Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Antiestablishmentarianism: Why teenagers and Politics are a Bad Mix

Written by Debbie

Noun1.antiestablishmentarianism - the doctrine of opposition to the social and political establishment - The Free Dictionary

Riot Control - Steve Crane
A group of teenagers of my acquaintance have become antiestablishmentarians. Everything they say is about how school is a brainwashing institution purely designed to force you to conform and suck up all the lies the government feeds you. Or about how the government is a corrupt system filled with dodgy deals and deliberate misinformation for the gullible masses.

Now the thing I’ve noticed with teenagers is that they are trying hard to find a way to define and individualise themselves from their parents and families. Music seems to be the main way that they choose to do this. They like this style of music, which means that they can’t like that style as it’s totally different (even if secretly they do), and the fashion associated with their chosen style becomes important.

At the moment, with this group it’s all System of a Down, Green Day and Rage Against the Machine. I like these three bands, really I do, but I seem to get a different message from the music than what they do. For the teenager closest to me, the message is to rise up and reject all forms of authority, as all authority is about control and lies. I hear that I should question it all, and think for myself, not to blindly accept the propaganda (from anyone).

Unfortunately, these teenagers don’t seem to realise that they’re trading in one authority for another. In the Rage Against the Machine song Killing in the Name of, Tom sings “Now you do what they told ya,'” and further on “now you’re under control,” is added to it. These teenagers don’t see that they’re still doing what they’re told, but instead of being told by the Omnipotent Authority/Evil Overlord “They”, they’re being told by the dulcet tones of Serj Tankian, Tom Morello and Billie Joe Armstrong.

These teenagers don’t seem to be differentiating between countries. One thing all of these bands have in common is that they’re American, it’s the American system and Government that they protest against. Whether most of their political agenda is justified or not, I don’t know. I’ve never cared enough to look too deeply into their systems, although the movie Wag the Dog certainly made me wonder about a few things. We don’t live in America, we live in a lovely little country in the South Pacific called New Zealand. Our system of government is totally different, and in the last 20 years, we’ve gained a great deal of transparency in that government.

In a recent discussion with one of these teenagers, she mentioned that any ‘system’ is bad. I can sympathise with this, in my teen years, it was 70s punk for me (by the way, I mean real punk, angry political music yelled down the microphone by tone deaf lunatics, not a cute pop princess bouncing around singing about how she doesn’t like your girlfriend). I remember the thrill of anarchy as a concept, while at the same time being secretly slightly afraid of it, until I reached an age and a detachment where I could think about it all logically. I don’t believe true anarchy can exist for any length of time, not even as an ideal. Order will always come out of chaos. The order might be the strong dominate the weak, and any opposition is destroyed. She said “Isn’t that what we have now?” It made me think “is it?”

No, I don’t believe it is. We have over the past 10 years become a Nanny State. Our kids are not allowed to take risks and we are so wrapped in cotton wool that it’s very difficult to hurt yourself. The weak (and the stupid) are so protected that to try to dominate them is either an exercise in mind game manipulation (which sadly does happen) or a recipe for prison time.

Globally however, that might be a different story. I’ve heard American Military friends laughingly describe themselves as ‘the World’s Cops’, and the United Nations seems to be a colossal joke. The strong do dominate the weak in this sense.

I asked my favourite teen if she would be able to have an intelligent debate with me regarding her politics, if she was open to a discussion about it, or if she had her mind made up and that was the end of that. She wasn’t sure - on some level, I think she’s clinging to these new ideals and is afraid of anything that might shake them.

We discussed the school issue. She is very smart, but lately, her political views have created a rejection of the institution that is education. She told me that school was created to keep people off the streets. I asked where she’d heard that - could she back that up with anything? No.

I explained that education for the masses was a hard-fought for and hard won right, that it had only been the case for maybe a few hundred years. I told her that not so long ago, education was purely for the Priesthood of the Christian Church and some of the nobility, and that quite a revolution had happened when the common people started to learn to read. This was a breakdown of the class system, and gave the lower classes a bit of power.

She relented a little on that score, but said that current education only gives the student one narrow view, and that ideals are taught (brainwashed) into children with the knowledge they learn. I asked for an example. Religious education came up. “Why is it only Christian education? Where is the Hindu, or the Islam, or the Paganism?” I can’t help feeling impressed by that somewhat, because these were the exact questions I asked the school when enrolling my children. The answer is - it comes down to which faiths are willing to share their religion with Primary School children. Most schools would gladly welcome someone from any faith to share a little about religion (without preaching because that’s illegal) with the kids. Most won’t, don’t know about that opportunity or just aren’t interested in it.

Serj Tankian - PanARMENIAN
Anyone who doesn’t take part in these classes is ostracised she tells me. I question her on this a little. She tells me that the children who were not in the class seemed to be singled out by teachers, and picked on by other kids as a direct result. I read not so long ago about what is and isn’t acceptable for this kind of thing on the Human Rights Commission’s website. I remember feeling jealous of the one girl who got to sit out our Religious Education classes way back when I was in Primary School, I don’t remember seeing her picked on or stigmatised in any way, shape or form. But perhaps this was purely my perception of it, and this is a different city, perhaps this has changed somewhat.

Meanwhile, her stance on education sees a formerly very capable student rebelling against her teachers, acting out against school rules that she views as being purely about conformity and nothing to do with learning (like uniform rulings), and refusing to do homework or even some schoolwork. Her friends are all older, they are high school drop outs living on benefits and it scares me that she has a romantic idea that this is somehow a better life.

I’ve tried to convince her that Serj Tankian, who she refers to as her God, would respect a decent education, and that the only real way to change a system is from within. That got a spark of interest, and some of her friends have told her that she should be in government. I agree, and suggested that she look at studying Political Science or even Philosophy.

I’m told by those in the know that this is a normal phase that most teenagers go through. In this case however, the teen involved doesn’t do anything by halves. She gets a new passion and she jumps in boots and all, there are no half measures. I’m hoping that she’ll come out of it the other side without too many regrets, and I really hope that she is open to discussion about these concepts.

I’m not an expert on any of this. I’m a mother with two teenagers and one teenager-in-training. I once was a teenager myself, and still remember most of it. I have friends with teenaged children, and I have supervised teens in a workplace environment, although fortunately only one at a time.

My favourite teen mentioned above might be my daughter, or she might be yours. How would you deal with it?

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