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The youth of today, and yesterday

11 July 2007

Laaitie, in A nation of pimps, blogs about the youth of today and the youth of yesterday, the youth of yesterday being the 1976 generation, who are now urging the youth of today to imbibe the entrepreneurial spirit.

This brings all sorts of images and memories to mind, since my youth was in the day before yesterday, and I’m a superannuated wannabe beatnik. And Laaitie’s post called to mind a passage in a book about the beats (beats were the real thing, beatniks were the wannabes, the fellow travellers along for the ride, derived from sputnik, which meant “fellow-traveller”).

The New Poverty is the disaffiliate’s answer to the New Prosperity. It is important to make a living. It is even more important to make a life. Poverty. The very word is taboo in a society where success is equated with virtue and poverty is a sin. Yet it has an honourable ancestry. St. Francis of Assisi revered poverty as his bride, with holy fervor and pious rapture. The poverty of the disaffiliate is not to be confused with the poverty of indigence, intemperance, improvidence or failure. It is simply that the goods and services he has to offer are not valued at a high price in our society. As one beat generation writer said to the square who offered him an advertising job: ‘I’ll scrub your floors and carry out your slops to make a living, but I will not lie for you, pimp for you, stool for you or rat for you.’ It is not the poverty of the ill-tempered and embittered, those who wooed the bitch goddess Success with panting breath and came away rebuffed. It is an independent, voluntary poverty (Lipton 1959:150).

Lipton’s book, The holy barbarians was published nearly 50 years ago now. A few years later I was at a conference in Joburg with the theme “The church and youth”. They had a sociology professor from Wits University, speaking on the theme. He spoke of the need for the youth to adjust to the norms and values and mores of society, and how the church could help the youth in this adjustment process. It was much the same sort of thing I had heard him say in his Sociology I classes. At question time I asked him what would happen if the values of society were screwed up, and youth were trying to change them. His response was emphatic, and I almost expected him to give a Nazi salute, “Youth must adjust!”

The next speaker, John Davies, the university Anglican chaplain, began by saying, “Professor Engelbrecht has told us that youth is revolting. I am going to say that youth is not revolting enough.”

When my son graduated in Fine Arts a few years ago in what is now the Tshwane University of Technology, but was then the Pretoria Technikon (or, as they preferred to call it in educationalistic bureaucratese, “Technikon Pretoria”) he was reluctant for my wife and me to attend the ceremony. We did attend, and found out why he was reluctant — it was full of truly cringeworthy stuff. The Rector in his speech was proud of the fact that it was the very first tertiary educational institution in the world to have the word “entrepreneurship” in its mission statement, and at one point in the ceremony the lights dimmed, and all the graduands were in the spotlight as they recited together the “Entepreneurs Creed”. The cult of the bitch goddess Success was clearly the established religion of technikon Pretoria as well as corporate Johannesburg.

What has happened to the “Spirit of ’76”? Has it been replaced by the “Spirit of Entrepreneurship”?

Of course there are different ways of looking at poverty. I see many blogs with the slogan “Make poverty history”, and that refers not to the voluntary poverty that Lipton talks about, but the involuntary poverty that afflicts half the people on earth. But I’ve also noticed that the blogs that have that slogan are less likely to have tags and keywords like “marketing” and “entrepreneurship”.

In every generation, however, one finds youth who are still revolting against what they see as the false values of the society around them. There is, for example, Death to the World — the last true Rebellion, there are punx 2 monks. Maybe not exactly what Laaitie had in mind, but it’s there.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. kondaveetisatyavati permalink
    11 July 2007 10:32 am

    good article on todays youth

  2. 11 July 2007 6:56 pm

    As someone who is both a member of a younger generation- I was born in 1985- and who is something of a participant in ‘counter-culture’ in a variety of ways, I think there’s a huge tension for people my age who genuinely want to live more authentic lives, lives of greater simplicity, lives that are really ‘counter-cultural.’ On the one hand, a lot of the stuff in the popular culture I participate in encourages that sort of thing, some of it quite superficial, some of it with more depth (or possibility of of depth): Salvation Army store clothes are ‘in,’ indie music (often with strong folk/trad influences) is popular partially because it has the feeling of not being part of any corporate schemes, of being disconnected from the whole ‘entrepreneurship’ culture. We shop organic when we can, boycott Starbucks, and put up anti-war slogans. Social justice causes are ‘in,’ I know any number of kids my age who talk enthusiastically about ‘new monasticism.’ I have several friends who are considering or are entering Peace Corps or foreign missions positions after college- not money-making jobs.

    On the other hand, I- and most of my friends- are middle-class kids with our laptops and iPods and cars. We’re not giving that stuff up, and we expect to live, if not extravagently, then fairly comfortably. I may talk rapturously about the counter-culture of the saints, but at the end of the day I really like my computer, my good health insurance, and my ease of mobility. I like my middle-class, comfortable existence; I’d go do some volunteer work once a month at the mission downtown and then relax at the local coffee house where I can talk with other vaguely counter-cultural middle class kids about the cool stuff we’ve done being counter-cultural.

    I want- and I think many of my friends my age want to as well- live a genuine life, a counter-cultural life, that accords with a truly Christian vision of life- not the sold out, corporatized vision of life peddled by Christian and non-Christian alike (the Christian version differing by having Jesus pinned on to the side). But it’s a very difficult step from wanting to actualizing; it’s made more difficult by the fact that it’s hard to find the counter-cultural life of authentic Christianity lived out in community. There is no Orthodox Church in my community, for example; most of my friends will never be exposed to the Desert Fathers or the Philokalia unless I mention them. There are some ‘Emergent Church’ types around, but that movement has all sorts of problems- though in large part, I think, it’s because they haven’t been exposed in very great depth to the massive counter-cultural reserve that exists in the Christian Tradition.

    But anyway, I’ve gone on too long for a comment- hope the above stuff helps bring a little further illumination.

  3. laaitie permalink
    12 July 2007 12:32 am

    hi steve

    thanks for the blog and the link to my site. i’m just beginning and this is great affirmation. i really liked this piece and will keep checking your blog.


  4. 13 July 2007 11:50 pm

    thanks for the comment on my blog earlier last week.

    cool blog – i’ll keep checking in…

  5. 13 March 2009 3:05 pm

    hey! fellow brothers and sisters what can i do so that i can be work for any organization as agent while i persue my studies coz i real interested doing so but i don’t how can i make t posible!

  6. 10 September 2009 3:30 pm

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.


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