Through out history, social change and the force behind the movements which impelled change come from the inspiration and energy of youth. The democratization movements of the Middle East, Libya, Egypt and most important, Iran, are primarily fueled by the young people of those countries. Idealism that is young, dreams which are alive, still being dreamt and haven’t been extinguished and snuffed out.
The idealism to believe that you can do something, that your life is worth giving to an idea.
Why is it that in America, the youth are more complacent than even the older population?
There is this sense of helplessness, that democracy has become corporatocracy and they are completely screwed. A 2010 Gallup Poll asked, “Do you think Social Security will be able to pay you benefits when you retire?” Among the 18 to 34 year old group, 76% said no. Yet in spite of this lack of faith in the availability of Social security, which they pay into, the obvious reaction which would be anger and a demand that the wealthy pay higher and more fair taxes, just isn’t there.
How has this situation, which has changed so radically in the last 30 years, come about?
Here are some thoughts:
1. Student Loan Debt and the fear it creates. The ever increasing cost of education in America is a pacifying force. 30 years ago, there was no tuition at The City University of New York. When I went to college in the 70’s in Toledo, the tuition was so affordable that I could work and earn my B.A. with out incurring any student loan debt.
Education is free in the Arab World. The Egyptians who deposed Mubarak, the Iranian kids who protested and were brutally suppressed in 2009, even the American anti-war movement of the 60’s and 70’s were composed of educated students who were relatively free of crippling debt.
Now, an American Student can expect to finish school with anywhere from 25,000 to 100,000 bucks in debt. The effect of accepting this debt as a natural fact of life cripples activism and encourages political passivity.
2. Psychopathologizing and Medicating Non compliance. In 1955, Erich Fromm wrote, “Today the function of psychiatry, psychology and psychoanalysis threatens to become a tool in the manipulation of man.” Fromm died in 1970, the same year that an increasingly authoritarian America elected Reagan and the same time an increasingly authoritative American Psychiatric Association began to focus on “disruptive mental disorders” in children and teens with new labels like “oppositional defiant disorder” (ODD). The official symptoms of ODD include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests and rules”, “often argues with adults” and “often does things deliberately to annoy other people”. In other words, normal adolescent behavior can be used as a reason to “treat” a disruptive influence. Heavily tranquilizing antipsychotic drugs (e.g. Zyprexa and Risperdal) are now the highest grossing class of medication in the United States ($16 billion in 2010); a major reason for this, according to theJournal of the American Medical Association in 2010, is that many children receiving antipsychotic drugs have nonpsychotic diagnoses such as ODD or some other disruptive disorder (this especially true of Medicaid-covered pediatric patients).
3. Schools that educate for Compliance and not for Democracy. The nature of most classrooms, regardless of the subject matter, socializes students to be passive and directed by others, to follow orders, to take seriously the rewards and punishments of authorities, to pretend to care about things they don’t care about, and that they are impotent to affect their situation. A teacher can lecture about democracy, but schools are essentially undemocratic places, and so democracy is not what is instilled in students. Jonathan Kozol in The Night Is Dark and I Am Far from Home focused on how school breaks us from courageous actions. Kozol explains how our schools teach us a kind of “inert concern” in which “caring”—in and of itself and without risking the consequences of actual action—is considered “ethical.” School teaches us that we are “moral and mature” if we politely assert our concerns, but the essence of school—its demand for compliance—teaches us not to act in a friction-causing manner.
4. “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top.” The corporatocracy has figured out a way to make our already authoritarian schools even more authoritarian. Democrat-Republican bipartisanship has resulted in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, NAFTA, the PATRIOT Act, the War on Drugs, the Wall Street bailout, and educational policies such as “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top.” These policies are essentially standardized-testing tyranny that creates fear, which is antithetical to education for a democratic society. Fear forces students and teachers to constantly focus on the demands of test creators; it crushes curiosity, critical thinking, questioning authority, and challenging and resisting illegitimate authority. In a more democratic and less authoritarian society, one would evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher not by corporatocracy-sanctioned standardized tests but by asking students, parents, and a community if a teacher is inspiring students to be more curious, to read more, to learn independently, to enjoy thinking critically, to question authorities, and to challenge illegitimate authorities.
5. The Normalization of Surveillance. The fear of being surveilled makes a population easier to control. While the National Security Agency (NSA) has received publicity for monitoring American citizen’s email and phone conversations, and while employer surveillance has become increasingly common in the United States, young Americans have become increasingly acquiescent to corporatocracy surveillance because, beginning at a young age, surveillance is routine in their lives. Parents routinely check Web sites for their kid’s latest test grades and completed assignments, and just like employers, are monitoring their children’s computers and Facebook pages. Some parents use the GPS in their children’s cell phones to track their whereabouts, and other parents have video cameras in their homes. Increasingly, I talk with young people who lack the confidence that they can even pull off a party when their parents are out of town, and so how much confidence are they going to have about pulling off a democratic movement below the radar of authorities?
6. Television. In 2009, the Nielsen Company reported that TV viewing in the United States is at an all-time high if one includes the following “three screens”: a television set, a laptop/personal computer, and a cell phone. American children average eight hours a day on TV, video games, movies, the Internet, cell phones, iPods, and other technologies (not including school-related use). Many progressives are concerned about the concentrated control of content by the corporate media, but the mere act of watching TV—regardless of the programming—is the primary pacifying agent (private-enterprise prisons have recognized that providing inmates with cable television can be a more economical method to keep them quiet and subdued than it would be to hire more guards).
Television is a dream come true for an authoritarian society: those with the most money own most of what people see; fear-based television programming makes people more afraid and distrustful of one another, which is good for the ruling elite who depend on a “divide and conquer” strategy; TV isolates people so they are not joining together to create resistance to authorities; and regardless of the programming, TV viewers’ brainwaves slow down, transforming them closer to a hypnotic state that makes it difficult to think critically. While playing a video games is not as zombifying as passively viewing TV, such games have become for many boys and young men their only experience of potency, and this “virtual potency” is certainly no threat to the ruling elite.
7. Fundamentalist Religion and Fundamentalist Consumerism. American culture offers young Americans the “choices” of fundamentalist religion and fundamentalist consumerism. All varieties of fundamentalism narrow one’s focus and inhibit critical thinking. While some progressives are fond of calling fundamentalist religion the “opiate of the masses,” they too often neglect the pacifying nature of America’s other major fundamentalism. Fundamentalist consumerism pacifies young Americans in a variety of ways. Fundamentalist consumerism destroys self-reliance, creating people who feel completely dependent on others and who are thus more likely to turn over decision-making power to authorities, the precise mind-set that the ruling elite loves to see. A fundamentalist consumer culture legitimizes advertising, propaganda, and all kinds of manipulations, including lies; and when a society gives legitimacy to lies and manipulativeness, it destroys the capacity of people to trust one another and form democratic movements. Fundamentalist consumerism also promotes self-absorption, which makes it difficult for the solidarity necessary for democratic movements.
These are 7 items that contribute to the suppression of individual thought and crushing resistance to domination, but we must also consider the epidemic of childhood obesity, which brings it’s entire range of depression, health related problems and passivity into play.
The justice system…recall the 2 Pennsylvania judges who were recently accused of taking $2.6 million in payments from the corporate prison system to ensure they kept a steady flow of profit making young people incarcerated.
This is how Corporate America creates Perfect Republican REPLICANTS.