OPINION: It was the best of times and, well, it was the best of times.
Two decades after the start of the 21st century, it doesn’t seem like the perfect time to grow up to adulthood.
The 1970s and 1980s were much better. It was a time of optimism, adventure and relative freedom.
In their 1989 song Young years, Dragon sang their wings “drying in the sun”. Looking back, going to school in the 1970s and then entering the workforce in the 1980s was a bit like being a young eagle perched on a cliff, surveying the sparkling landscape below.
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For a young New Zealander, the opportunities were plentiful, and many of them involved the popular option of leaving the country. The general idea was that if you did something, it would probably go well.
Even without taking into account the rise of the state during the Covid pandemic, it was a freer time than the first decades of the 21st century. The enhanced border security measures in many parts of the world that followed the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States were still in the future, and the ability of authorities around the world to monitor the movement of people in real time. was much less common.
Of course, it’s important to beware of nostalgia when comparing some time spent with the present, and without a doubt, some injustices of the past 50 years have been corrected, or at least not as bad as they are. they were.
But today’s young people seem to operate in an increasingly divided world, where regimes in power seem essentially problem-solving and prioritize the needs of older citizens much more.
In New Zealand, the obvious example is the cost of buying or renting a home. Over the past two decades, successive governments have mumbled economic gibberish, shuffled their papers, and apparently did nothing that led to affordable housing.
And it seems politicians don’t really care. Young voters are no longer the force they once were. To stay in government – which governments most want to do – it is more important to keep the property of middle-aged and happier voters.
Worse yet, there were concerns from the start that money printing’s response to the Covid pandemic could push up the prices of homes and other assets. And that’s what happened, with a vengeance. House prices have skyrocketed, as a massive transfer of wealth has taken place in favor of those who already own most of it.
Despite such obvious favoritism from older groups, Kiwis in their late teens and twenties have not loudly called for reasonable redress as their options shrink and their hopes and dreams become less and less. achievable.
For some reason, young people and young adults today seem intimidated. It might have something to do with Covid, but there isn’t much fire in those bellies.
Over the past decade, there have been climate change protests and some dissent over free trade agreements – although this is an abstract political issue with academics at the forefront, it’s not that there is anything wrong with it.
But it is not the young who are fighting for something of clear and current importance for themselves. Even the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 failed to gain much ground in this country.
In the 1970s and 1980s there seemed to be a lot more willingness on the part of young people to take to the streets and assume the establishment position.
Protesters rally for a nuclear-free New Zealand; against the Springbok tour of 1981; for the reform of the law on homosexuals; and against the Vietnam War. Maori youth and Pacific Islanders have taken prominent positions on issues of particular importance to them, including opposition to dawn raids, the rebirth of te reo, involvement in the land march of 1975 and the occupation of Bastion Point.
In Europe, young people were involved in widespread protests, and some riots, during the 1970s and 1980s.
There were a lot of programs, including housing. In northern Europe, there were bloody clashes between police and squatters occupying abandoned buildings.
In 1981, a wave of riots swept through many parts of downtown England, linked to relations between black communities and the police, with high unemployment also playing a role.
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Third cycle students are returning to school, although Auckland remains on Alert Level 3.
The point is not that the physical confrontation with the police is in any way a good idea, but that the young people were clear that something was wrong, they were full of energy and committed, and were prepared for a long struggle.
Young Kiwis have a just cause. They are being ignored and should be furious and agitated for the change. They are absolutely right.
I don’t know why, but something seems to have stopped them from fighting. Farmers, who are generally not known for their activism, are able to make a lot more noise.
The deadly riots that rocked the United States in 2020 were clearly linked to racial unrest, but beyond that there appear to be deep underlying cracks in the United States that may threaten to tear apart the United States. the world’s only superpower. It is a problem for all of us.
In addition to learning to stand up for your rights, becoming a young adult should offer many opportunities for you to build a good life. There is the expansion of your social network and your interests, art and culture, the chance to find out who and what you really love.
Half a century ago, music was an important glue in much of youth culture. There was a remarkable flowering of creativity. Many of the greatest artists of the popular music era peaked in the 1970s, while a new generation emerged in that decade and the next.
It would be a huge task to try to put together any list of the great musicians of the time. The talent base was huge, skill levels keep increasing, genres multiply, experimentation is respected, great music is challenged.
There was a deep richness to the culture. While many have not stood the test of time, many have, too.
Modern music is a pale imitation of what once was. That’s not to say that great music isn’t being made yet, but it’s a bit incidental, a bit interesting, but not part of a great outpouring of work.
Music’s decline from its dominant position in popular culture means less chance of shared experiences, among a generation already more physically isolated by the dynamics of social media and online games.
Additionally, over the past two years, the response to Covid has eased against social gatherings, which are likely more important to the thriving of young people than to older groups.
All in all, the social consequences of the Covid response have probably hit young people the hardest, even if they are at the least risk, and the rest of us owe them a great debt of gratitude.
I’m not sure it’s going to be paid off though. The pandemic has added new stresses to the younger generations, many of whom were already struggling to cope with the massively disruptive arrival of digital technology.
The world is going through a high-risk transitional phase that some commentators have equated with the arrival of radio and television, or before the printing press.
The 1980s ended with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the West triumphant, and great optimism about the dividends of peace.
Western leaders have completely squandered the opportunity presented to them – although New Zealand’s ruling class appears to have acted far more appropriately than most leaders of major nations.
Now there is a good argument that some sort of Cold War 2 is underway, with the tensions this time between the US and China, and who knows how that will turn out, while there are many civil unrest in the United States with polarization between sides of society.
In the early 1990s, American writers Neil Howe and the late William Strauss published their book Generations, and followed the thesis later in the decade with The fourth turning point. They claim to have identified patterns in predominantly US history, with cycles that last roughly the span of a long human lifetime. Each cycle is made up of four “turning points”, each of about twenty years, or one generation.
It’s easy to poke fun at the whole concept, but the theory is that the United States is now in a fourth turning point, or in a “crisis.” It’s hard to argue with that.
Even if the next ten years refute Howe’s theory, the odds seem high that the 2020s will be a perilous decade, one in which much can be asked of the millennials.