by Umair Haque
America's poor elderly are living in their cars, seeking seasonal work already, as their society implodes around them. But they're just a foreshadowing of the average young American's plight.
She'll never retire, build up savings, or achieve the incomes of her grandparents. She'll probably never even really have a "career", in the old sense, as gig work blows apart even once professional vocations, like medicine, law, and accounting. She'll struggle for healthcare, insurance, security, stability.
If she can educate
herself, it'll cost her debt that cripples her for life. Marriage?
Kids? All these things are declining precisely because young people
cannot afford them.
Now put yourself in the shoes of such a person.
Along comes some
pollster, and asks you if you "believe in democracy".
Well, today, it's what neoliberalism's made of it, more or less.
Under its tenets,
Scandinavia (and even in many parts
of it) is really standing for more generous, expansive, nurturing
social contracts - only slightly different flavors of austerity
But who loses most when schools, libraries, parks, hospitals, and banks close? You...
You are giving up years of a full, happy life - but no one asked you if you wanted that when you were a babe. This is just the world you were born into. In that world, the one neoliberalism made, capitalism is substituted for democracy.
So democracy to you
probably means something like capitalism, too.
So you throw your hands up, and say:
Now, perhaps I go too far. Maybe none of that is the case.
Still, I'd bet that if we asked young people:
...they'd say yes, en masse, to both...
But that is all democracy
is, in the truest sense.
That was the point of the
great breakthrough of human history known as constitutional
democracy - which this age appears to have forgotten
So "giving up on democracy" might very well mean for young people simply that they would rather live happy and prosperous lives, whatever the abstractions of politics, than be forced to falsely "choose" between two equally unequal flavors of neofeudal subjugation, which is what "left" and "right", in today's stunted political economy, devolve to.
Wouldn't you reject
taking part in the charade of choosing between two forms of your own
self-destruction, too - and at least, that way, retain your
If anything, they seem more sensible than their elders.
They're not the ones that
chose austerity, bailouts, and depression, after all. So the problem
the question points to, instead, might be in the question itself -
it's erasure of the meaning of democracy itself.
Would you believe in a system that was failing you? But "believing" does not mean "pledging blind allegiance". Nor does "democracy" mean "this social construction of it". Nor is it a binary choice between some ideal "democracy" and "authoritarianism", for as America shows us, both can coexist perfectly well.
And what young people
really want, I'd bet, is change - from a system
limited to that, to one which works, for the benefit of the people
it is supposed to represent, empower, and legitimate.
They don't really fully know what it means.
If that is all democracy is - and I must tell you, that is what appears to have degenerated into - then young people are precisely right not to believe in it.
It is up to them, though,
to rediscover the truer meaning of the word...