an hour. And even though we have the Patriot Act, it’s not nearly as egregious as some of Mubarak’s measures.

2. There is no clear enemy. We have no Nixon, no Mubarak, not even a W. Bush to fight. So just what wall needs to be torn down and just who needs to be brought to justice? The problem is that our enemies are amorphous; they’re not even human, really. It’s not the CEO who lays off his employees and outsources jobs to third-world countries who’s to blame; it’s the economic system in which he’s immured that forces him to resort to such callous measures. It’s more than just some crusty elite; it’s the system, free-market capitalism, globalization; it’s things we can neither tar and feather nor burn in effigy.

Let’s say that we do take down the ruling elite, storm the Capitol, and lay down a list of demands. We get universal health care, universal education, and we end pointless wars. Then what? It’s not like we can just create jobs out of thin air. (Even the youth in socialist Scandinavian countries face tough job markets. Among 15-to-24 year olds, 29% of Swedes are unemployed, as are 27 % of Fins, 16% of Icelanders, 13% of Danes, and—to a much lesser degree—9% of Norwegians.) Currently in America—as I pointed out in a previous post—there are 365,000 cashiers and 317,000 waiters and waitresses who have bachelor’s degrees, as do one-fourth of those working in the retail industry. More than 100,000 college graduates are brushing toilets as janitors and 18,000 are pushing carts. Is it a good thing if we lower the unemployment rate by creating more shitty, soul-less, cubicled jobs flipping burgers, answering phones, or selling useless crap? Over 1.5 million college students graduate each year. Do we really think that there should exist 1.5 million well-paying, fulfilling jobs for every graduating class? If those jobs were necessary, wouldn’t they already exist?

3. The truth has yet to set in. We young people are still hopeful. When we go to college, we imagine getting a good job right after we’re handed our diplomas. We imagine our debts vanishing into thin air. Yet this hasn’t been the case for a long-time, so it’s beyond me why these fantasies are still so prevalent. For a revolution to happen, reality must set in and hope must be crushed.

Concluding thoughts

Frankly, I’d love to see my generation become rebellious and get angry about student debt, college profiteers, and everything else that ails us. A lot of good would come of it, but I think we’d be merely treating side-effects than killing the disease that causes them.

The unemployment rate is a good indication of a country’s political, social, and economic stability. When we have jobs, we have purpose; we can move up, improve ourselves; we have the freedom to do what we wish with the money we earn. But I’m not comfortable saying things are satisfactory if the unemployment rate is 0% and 100% of us are employed at places like Wal-Mart, McDonalds, and offices raising our blood pressure and filing TPS reports. I think such a society is far from ideal, and in no way, shape or form attends to the needs of the human body, mind and soul.

Perhaps a violent or non-violent revolution would spur the powers that be to make substantial changes, but I can’t see a solution to my generation’s malaise without completely reimagining society, a society in which the idea of a “job”—which, as we know, is a manmade invention—doesn’t even exist.

Radical thought: Perhaps the solution is simplicity. What if we create our own economy, sort of like the Amish have? (There is, after all, no such thing as an unemployed Amishman.) With a local, agrarian-based economy, we’d have an endless supply of fulfilling labor—the sort of work that makes families tight and communities thrive; the sort that would wean us off the government and make corporations crumble.

I suppose this thought is nothing new. Hippie communes popped up in the 60’s and 70’s, and it’s evident that they didn’t last long. Why would ours be any less fleeting? And how feasible is this for a world that’s overpopulated—one where open space isn’t exactly abundant?

The question remains: What’s to be done with millions of jobless young people who seem to have no cause, no purpose whatsoever? Any thoughts? (Por favor: All I ask is that we keep the discussion sane and civil.)


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