Self Interest

An independent journalist published an in-depth piece of focussed research as a radio programme on the BBC yesterday. On the surface it was about the building of a greater democracy into the school curriculum. Secondary school students from a variety (read “diversity” of class and ethnicity) of city schools were offered a chance to decide what key lessons they want as 14 and 15-year olds.

There was a bias and undercurrent to the journalistic thesis, finally admitted to but only with a sense of defeat. The journalist was conducting her research on the basis that this generation faced greater educational pressure, competition and more uncertainty about their future than possibly before the Second World War for UK citizens, or perhaps “ever before”.

It’s hard to compare generations when social standards, scientific understanding and global communication is all so different today. But there is no doubt that, whether it is because we are more aware, or more able to report, or less resilient than previous generations (suggested, but highly doubtful), our children are exhibiting far greater emotional disturbance, discord, alienation and ill-health than was ever previously recorded.

The journalist clearly had a predilection for a specific outcome, the prediction that Climate Change would be the children’s top priority. It is, after all, in the News. A menu of syllabus topics was offered up to a vote after informed discussion and debate. Young people were interviewed about their hopes and fears and interests and habits. They were forthright in the main, thoughtful and able to express themselves (at least, that is, those who got through the edit and onto the published programme).

The result shocked the journalist. Rather than any votes for a programme of teaching on the climate emergency and what to expect in the coming years, the school students voted overwhelmingly for classes on Life Skills. Life Skills: budgeting, getting a job, domestic maintenance, finding housing, cooking, and relationship stuff like mindfulness and issues of intimacy. They appeared wholly self-interested.

These weren’t a new brand of 1968 student rebels, all chomping at the bit to tear-down the Old and build a New World. They simply felt heavily ill-prepared to manage the very basic day-to-day tasks of life, never mind any macro-Big-Picture politics of the coming catastrophe – we’ll simply all be in that together when the time comes. Right now, we need to know how to live day-to-day and prosper while we still can.

There was something grossly conservative and pro-Capitalist about the voices. Where they were was “how it is”; “it is what it is” as the current over-used throw-away remark says. The implicit acceptance was not only that the way society works now is to be taken for granted, but that it is silly to hope for more or anything different. Just try and work the best you can to sustain what you have and derive what comfort may be sought in your individual space. Get a job, get on in it, find a partner – palatable if not perfect – and bunker-down inside your own comfy living space.

It is hard not to conclude that this programme was just another State-sponsored propaganda exercise by the British Broadcasting Corporation. The numbers of school students involved in the 3 days of school strikes this year have been historic by any comparison. The protests by Extinction Rebellion have involved young and old alike, but largely the younger, and gained blanket publicity for the issues and concerns. Surely the programme misrepresented the real minds of the young?

The human mind is so complex, best understood as a three-dimensional tension of opposites. Conflicting thoughts and emotions all vying to gain hegemony and determine the next thought, the next action and the general consciousness of the whole being. We all carry contradictory ideas with us all of the time. We may know one thing for sure but feel quite the opposite way about it, hoping its not true.

Why, for example, would you want to immerse yourself in the science of global heating and acknowledge the coming social convulsions when your entire body yearns for identity, value, love and the experience of every sensation produced by fun and laughter? At the same time, why would the fear of catastrophe be a motivator towards action and revolt rather than be simply disabling? We just want to get a life!

In the macro, the collective space, the System has long sought to pacify the general population and have us obsess about the sensuous, focus on the immediate and enjoy instant gratification. We are fed a myriad of opiates to suppress and obscure perceptions of inequality and injustice – our own and others’. Above all we are required to be not just individuals but individualistic, the centre of our own unique universe rather than a star in the vast collective firmament.

Little wonder that a large proportion, perhaps the majority, of young people today are urgently seeking individual solutions to the huge challenges humanity faces. And therein lies the dynamic contradiction. The pacification has bred a sense of unpreparedness rather than passivity. The young still want to be prepared as the active agent of their own destiny. They still desire self-determination, however complacent and compliant the education and legal systems seek to mould them.

In the micro we have to question why the modern day school curriculum alongside the nuclear family has left young people feeling so ill-equipped for Life and living, at least in the advanced industrial capitalist western world. And we must accept the feelings of young people who crave the independence of action and tools to “achieve” inside the Capitalist world, on the System’s terms. Accept their ambitions even tho’ we know that most will suffer a sense of failure to achieve the Capitalist Dream.

It is the very core human drive for self-determination that continuously offers hope for a better System, for rejection of the way things are, and for the creation of a sustainable world. The emotional challenge of the fight against alienation and low self-esteem certainly defeats some and renders many to make self-effacing compromises, but it does empower more than a few to outright revolt. And when the scale of revolt reaches a certain critical mass and offers a vision of a better future, the rest will follow, not least through a sense of pure self-interest.

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