A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Down with the kids?

The term "feral youth" has only recently found its way into everyday language. Feral, meaning wild and brutal, is often associated with the gangs of youth who congregate on street corners, intimidating local people and engaging in petty crime and sometimes worse. This view of young people sits alongside the comments that invariably surface whenever examination results are announced, with the now familiar allegation of "easier" pass standards being set and a general lowering of exam difficulty. So on the one hand, working-class youth are under attack for being "feral" with a couldn't-care-less attitude, yet on the other hand when they work hard and pass the examinations set before them, they are criticised because the exams are deemed not difficult enough. Moreover, at the same time as it is highlighted that unsociable youth are making our streets and city centres unsafe, it is rarely mentioned that the main victims of violence are young people themselves. However, even though "feral" youth have become a growing concern, no section of the mainstream media has attempted a serious analysis of the origins of this development because to do so would mean exposing the decay of the system that produced it.

Media soundbites such as "blame the parents," "binge-drinking" and "lack of respect," serve to conceal the more profound reasons for the growth of the "feral" youth phenomenon. During the 1970s and '80s, major industrial conflict was provoked by capitalism's search for increased profits and its decision to promote the rise of the financial sector at the expense of manufacturing, with the result that entire industries moved abroad in search of the cheapest form of labour. The social cohesion of communities, once held together by the secure employment of the mines and factories, was shattered by the destruction of Britain's manufacturing industry; once vibrant communities with clubs and social facilities, often built around that town's industry, became desolate wastelands, lacking a sense of identity and falling foul of the "beggar thy neighbour" and individualistic philosophies brought in by the Thatcher government. The industrial battles that took place during that time, although on the surface defensive actions by the trade unions to safeguard jobs, actually represented much more than that. It became a question of what type of society you wanted to live in. Do you want to live in a community where people help and assist each other, or do you want to live in a society where private profit is all that matters - a society where everyone is out for themselves and survival of the fittest is the guiding mantra? These were the unstated but underlying questions of that period.

It is also worth noting that over the last three decades, universal youth services, youth clubs and activities have collapsed. What recreational facilities remain are largely in the hands of the private sector and are expensive. Moreover, between 1979 and 1997, the Tories sold off 10,000 school and community playing fields and, since Labour came to power, it has approved the sale of over 200 more. The type of society we live in today, with its insecure or temporary employment, its susceptibility to the crisis in the financial sector, its crumbling and underfunded health service, its pension and energy crises, its crime and violence, its drug abuse problems and the rise of the "feral youth," stems from the class battles of the '70s and '80s. With the destruction of domestic manufacturing and the rise of globalised production, the needs of capital changed. It no longer needed to educate to a relatively high degree the same number of young people that it once did, and it certainly had no need to give even a standard education to the remainder, due to the outsourcing of labour to much cheaper foreign markets. Therefore, as capitalism is a system driven by the profit motive, it would be folly for it to spend money on educating youth that it had no need for. Consequently, the pool of youth leaving education today is, more than any post-war generation, facing a future that holds no hope, only frustration. The best they can hope for is employment in the mainly poorly paid and poorly regulated service industry.

It is this layer of youth that are now targeted as "feral" by the authorities and classed as anti-social elements, subjected to ASBOs and other control orders. However, they are the product of the capitalist system itself, yet capitalism wishes to wash its hands of any social responsibility and instead looks for "genetic determinism" to persuade us that "they were born like that" and try to convince us that society has played no role in producing such "wild, rude and aggressive youths." Although people are responsible for their actions, that responsibility is shaped and conditioned historically, and in a society based on the accumulation of capital, the results are inevitably the promotion of selfishness not co-operation and estrangement not social cohesion.

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