As our understanding of the difference between generations expands, how will our political and social thinking respond?
We all know well now of different “established” political schools of thought – left wing vs right wing, capitalism vs communism and identity and issue politics such as class politics, race politics, green politics etc. But could we ever develop a credible political framework that can decipher and govern policy based on Generational Justice or age politics?
I have no finalised plan here, but there MUST be a new way of answering old questions. (there needs to be!) This i don’t know, but what we do know is, we face:
• A growing demographic unbalance
• An inter-generational values gap globally
• Young people remain the primary victims of war, poverty and corruption
• Youth didn’t cause the economic crisis, yet we’re too often the first to shoulder the burden
• Paternalistic and oligarchic systems where formal political structures are unwilling to share power
• A society that continues to vilify, demonise, patronise, underestimate and misunderstand youth
• The significant majority of the world’s youth are found in developing countries
If we do need new and fresh solutions. We must empower youth! If we do need innovation and agile thinking. We must empower youth! If we do need a revolution of long-term thinking and future-focussed ideas. We must empower youth! And if we do need optimism and genuine leadership to overcome growing global dilemmas in the world, then surely young people are an obvious place to go!?
I personally believe there is no such thing as a “youth issues” – simply people issues viewed through the eyes of being young. Many politicians and events talk about “youth issues” – but in my experience what this gradually and invisibly does is pigeon-hole our passions. Youth issues sound far less important than political issues or ‘adult’ policy setting. It means that psychologically there is a disassociation from all other policy areas. Youth are fiercely passionate about the environment, economic justice, technology or human trafficking! These aren’t youth issues, these are issues! There is a similar problem with the term “Youth PARTICIPATION” – we already can participate. What is needed is power. “Youth EMPOWERMENT.” Participation has no standard of quality – no pre-requsite for genuine and meaningful involvement through the transfer of power. Yes I am calling for these rights to young people, but remember, this also means we accept the responsibility of civic-hood.
There’s many great examples of where Governments, local authorities, IGOs, businesses, charities, media outlets, trade unions and others do effectively engage youth. Lets celebrate these examples – build upon them, scale them and make them the benchmark of what is acceptable. However most fail one test. When asked how they engage or think about youth, it tends to be a list of pet projects they rattle off, or simple quote a misleading investment number, and expect us to be grateful.
Change won’t come from small projects and being bought off by the occasion CSR grant – we need to develop a holistic, cross-cutting and idealistic philosophy that puts generational justice and inter-generational sustainability at its heart. This could be revolutionary. Its being done nowhere! Imagine if we redefined the paradigms of how we hold decisions accountable. We could demand a higher class of public service, demand more transparency in our politics, fairer distribution of our globe’s resources and an overhaul of social attitudes.
Young people’s political memories lie in the future. We are not burdened with outdated grudges, vested private interests or a poverty of aspiration. Our natural language is technology. We are idealistic without being ideological and all the evidence shows we are in many parts of the world the most likely age group to volunteer or protest. Youth have social justice as a higher priority and feel repeatedly let down by political decisions around war, rigid education, nuclear weapons, international equality and social issues like gay marriage, abortion laws, gun controls and racial justice.
This new political movement doesn’t have to be just done BY young people, in the same way that people who are not Karl Marx can believe in Marxism, or people who are not an racial minority, can extend empathy and understanding to take action to tackle the systematic disempowerment of certain races.
So a Generational Justice (crap name i know!) approach would :
– View all policy decisions through the paradigm of how will this impact the existing and future generations to ensure generations justice?
– Always set as its highest maxim the responsibility to empower the next generation through economic opportunity and equality, social mobility, environmental preservation and personal temperance.
– We would overall education system to not just in- build trainee exam-passers, but build the core capacities of citizenship, creativity, personal confidence and leadership, critical analysis and social competencies. REAL life skills. Education needs to for the first time in our planets history – be universalised. A free, quality, empowering education for EVERY child on earth is not an impossibility. This is surely a cornerstone of generational justice.
– All citizens, including young people, and not just elite institutions would be empowered in society. We need to challenge top-down and corrupt leadership models and institutions. Ways we would do this is look at how we spend our resources and how we set our budgets. We would radically overhaul how and who gets to vote in elections, and throw open the doors to crusty old buildings or ivory towers such as our fortress banks, palatial parliaments or mogulised media. We need to transfer power.
There is of course much thinking to do here, but is it really that impossible to credibly think we can govern society and set policy by allowing generational sustainability and keeping pace with the high aspirations of today’s generation? In fact, i suspect it is already starting to happen.
I am not calling for some youth revolution utopia, rather for us to matter more credibly in decision making, to be equal citizens and partners in change. I also say to young people, we must remember genuine power can never be given, it must be taken.