Has The Youth Become Politically Indifferent?

by Dr. Rex Bacarra

“Youth is wasted in the young,” one author observed.

I had been young once – had gone through the heartaches and passion, and the utter folly of individualistic and erratic subjectification of values. I saw the world as a slave subservient to my wants and had my share of disappointments when these wants were hampered, nay, even severely shredded to upsetting perfection.

Therefore, the youth of today cannot accuse me of not being able to comprehend and understand their standards and the actions that go with their brand of ideals.

So, I ask, “Has the Filipino youth become politically apathetic?”

Yes. And it is a stark contrast to the youth of the First Quarter Storm, those series of protests that led to the EDSA revolution. Undeniably, the youth played a crucial role in the ouster of a dictator. That. Was. Then.

Why did I say so?

Let me trace briefly through the research findings from some scholars about the participation of the young.

In a 2013 paper entitled, “Predictors of Political Participation in New Democracies: A Comparative Study, author Elnari Potgieter stated that, “surveys have shown (that) this group (youth) is particularly apathetic to political life. Some researchers, like Seongyi & Woo-Young, have found that there is a decrease in youth political participation, others, like Chun in 2012 and Potgieter in 2013, reported that there is a steady rise in youth’s participation in politics through social media.

That same year of 2013, a Philippine paper entitled, ICTs in political engagement among youth in the Philippines, stressed that,Political engagement among young activists in the Philippines has changed since new media technologies have gained critical mass and how information and communication technologies have contributed to the amplification of their voices in political life.

And in an abstract of a 2015 research paper entitled, “Social Media and Youth Online Political Participation: Perspectives on Cognitive Engagement”, the findings revealed-

“The role of social media in political participation cannot be overstated as sites like Facebook and Twitter have provided new avenues for political engagement. Yet, concerns for declining participation among youths has led to increased research in this area.”

Yet, in late 2016, McCann Truth Central, an online, global research unit, released their 2016 updated study entitled, “The Truth About The Youth-Philippines” about the general preoccupation of the young, stating, among others, that… 

  • 22% of Filipino youth have written a negative comment about somebody they know, higher than the Asia-Pacific average of 16%
  • 61% of Filipino youth feel pressured to portray themselves in the best way possible on social media, higher than the global average of 53%. 
  • 1 in 2 Filipino youth say that seeing their friends post on social media can make them feel inadequate

These findings are very telling. It is not just that there is a decline in political participation, but there is a shift in values and attitude. Instead of active involvement, you have youths who are disengaged from the affairs the government. Instead of being passionate guardians of the values and lessons of history, you have self-absorbed and selfie-obsessed individuals. Instead of being learned arbiters of truth, you have young ones developing inferiority complex in a world of filters.

Instead of being in the streets in the form of the collective, you have the laptops and phones in the form of absorbed individuals.

Thus, generally, the young people of today are wanting of political soul. Soul being the intellectualization and wise objectification of the principles of good governance. They are ruled by misdirected passion, by an urge to strike, by the blatant display of digital strength. Instead of operating with patient understanding, they shout in caps lock; instead of the desire to clarify, they desire, most of all, to be right; instead of the willingness to accept, they provoke. This mindless travesty is empty, devoid of substance, wanting of deliverance.

The youth of today boasts of freedom and equality, wanting them like adults wanting financial security. A former student in my Philosophy class proudly told me that she’s 25 and that she knows what she is doing. Cliché. More often, a statement of this kind reflects a level of self-absorption muddled by a certain lack. That is, the lack to justify what she is doing in a reasonable, wisened-by-experience, way. And what is it exactly that you are doing? This question is not just for my former student, but also for the youth in general.

You want freedom. But even your definition of freedom is confused and inexplicable. Arguably, it is neither the freedom of EDSA nor the freedom of the spirit. And how much freedom? Freedom is not defined as doing anything you want, in whichever way you want, and whenever you want it. Forgive my redundancy but it is necessary to highlight my point. Freedom for you becomes an excuse for your unguarded passion like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Mindless. Unthinking. Detrimental. Ruled by mindless passion, your decisions more often bring unnecessary regret. Ruled by your unthinking, your parents are subjected to indefatigable hurt. Ruled by your detrimental negativism, society becomes a breeding ground for worldly yet useless angst. What is appalling in your brand of freedom is your inability to accept the consequences. You want it but you refuse to recognize the truth that goes with it- that indeed, it has a cost. Freedom is synonymous with responsibility. Only when you are able to accept the consequences of your actions should you ask for freedom.

That self-absorption among Filipino youth, the 22% of you who love to write negative comments (6% higher than the Asia-Pacific average), is representative of that developing unthinking and cowardly attitude behind the computer screens. You cannot just strike someone because you “feel” like doing it. You cannot just shout at someone because you “feel” that you are being subjugated. You cannot just spew written words hysterically because you “feel” that you need to answer fast, because thinking first before typing means defeat in an era of data. Feeling negates reason, and when this happens, mistakes become unswerving. Right reason is not an extension of your feelings but that your feelings should be subjected to right reason.

When some of you become active politically through the social media, you have a seeming disdain of and against the system, be it political, religious, or cultural. Your easy mockery of well-founded rules and laws is almost second nature. Going against becomes the norm and not the exception. Have you ever examined yourself and asked why this display of this type of radicalism? Why the antagonism? And even as simple as following a specific instruction is felt as a burden and not as something liberating?

I admire your strength and your passion. If only we, adults, have your vibrancy and enthusiasm coupled with a viewpoint molded by experience, then we would be leaving you with a world unadulterated by greed and malice. If only your passion is redirected towards something more constructive, then I will be one with you in your journey. If only you will learn how to temper your superfluous anger, then we can talk more clearly and argue fruitfully. If only you will learn how to accept the responsibility that goes with your choices, then freedom can be truly liberating.

And if only you will learn from OUR mistakes.

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