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Sunday, Nov 23, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Why don’t young people fight back?

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One of the more unsettling stories that passed my way last week was an article by Bruce E. Levine in the online magazine “AlterNet.” Levine is a clinical psychologist in Cincinnati who writes frequently about culture in America. I don’t buy all of his observations, but he writes with authority and a keen eye for what’s going on.

This one has the catchy title “8 Reasons Young Americans Don’t Fight Back: How the U.S. Crushed Youth Resistance.”

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If you are a child of the ’60s — a decade of which it is said if you remember it then you weren’t really there — you might have a fuzzy recollection of students protesting just about everything. There was the war, of course, but there was also civil rights, the environment and the food in the cafeteria. It seemed as if we were always involved in something.

Today the world is easily as battered as ever, still as corrupt and the food in the cafeteria not much better. So where are the protesters? Where are the strident voices demanding a better anything?

In his article, Levine throws out eight reasons why he thinks the voices of young Americans have been silenced. I’ll throw out just a few (the ones I like).

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One that we’ve experienced in our own family is student loan debt. He notes that today two-thirds of graduating seniors at four-year colleges have student-loan debt. He claims the average debt is about $25,000 but more and more students are leaving with debts closer to $100,000.

With astronomical debts, Levine suggests students are less likely to buck any authority for fear of losing jobs.

Levine also sees a relationship in what he calls “the normalization of surveillance.” He notes the increased surveillance in many forms of the American public and writes: “Young Americans have become increasingly acquiescent to corporatocracy surveillance because, beginning at a young age, surveillance becomes routine in their lives.”

You aren’t surprised one of the numbers on his list is all about television.

He uses a Nielsen survey from 2009 that said the average American child watched a combination of TV, Internet, cellphones and other technologies an average of eight hours a day (remember this was back in 2009 when phones were still fairly dumb).

“TV isolates people,” he writes, “so they are not joining together to create resistance to authorities, and, regardless of the programming, TV viewers brainwaves slow down, transforming them closer to a hypnotic state that makes it difficult to think critically.”

Three of his eight points have to do with education, such as his belief that programs such as “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top,” are tools that corporatocracy (his word but I like it) has figured out how to make authoritarian schools even more authoritarian. “These policies are essentially standardized-testing tyranny that create fear, which is antithetical to education for a democratic society. Fear forces students and teachers to constantly focus on the demands of test creators; it crushes curiosity, critical thinking, questioning authority and challenging and resisting illegitimate authority.”

There’s more and I have to admit I don’t swallow it all, but Levine is on target when he looks at the forces and situations our young people are placed into while expected to learn to think for themselves. You can find this article on the Internet. I recommend it.

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