Thursday, June 01, 2006

In defense of the "apathetic middle-class youth"

(Retitled "A vision of Utopia" and published in Youngblood of the Philippine Daily Inquirer last Saturday, May 27, 2006.)

THERE’S a group of social critics, many of them veterans of failed administrations or former youth activists in their own right, who have taken to task the present generation of middle-class youth for their shortcomings. They take our seemingly nonexistent reaction to the political turmoil as a sign of a generational disease variously called ignorance, apathy and indifference.
I am a young man myself, I come from a middle-class family and I’m tired of the criticism being directed at me and my peers.

Don’t be misled by our seemingly nonexistent anger in the face of the country’s problems. To believe that we are blind to our country’s situation is frankly insulting. We know, we’re disgusted and we’re turned off. And this is the reason for our “nonexistent” reaction.

Are we not a passionately nationalistic generation? they ask. Well, in defense of my peers, many of us were among the middle-class youth who were in Edsa People Power II. Whether we like it or not, this was our generation’s People Power. Excuse us for not taking to the streets again this time, especially when we see the ridiculous redundancy of this practice of holding mass actions, which have produced so little change. Pessimistic we may be, but this definitely cannot be described as apathy. In fact, I regard this as a sign of maturity.

We’re sick and tired of investing our energies in fighting a system that has never translated criticism into change. Naturally, we drift back to our own interests. If this is a fault, it’s a fault we share with others who are no longer young and who do not belong to the middle class. For every underprivileged Filipino who takes to the streets to fight for change, there are many more self-absorbed Filipinos who happen to be unproductive employees, vice-addicted spouses, abusive parents and undisciplined citizens.

At least the “lack of involvement” of the young middle class that I interact with can be rationalized as a proper way to channel our energies. Some of my college friends are prone to saying, “We have no time to rally.” But behind such seeming indifference is a genuine concern to strive to meet our obligations. Many of us simply want to fulfill our primary duty as young citizens, which is to be good students. And by doing so, we seek to seize the opportunity most young men and women of our generation do not have.

Taking this course puts us in a better position to help the country in the long run. Business majors go on to create their own enterprises that help our economy while creating more and better job opportunities for our countrymen. Science majors continue to make possible progress in their field that improves the quality of life. Liberal Arts majors (myself included) continue to study and promote the humanities, which help enrich our arts and our culture. (Consider the youth’s contributions to the resurgence of OPM and Philippine cinema, for example.)

Sure, we keep to our own world and often just pursue our personal inclinations. But by giving the system a cold shoulder, I think we are helping build a self-sustaining citizenry. And that is true People Power.

The outrage toward and protest against an oppressive system by the youth of the 1970s and 1980s are very well known. Their actions and the consequences they had to suffer made them heroes. But if the ways they tried to solve national problems were the most appropriate and the best, why does our own generation have to deal with the same problems of the same formidable magnitude, with only the principal characters changing?

The germ of the conflict is not only alive, it continues to flourish. Even as time changed, one constant has remained to block the process of healing: our reluctance to change our own ways. Our own generation (or at least the young men and women I interact with) sees this, and we’ve subconsciously decided to attack the problem in another way.

When we point an accusing finger at corrupt government officials, we want to be sure that we ourselves aren’t corrupt citizens. We, the middle-class youth, are trying to right the wrongs of a tainted culture by doing our own thing, making sure we can handle that reality before we start blaming other people, like those in government.

Is this extreme? Perhaps. Is a self-interested culture good? Maybe not. But with the proper guidance that our predecessors are supposed to give us (as opposed to criticism), this radical approach might work. Maybe we can become citizens working primarily for the betterment of self and family at no expense to the quality of life of our fellow Filipinos. That’s an ideal worth striving for.

This is where many of us “young, apathetic, middle-class Filipinos” stand. Times are different, so we’re doing things in a different way. We’re trying to create an ideal world where government’s power over us is minimal. I think many of us, regardless of age and social status, would love to create and live in such a Utopia.


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