Nick’s Notes: This was an excerpt from a Youth Liberation 101 essay I’m currently working on. I decided it’s a little 201 and tangential so I cut it for theoretical and space related reasons so I could keep the 101 a little shorter.
One of the problems of youth liberation as well as anarchism is that most youths, even when presented it, may simply reject it. What do we do in that case?
Surely the easy answer of forcefully impressing our ideas on them more goes against the spirit of both anarchism and youth liberation. If in trying education we discover that the people around us, youths or not, do not want to be a youth liberationist or an anarchist what are we to do?
This is a similar quandary that Andrea Dworkin tackled in her 1971 book Right-Wing Women. In it, she discusses the phenomenon of both women and self-described feminists deciding that it’s better to be subordinate to their husbands than embrace feminism. Part of the explanation for that was the allure of mainstream society as opposed to fighting it tooth and nail. Trying to move to a different culture and way of thinking about people (whether women or youths) is a difficult thing for many individuals to face and for entirely understandable reasons.
Thankfully we don’t need to rely on condescending ideas of these women being “duped” by the patriarchy or that they have some sort of “false-consciousness” as Marxists sometimes argue. All we need to recognize is that there’s a lot to get yourself invested in with the current system. For all of its many evils, there are still some parts that people understandably want to keep. And sometimes they want to keep it for a basic sense of security but other times they may want it for what they think is a totally logical reason.
So first thing’s first, apply the basic principle of youth liberation applies here: Take youth seriously.
If an individual disagrees with your ideas then regardless of their age we should take whatever concerns of theirs seriously, but this especially applies to youth given the level of incredulity we often aim at them.
On the other hand your interlocutor may not have any concerns but may instead feel threatened by the idea that in accepting this radical change they’d have to make personal changes in their life. Changes that could range from disobeying their teachers or arguing with them about facts to outright “disrespecting” their parents when they think they are being abusive. These are all risky behaviors and in certain contexts it makes total sense for youth to distrust advice to do these things.
That’s partly because youth are not always in a good place to resist the power structures that society places above them. This is one of the many reasons why adult allies are (at times) essential to the success of youth movements. Although it should be stated that the ingenuity of youth and their ability to create networks of safe spaces for each other through should not be underestimated. Especially through the internet, smartphones and other methods of communication.
That said, there’s a certain kind of logic to the youth against youth liberation.
If you expose this logic for the faulty sort that it is, you may have a shot at convincing them of your ideas. Often the youth in question doesn’t feel like other youth could handle the amount of freedom you are giving them, but conveniently they think they’d be able to handle it just fine.
This is a similar logic that authoritarians often have when arguing for laws that affect and target society in general instead of just youth. Most people think that they would be a perfectly moral person without someone telling them what to do. But if you introduce the idea that maybe things would work better if everyone was like that and suddenly it’s an issue and other people cannot be trusted.
It should be stated as well that the youth liberation project is not the kind of ideological movement that should aim for 100% ideological adherence. Not everyone (or even a majority) of youth need to agree with youth liberation for it to have large-scale success. While education is an essential part of any good movement, it shouldn’t be seen as the holy grail of it either.
Further, no movement should have education as its only tactic and in practice almost never does. In which case youths themselves can show the benefits of youth liberation by doing instead of arguing.
Perhaps youths themselves and their own ideas that they get to see through autonomously are the best hope for youth liberation, not the adults who try to play with logic until they can just get the arguments right. Intuitively it seems to make the most sense that in the end youths are going to know better about how to address youths concerns than the ideas of adults.
In No! Issue 6 Sven Bonnichsen has an article entitled Youth Against Liberation: An Exploration which tackles many of the issues and also uses the Dworkin comparison (which I lovingly pilfered) but comes to rather lackluster conclusions about how to resolve these issues. Bonnichsen sees youth liberation as a world expanding viewpoint and while I think that holds validity we shouldn’t only rest our laurels on what we see in youth liberation.
If we want to convince right-wing women of feminism and right-wing youth of youth liberation then we need to put our thoughts into practice, not just glorify our thoughts more. And ideally we should leave the doing to youths themselves because they’ll know best how to organize themselves and other youths concerns, not adults. This is a basic insight even most American right-wing libertarians would accept via the economist Friedrich Hayek and his ideas on knowledge being at its best when it’s localized and kept to those individuals it actually concerns.