Adbusters

What Is Holding Us Back?

A young revolutionary explains.

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?

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66 comments on the article “What Is Holding Us Back?”

Displaying 21 - 30 of 66

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Anonymous

As a student in politics and sociology at Queen's University, I can support you assertion that Marxism, critical theory, deep ecology, feminism and the like certainly have a strong presence in the academic world. I agree that academia is very isolated. I rarely if ever see or hear these perspectives in widely viewed media. Academics need to find a way to convey these ideas to the general public or the average person. There is such a gap in vocabulary that despite the fairly simple logic in these ideas, many or most people outside of academia would have an incredibly difficult time understanding them. We can't expect the rest of the world to adapt to us and learn our terminology, we need to take responsibility and make these ideas accessible.

Anonymous

As a student in politics and sociology at Queen's University, I can support you assertion that Marxism, critical theory, deep ecology, feminism and the like certainly have a strong presence in the academic world. I agree that academia is very isolated. I rarely if ever see or hear these perspectives in widely viewed media. Academics need to find a way to convey these ideas to the general public or the average person. There is such a gap in vocabulary that despite the fairly simple logic in these ideas, many or most people outside of academia would have an incredibly difficult time understanding them. We can't expect the rest of the world to adapt to us and learn our terminology, we need to take responsibility and make these ideas accessible.

quest4naledge

Hmm... seen some people point out how revolutionary behavior, whether it be through thinking, ideas or actions, needs to be conveyed in a way that the general public can appreciate. I find it a bit unnecessary that the masses at large (especially the middle class) would need to be involved to such an extent in order for any radical change to occur. To wait or try and somehow plan to gain the allegiance of the general public is futile as most will not understand such reasoning/ methodology until it's already too late... Radical ideas that bring truth to the forefront while also uncovering the veil put over society will never captivate strong numbers as do such safe and non-threatening issues that currently pass for what we call political discourse.

It reminds me of a quote from the movie Apocalypse Now where Marlon Brando, after finally meeting Martin Sheen's character, addresses the differences in types of people with this line:

".... If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly."

The story told before makes that line even more haunting, yet it still rings true. In other words, a mass of people who have partially or fully joined the cause without a willingness to proceed in revolutionary fashion will not be helpful outside of just having a lot of extra bodies for the state to imprison. A small group of devoted individuals is enough to kick things off.

quest4naledge

Hmm... seen some people point out how revolutionary behavior, whether it be through thinking, ideas or actions, needs to be conveyed in a way that the general public can appreciate. I find it a bit unnecessary that the masses at large (especially the middle class) would need to be involved to such an extent in order for any radical change to occur. To wait or try and somehow plan to gain the allegiance of the general public is futile as most will not understand such reasoning/ methodology until it's already too late... Radical ideas that bring truth to the forefront while also uncovering the veil put over society will never captivate strong numbers as do such safe and non-threatening issues that currently pass for what we call political discourse.

It reminds me of a quote from the movie Apocalypse Now where Marlon Brando, after finally meeting Martin Sheen's character, addresses the differences in types of people with this line:

".... If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly."

The story told before makes that line even more haunting, yet it still rings true. In other words, a mass of people who have partially or fully joined the cause without a willingness to proceed in revolutionary fashion will not be helpful outside of just having a lot of extra bodies for the state to imprison. A small group of devoted individuals is enough to kick things off.

Anonymous

Ah. A Leninist. Don't forget though that Lenin gave birth to Stalin just as Robespierre gave birth to Napoleon Bonaparte--the first fascist of the Millenium.

Anonymous

Ah. A Leninist. Don't forget though that Lenin gave birth to Stalin just as Robespierre gave birth to Napoleon Bonaparte--the first fascist of the Millenium.

helmutray

It's not enough to say we need a revolution. We need to understand the dynamics that cause people to remain apathetic, and what mobilizes them to act. The fact is, folks in the U.S. and Canada are still too comfortable. The Tahrir Square moment we're hoping for won't happen here - not yet anyway. We're well fed (i.e., fat), entertained, and think we have a say. Until we can lift the veil en masse, we will accomplish nothing more than beating our heads against the wall.

We must first create a group of thought leaders who are not seen as doomsdayers or radicals. I recognize that I'm becoming radicalized in my thinking, but that does not translate well to large groups of people. The tools are in place to open eyes and minds, so we must leverage those mediums and spread the truth. This does not come without much personal risk, as Noam Chomsky explains, those that dare to take on the establishment are marginalized and even criminalized. Just look at what happened to Mr. Assange. Classic example of the powers-that-be shutting down the truth. The most recent example is what happened to Mr. Strauss-Kahn. The elite felt threatened by his policies so they paid someone off to turn him into a criminal, thus forcing his resignation. These are realities we must prepare for if we are to set a plan in motion to lift the veil.

If we are to be successful, we must identify ourselves as something in the mainstream. Setting ourselves apart at this point would send up red flags and they'd be hard at work marginalizing or criminalizing us. A youth-driven revolution is a romantic idea, and we certainly need their involvement, but true system changing revolution starts when the middle-class refuses to spend. Disrupt the cash flow and everything comes to a grinding halt. A million soldier army can't force us to spend. That's why civil disobedience is so effective. The recent CD efforts being organized for this month and next are noble, but unless there's a strong narrative to back them up, they'll only be portrayed as radicals/communists. It'll get a little media attention, but no one will really feel enough pain to say "I think I'll join them."

We need them to understand that the pain is coming if we don't do something now. So here's what I propose. Start an organization outside of Adbusters that looks and feels very mainstream. Stay away from any radical thinking at the start. This needs to be a phased process - don't want to scare folks away. Make the purpose of the organization to simply give people access to facts. No agenda, no twisting of the truth. Target those that identify themselves as centrists. Cater to their needs and slowly inform them about what's happening. Encourage them to get together with like-minded people in their community to form their own sub-group where they can share information. These are just the first steps in mobilizing the masses. Make them feel threatened and we're done. But empower them with the truth, and give them a voice, only then we will get the revolution we so deeply need right now.

helmutray

It's not enough to say we need a revolution. We need to understand the dynamics that cause people to remain apathetic, and what mobilizes them to act. The fact is, folks in the U.S. and Canada are still too comfortable. The Tahrir Square moment we're hoping for won't happen here - not yet anyway. We're well fed (i.e., fat), entertained, and think we have a say. Until we can lift the veil en masse, we will accomplish nothing more than beating our heads against the wall.

We must first create a group of thought leaders who are not seen as doomsdayers or radicals. I recognize that I'm becoming radicalized in my thinking, but that does not translate well to large groups of people. The tools are in place to open eyes and minds, so we must leverage those mediums and spread the truth. This does not come without much personal risk, as Noam Chomsky explains, those that dare to take on the establishment are marginalized and even criminalized. Just look at what happened to Mr. Assange. Classic example of the powers-that-be shutting down the truth. The most recent example is what happened to Mr. Strauss-Kahn. The elite felt threatened by his policies so they paid someone off to turn him into a criminal, thus forcing his resignation. These are realities we must prepare for if we are to set a plan in motion to lift the veil.

If we are to be successful, we must identify ourselves as something in the mainstream. Setting ourselves apart at this point would send up red flags and they'd be hard at work marginalizing or criminalizing us. A youth-driven revolution is a romantic idea, and we certainly need their involvement, but true system changing revolution starts when the middle-class refuses to spend. Disrupt the cash flow and everything comes to a grinding halt. A million soldier army can't force us to spend. That's why civil disobedience is so effective. The recent CD efforts being organized for this month and next are noble, but unless there's a strong narrative to back them up, they'll only be portrayed as radicals/communists. It'll get a little media attention, but no one will really feel enough pain to say "I think I'll join them."

We need them to understand that the pain is coming if we don't do something now. So here's what I propose. Start an organization outside of Adbusters that looks and feels very mainstream. Stay away from any radical thinking at the start. This needs to be a phased process - don't want to scare folks away. Make the purpose of the organization to simply give people access to facts. No agenda, no twisting of the truth. Target those that identify themselves as centrists. Cater to their needs and slowly inform them about what's happening. Encourage them to get together with like-minded people in their community to form their own sub-group where they can share information. These are just the first steps in mobilizing the masses. Make them feel threatened and we're done. But empower them with the truth, and give them a voice, only then we will get the revolution we so deeply need right now.

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