Sunday, September 21, 2008

The youth of today, and yesterday

The youth of today, and yesterday

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.


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