What Is Holding Us Back?

A young revolutionary explains.

Javier Montero

A troubling apathy grips most of my peers. The fabric of global society is straining at the seams, and no one feels inclined to even comment. The time for global revolution is now. But we are cynics at an early age. Change feels impossible.

Who can blame us for how we feel? We live in a society inimical to all but the most benign criticism. Even as our “progressive” liberal schools invite discussion about topics like US foreign wars and global inequality, the terms of the debate are limited to ridiculous particularities. We argue about the tactics of the war in Afghanistan without even judging its goals. We read whole chapters in economics textbooks justifying sweatshop labor in Vietnam, and ask only if the data collection was rigorous.

Bad grades and reproving looks teach us not to deviate from neoliberal ideology. Those of us with the moxie to shout over the vast herd of fervent believers are chided lightly in terms usually reserved for a naughty child who will soon learn the error of her ways. The institutions of educational power counter the revolutionary spirit with phrases like “distrust of authority is a phase in adolescence” or “every young person is a communist.” We live in a culture of permanent counterrevolution.

The same end achieved by a police state is much more easily and peaceably enforced by simply denigrating the radical with sneers and accusations of immaturity or intoxication. And any room for deviation is promptly hijacked by advertising and media-based mass psychology. “Environmentalism” is morphing into a lucrative business venture; my generation has been taught that global capitalism will ensure the Earth’s survival by manufacturing pretty trinkets. The Klean Kanteen and the Prius are pitched as realistic answers to the increasing fears of those of us who recognize a world on the brink of collapse.

Our culture has learned to shame the bold excursions of revolutionary behavior, while channeling any remaining positive force into an old liberal consensus. In short, radical dissent is considered “childish” and “unrealistic.”

I propose a new plan.

The style of protest adopted in 1960 will not work today because the full coercive force of our government and society has been marshaled to ridicule and dissolve it. My generation views Woodstock as the punch line to a joke about hippies. Yet the problem is not revolution itself: the world has never been more primed for radical change. The problem is that revolution is considered laughable, a non-option. This mentality silences all productive discourse about the catastrophe ahead. Fundamental change will never be a choice on the ballot. Our communists and ecologists have been tricked into thinking that representative democracy coupled with capitalism is the only option on the table. That is unacceptable.

Only by reinventing revolt as responsible adult behavior can we hope to break the chains of business-as-usual politics. As Adbusters and free thinkers, we must remove the stigma from revolution. As Westerners, let us learn from the spirit of Tahrir Square. Let us remember the power of the collective will. But change for us has to begin with a simple acknowledgment: revolution is not immature.

The truth is that revolution is a mature response to an intolerable situation. Until this truth is acknowledged, you can expect nothing but lethargy and cynicism from Western youth.

Cole Helsell, Albuquerque, NM

What do you think? Is there hope in the political left or is there nothing but lethargy and cynicism?