Giving up our ideals is no longer an option

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Giving up our ideals is no longer an option.

Young people will have to pay for the way capitalism has let them down. Laurie Penny says they need to fight.

Sometimes people ask me and my friends when we are going to give up our ideals, continue with our lives and get real jobs, like they did after the idealism in the Sixties. They say we will soon need to face reality.

If people say the same to you, it’s important to remember what this “reality” is. It was built on debt and sand. It only continues because everyone else believes that there is no alternative. After Bush became President, an aide told Ron Suskind: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

Young people today cannot give up their ideals. We cannot retreat into comfortable jobs because, for many, there are no jobs: 25% of 18 to 25-year-olds in Britain and North America are unemployed or have jobs below their ability; 50% in Greece and Spain. We cannot retreat into the country and live off the land because the land is being destroyed to get the last of the oil.

The idea of generation war is complicated. One reason is that some people see this class conflict in its own important historical moment of time simply as young people screaming at their parents. People can accept this as normal and think it is not important.


But this is the opposite of the truth. All the waves of uprising across the world right now are not the same as the myth of Oedipus. Oedipus killed the king his father on the road to Thebes, and took over the kingdom. In our story, if young people don’t stand up and defend it, there will not be a kingdom left for them to take over.

Some parts of this conflict have to relate to generations for one reason. The people who control the money, resources and power – the “one per cent”, the super-powerful, rich parents – will no longer be here when the real problems begin.

All those people will be safely in the ground in wooden coffins when the oil is finished, when floods start to destroy the walls that the rich Western cities have built as protection, and when healthcare becomes so expensive that only the rich can imagine old age without fear. They will be very far from human suffering. So it is an accident of timing. Because of the timing, the people who are in power now can comfortably play with the future of debt and profit from resource wars. Their grandchildren will have to finish the wars. Every decision that they make or delay affects us.

In some ways, what we are seeing now is the end of the Sixties. People wanted freedom, but got a false freedom. This has led to financial control from the top and social collapse.

But it is different from the 1960s because many young people don’t have homes to go back to. Many of them will never have a home of their own, especially if they grow up with no money, and with a big student debt and credit-card loans. Young people who have finished school or university all across the developed world are facing a future where they are almost certainly going to be poorer and less healthy than their parents. That makes this generation “the human expression of a broken economic model”, according to journalist Paul Mason.

The “baby boomers” (people born in the late 1940s and 1950s) nearly all had better healthcare and education than their parents. When they left school, they got jobs easily. But the future we expected as we grew up (growth, plenty of jobs, marriage, mortgage and pensions) has now been destroyed. The resistance movements of 2010-12 happened because people felt betrayed. They realised what they have lost. Now we need to plan for a different sort of future.

The young people fighting for the future now have no time to wait for their hair to grow. Drugs are worse now. Police are stronger. This is not a generation war. It is a new class war that works with generations.

People have told a lot of lies about the Occupy generation and other movements. Some lies even come from members of the movements. When I visited Occupy London in January, some of the people there asked me not to write about the fact that so many people sleeping in the protest camp on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral were homeless people with mental health or drug problems. But it is these young, lost, homeless people who have driven these movements from the start. We need to say this to show them the respect they deserve.

This generation with no future now has to invent a new future. Sometimes just with a few old tents. Some people mock the fact that there are so many young people who have got old early; there are lost kids, homeless people, dirty revolutionaries with long beards. This is the greatest weakness of the protest movements, but also their greatest strength. They cannot give up their ideals. They cannot just go home. Somehow they’ve got to make a new future.

Laurie Penny, 25, is a feminist author and journalist who writes for The Independent, New Statesman and The Nation, among others.

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