Deeper news about the Brazilian protests.
I just returned from a month in Brazil arriving home just days before hundreds of thousands of young, viagra purchase middle class protestors poured out onto the streets in 80 cities and eleven state capitals. Like the Occupy movement in the US, these protests seem to have taken the world media by surprise and attempts to offer some insight about what the protestors want are all over the map. Trying to divine the causes of the discontent from the diverse banners, chants, Tweets, Facebook shares, and statements by various groups and politicians, mainstream analysis remains incoherent and reinforces the old 20th century frames for understanding public protest. As one exasperated Brazilian politician asked, click “What do these people want?”
Here’s my take. I don’t deny that many of the factors suggested in press reports have had their impact. The 20-cent bus fare hike, government corruption, high taxes, poor job prospects, government priorities, billions on new soccer stadia, putting on a show hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics instead of needed infrastructure like schools and hospitals are among them. But my experience in Brazil even before the riots erupted, leads me to another hypothesis—one that is deeper, more widespread across the world’s youth, one that has its roots in cultural changes that have been going on at least since the 1960s, and one to which leaders and commentators better start paying attention if they are not to completely lose legitimacy with their young citizens. And leaders in the US and Europe should pay attention, too.
Regardless of specific complaints what we are watching in the Brazilian and Turkish street (and probably London in 2011 and the more complex Arab Spring) represents surface waves on a civilizational sea change that is well underway around the world.
Among the educated young there is a sense of deep uneasiness that the future isn’t what it used to be. They believe prospects for a meaningful life on a sustainable planet are darkening. Institutions, norms, infrastructure, governance, knowledge and ways of life that for two carbon-fuelled centuries people in the developed world have taken for granted (and many of the world’s people still aspire to) are increasingly seen to be failing to provide the good life for any but the very rich and in fact are leading us to catastrophe. They feel “rage against the machine.” This is a generation that has been raised on what Abraham Maslow called “being values” -they want emotional fulfillment and spiritually meaningful lives in a sustainable environment.
They are immersed with images of the future on every conceivable device. Most of the kids I met n Brazil had at least two mobile phones. They monitor a global community of Facebook friends— hourly. They are well aware of the threats facing the word and are impatient to get on with their lives as the go-for it, self-creators–entrepreneurs, professionals and leaders they are urged to become. But as they reach adulthood they find little space for their aspirations or their concerns. The work available to them, if any (and for 25% are there is none) is as low paid drones in faceless corporations, failing public institutions that deliver neither adequate services nor fulfilling career opportunities and they feel oppressed by massive cultural forces that are (in their experience) making robots out of them. As one young person with a graduate degree working for a large urban hospital told me, “I am really just an algorithm in human form. I can’t make a single independent decision in a day. If they could replace me with a smart system they would. I am instructed by supervisors to check all the boxes and not to care too much, so I don’t burn out, and my smile is pasted on.” She was on the street in Brazil this week.
This uprising is a battle for the what kind of future these young people see and those I spoke too are deeply anxious. They have lost faith in their leaders—all leaders– pointing to corruption at every level, toxic pollution, global warming, extremism, rapacious corporations, global companies making giveaway deals with the government for Brazil’s new oil reserves, and so on down a litany of shameful disappointments. And they see those in authority—in government or corporations– continuing to spout the same old platitudes; denying the magnitude of the looming threats and, worse, using dictatorial power, massive surveillance, police and military violence to keep the lid on dissent and themselves in power.
I am receiving regular news from students and academics in Turkey and Brazil and though the situations are obviously different I see an important similarity. These protestors want what any young person should want. They seek a voice in their future, a space free of heavy handed control, to chart their own path to a fulfilled life on a planet that has a sustainable future. They want transformative leaders to work in partnership with them through what they already know will be a difficult passage though the multiple challenges ahead but all they see around them is what Eric Fromm called the ” dead hand of bureaucracy”. They feel suffocated by the business think controlling every aspect of their lives from kindergarten to the job market. They seek fulfillment yet find their world increasingly indifferent, cynical and devoid of life. They are not expecting solutions to come down ready made from the top but they seek leaders who understand what is at stake, don’t BS them, and who are willing to stand in solidarity with them to create a future that is worth living. Their message may seem fragmented and incoherent when viewed from the standpoints of commentators schooled in simpler and more predictable times, but when seen as a response to the deep civilization crisis underway their spirited message is one of hope. The Western industrial story is inadequate to the complex challenges this generation faces—so they are looking for the elements of a new story that can support a fulfilling way of life in the radically changed conditions of 21st century. Though they are losing faith in leadership as usual these young people still have faith in themselves and have the courage to act for a better world and they expect more of their leaders than denial, corruption, and betrayal. Though the target problems are local the themes we heard in Occupy and I heard from young people in Brazil before and during the demonstrations are civilizational. We now need transformational leaders who can hear this and who will work to help this generation create a future where they will have more fulfilling lives as citizens and more noble occupations than robotic jobs in the machine. The alternative might be very grim indeed.