Youthful Passions/Protests: Inherently Good or Bad?

Young adults/students often make the news with their protests and causes. Most recently, we’ve seen anti-war rallies and shortly before that there was anti-globalization.

Some of these protests support casues I think are good (I am currently against war in Iraq); some support causes I think are bad (I am pro-“globalization”). Some of the tactics utilized are ineffective (tying tuition reduction to the anti-war cause, spelling “NO WAR” with naked female bodies); OTOH, we saw in the 60s and as the Iron Curtain fell that mass rallies can sometimes help bring about profound changes.

I don’t really want to discuss these causes and tactics.

What I would like to discuss is the passion itself, which I admire even when I feel it is directed at a bad cause or used in an inefficient way.

Is the passion of youth admirable in itself?

Is youthful passion not something that should be valued outside of the uses made of it?

Would it be a good idea to try to channel the passion and energy into concrete activity (perhaps on an individual scale instead of in group effort)?

Is there really even such a thing as youthful passion–perhaps people of all ages have about the same level of passion but channel it in less noticeable ways, or channel it into their private lives?

Is youthful passion actually a bad thing, since it is sometimes used by the unscrupulous and charismatic to support group causes individual young people would not necessarily buy into (I’m thinking Hitler Youth)?

My take is that there is something admirable about anyone’s willingness to forget oneself and care more about a cause than about personal comfort/monetary/worldly matters. Nonetheless, I would like to figure out why I think this.

My feeling at first was one of annoyance. I said, “these kids are too young to even really know what they are protesting.” And also, that the rallies (which almost all happened simultaneously) are being organized by someone with ulterior motives, using these kid’s passion as their voice. But then I started thinking “I’m not the one that could be drafted in event of a long war. I’m past the age limit. So hell, let 'em protest.” But my guess is that most of the youth protests are because it’s “the thing to do”.

When you say that there is something admirable about anyone’s willingness to forget oneself and care more about other matters, I think is an understatment. It’s how everyone should live everyday, but I don’t think protests necessarily fall into this category.

IMHO most of the time, protests are a waste of time in actually getting anything changed…except for the :60’s. The only purpose they serve is to make oneself feel better, because you feel like you’ve done SOMETHING, rather than nothing.

I believe “youthful passion” is a good thing to the extent that it’s supported by actual knowledge. A large number of the college folk who rally behind their causes don’t know their asses from a hole in the ground. The protest globalization because… umm… the US is bad, and all poor are oppressed. They protest war because… umm… Bush is bad and the Iraqis are oppressed. They oppose Random Company because… umm… capitalism is bad, and workers are oppressed. You get the idea.

Now, if someone does their homework, forms a well-thought-out argument in support of their cause, and then displays passion, then hey - cool. Passion in that case is a good thing. But passion fueled by naive ignorance rarely helps anyone.

Actually, I take that back. Stalin was quite grateful for the “useful idiots” in the West.

ElJeffe may have a dictator’s name :wink: but he’s right.

Faces of youthful passion from the 20th century alone: A Palestinian suicide bomber beams from his video will, a picture of the Dome of the Rock behind him and a prop machine gun in his hand. A college student walks into Woolworth’s and sits in the “white” section. A Red Guard screams on a Beijing Street at an elderly, distinguished author during the Cultural Revolution. Twenty years later, a lone unnamed youth diverts a tank headed to Tiananmen Square with his jacket.

So, like so many things in life, it depends.

Any time I see young people involved in political debate or protest, I am pleased, regardless of how I feel about the situation personally. It’s good to see people who are interested and informed about what is going on in the world, rather than sunk deep in collective political apathy.

I think a good deal of this country’s problems stem from people being either uninformed, or uncaring about political issues. If one positive thing can come out of this crisis with Iraq it can be that it galvanized people into being interested in what’s going on in the world around them.

Nothing negative can ever come from debate, in my opinion. If anything, it can make people study the situation in order to be able to argue why “the other side” is wrong.

Hmm, interesting. This could also refer to a number of members of this board, and ironically, some posting in this thread.

Inherently good.

Older people are more innured to whatever the fuck constitutes the status quo. Young people are more inclined to be idealistic and turn the world into what it should be.

Some times they are wrong. More often than not, they are overly simplistic in their appoach to things. Compared to the counter-fact that they are usually blocked from doing anything much about their idealistic assessment of the world’s moldy old shit – including being heard out and acknowledged by their elders – the risk is not that they’ll change too much or change it in the wrong ways, but that they won’t change enough.

The more I think about it, the more I think its probably a bad thing.

Sure, the American Revolution and the Civil Rights movements were good, but then there’s the Nazis, the Russian Revolution, 9-11, the Skinhead movements, the aftermath of French Revolution, Oklahoma City, Kamkazis, and the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.

How it turns out really depends on the quality of the leadership, and even the most altuistic leaders can lose control of their followers, who it seems can easily forget their principles in the moment.

I don’t think I could agree to inherently good or bad. Inherently under-informed, though, is a concept I can get behind. While there may well be protesters who have thought out what it is they’re protesting, they’re not common. Most protesters seem to have stopped the thinking process at " ___ is bad" without thinking of the consequences or thinking of ways to change the situation.

Take the protests at my school in the late 90s. There were rallies because the university admitted “too few” minorities. That sounds like a bad thing, right? There were fairly few on campus, and we weren’t “benefiting from exposure to other cultures.” (now there’s an unselfish cause!) However, this is a state university, and over 75% of the student body are state residents. And less than 10% of people in the state are not white. And the school was not rejecting anyone based on race, there were just few minority applicants… They never did offer a single suggestion as to how to correct the balance, but merely stuck by the position that it was bad that we didn’t have more minority students attending the school. They wouldn’t even explain why they thought that it would be a good thing to encourage a minority student from out of state to pay over $20,000 a year so they could broaden our cultural awareness. :rolleyes:

Mehitabel: very nice list.

I’m kinda surprised no one has disagreed with this premise (which is also my own) that there really is more passion in the young. Or, at least, passion that gets reflected in overt action, which may be the only kind of passion deserving of the name?

The lot of many, maybe most, people is to live without “changing the outside world.” As per AHunter, political, social, economic and other macro-type changes are very very difficult to effectuate. Even the best and the brightest, most socially and politically acute college student cannot realistically hope to change the world without help. On the other hand, one thing we are each responsible for is our own lives (contra the whole world); it may not be a bad thing that our college student eventually directs his or her energy to this new goal, but it does mean he or she has turned inward. At least when there is a protest it is for a cause; if a young person turns inward with no idea that he or she should live “for” something, then I don’t think the change is good (this is why I come down on the side of youthful passion being an inherent good–it says that “causes” outisde of a comfortable existence are good). What the content of the cause (whether public or private) should be is of course open to debate (art, altruism, family, God, craftsmanship, rule of law, etc.).

From a moral perspective, I would forgive someone who chooses a bad public cause for a while through ignorance, though this is not the case if the cause is chosen in willful blindness; in the long term (which is the life after college part), I don’t think ignorance is an excuse. After the first blush of passion, there is a responsibility to make sure the cause is the best that can be chosen, given the ability of the chooser to figure this out.

I see two alternatives facing not only young people but everyone.

  1. Accept the status quo.
  2. Challenge it.

People can reject option 1 quite easily, all it takes is seeing starving third-world children on TV or your dad’s job going to Mexico or your family fleeing military occopation.

I am disturbed by the notion that young people, or anyone, should be discouraged from saying ‘Hey, I don’t think that’s right!’ in response to any of these things, just because they don’t have all the information or a carefully-thought-out alternative. I think a lot of protest comes from the sense that some things in the world are just very, very ‘wrong.’

Are you obliged to silently accept “the way things are” until you can figure out a better way to do it? Very intelligent people (eg Jesus, Gandhi) have failed to solve it so how can you expect the local students to?

Sure it’s naive to think you can change the world, but sometimes that’s not the point. As citizens in a democracy it’s our right and our responsibility to not only have opinions on what’s going on, but to try to see that they’re heard.

I don’t see it as inherently good or bad, either.

I see it as the way society — or, more accurately, the human as a social animal — is wired. I perceive a bell curve of conservatism/radicalism, with people on the far edge of one end wishing we’d toss out our cell phones and live in huts under a tribal monarch, and people on the far edge of the other end willing to dump governments entirely in favor of a borderless technological anarchy. The majority of us, of course, are lumped into the middle, seeing the pros and cons of both extremes; the pendulum of power swings back and forth through the center.

As I see it, this is healthy for civilization. If a culture is too conservative, it doesn’t expand and grow, it stagnates, it is unable to cope with changing circumstances, and so on. Look, for example, at China (interesting article). Eventually, either the pendulum swings back the other direction (as is happening now in China, slowly and painfully), or the culture shrivels and dies.

On the other hand, if a culture is too radical, it will abandon the tried-and-true too quickly, it won’t establish means of defining worthwhile systems or social structures, and it’ll fly apart from centripetal force. I don’t have a historical example at my fingertips, but I’m sure somebody can offer one.

The healthy civilization, I think, balances these two impulses: It doesn’t try something new unless it’s been proven, but once that happens, it’s willing to quickly embrace the innovation. Given that, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two extremes tend to be represented by the older and younger segments of the population, respectively. People who have been around for a while can see what works in the culture, and generally have an emotional attachment to defending what they find familiar — the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mindset. On the other hand, people who haven’t been around that long don’t really have any attachment to anything in particular, and are more willing to change things they see need to be changed.

And of course, when the conservative set blocks the implementation of good and necessary changes (i.e., the civil rights struggles of the 1960s), the human tendency toward generalization causes all the beliefs of that conservative set to get lumped together, and therefore youthful radicals come to think that anything and everything the conservatives hold dear is fair game. Hence, the flirtations with communism and other alternative economic structures with the radicals of the same era, even though anyone with half a brain can see that a free market, with a small amount of regulation to focus social energy, is the best way to harness the energy of a nation.

So it’s neither good nor bad, in my opinion. It’s just the way things are.

Can’t really relate. As a member of ‘Generation X’ we don’t experience passion…only a general even-tempered apathy.

Actually, I think the exact opposite. The world would probably be a much better place if people didn’t blindly subscribe to their own particular ideology.

People need to believe in causes. Most of us like to believe that we are part of something greater than us. Problem is that there are also people who use this desire for their own selfish purposes.

My take is that someone who believes so strongly in a cause that they are unwilling or unable to listen to reason has something wrong with them.

The problem stems from the fact that not every problem has a viable solution, and most of the problems that do have solutions don’t have nice, tidy ones. Quite often, the government may be doing the best it can to solve a problem - perhaps even the best that can be done. If the doe-eyed student doesn’t bother informing himself on the matter before he protests it, he may wind up protesting government actions that are actually beneficial.

To take an overly simplistic example, let’s look at poverty. Poverty is a fact of life. It is impossible, as a matter of practicality, to completely eradicate poverty from the world. Of course, the problem can be mediated somewhat, but never eliminated. So if the passionate youth goes out and educates himself and determines that Policy X is doing more harm than good, and he protests it, that’s great. But if he doesn’t bother educating himself, and he assumes that because there are still poor people, then whatever the government is doing is wrong, that’s not a good thing. At best, he’ll be wasting his time. At worst, he may help bring about the demise of beneficial programs and policies because of political pressure that stems from his mindless protest-march yodeling.

I go to a fairly liberal college, and recently there have been all sorts of rallies and events. I only went to one, a poetry reading, but that’s because I wanted to hear the poetry. I refuse to get involved in anything related to the potential war. I’m not interested, and I want to stay out of trouble. I think it would be great if everyone shook hands and made up and everything was hunky-dory and peaceful, but it’s not going to happen. Humans are going to be stupid and fight each other because that’s what humans do.

I think it’s good to be passionate about something. Life is boring without some sort of passion. I think young people can be very insightful and see things that older people miss, but they lack the experience to really put their passions to good use. Plus, many older people think that younger generations are stupid and naive, and they don’t listen. Likewise, many young people don’t listen to older people. I think people of all generations can learn a lot from each other if they stop and listen and consider other people’s opinions.

Channeling passion is also a big thing. When people let their passions run wild (that sounded really sexual…), chaos often results. I channel a lot of my energy into writing and art, and it works for me. If I’m upset about the atrocities of the world, I write about it, and I feel better. I avoid rallies and such because things often get out of hand, and people lose control of themselves because they don’t channel their passions. A lot of people don’t even know what they’re talking about. They don’t do research before jumping into things, and they’re quick to condemn what they think is wrong. If you don’t have the facts, how can you effectively protest something? If something is wrong, prove it with concrete evidence. Otherwise, your argument is weak. People won’t take you seriously if you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Well, there are some of my opinions. I’m not your typical almost-20-year-old, and that’s the way I like it.

I think there are a lot of variables from person to person, but it is usually good if you speak your mind when you’re young.

It’s best if before doing so, you:

  1. Get as much good information as possible;

  2. Don’t end up committed to some extreme position before step 1), and *refuse to budge one inch – dammit, dammit, dammit!! *

Jane Fonda comes to mind (“Why, oh why, did I get in that %$^# cockpit?!”). David Duke too.

A little bit of youthful rebellion is probably natural – it lets you establish yourself as your own person.

And failing to do this may make some people feel more straightjacketed, more committed to their position, and less rational. (More on that phenomenon in my post in this thread).

Growing older and gaining experience in how the world really works often means that we have to abandon our idealism. Youths often feel on-fire to change the world and make it a better place, and can see protest as a realistic way to achieve that goal. As one gets older and a bit more cynical, it becomes sadly apparent that your prostestations hasn’t made much of a dent in the way things are.

I still think that youthful idealism and passion are good things, if they only make people aware of what’s happening in the world around them. College can be a real eye-opener for a lot of people who never saw the workings of the world beyond the limited scope of what directly affects their daily life. This shock can give some a sense of outrage, and a desire to make others take off their blinders and truly * see * the world.

However, after graduation day, things change. It’s on to the career, the mortgage and the two-point-three children. Instead of working to change the world, you now must become part of it. From this point on, do you smile at protesters, reminiscing about your days as one of them, or do you scoff cynically at their idealism, knowing that in a few years, these passionate rebels will be wearing a suit and driving a mini-van?

Are you saying that all causes are ultimately illusions and that we should all just live for our selves, our own pleasure (virtue in selfishness:)), or that some causes are okay if they are not embraced “blindly”? Is it okay if a less intelligent and well-informed person does his best to avoid blindness, but still embraces a dubious cause?

ElJeffe: when I see a young person passionate about a problem, like poverty, that is to some extent insoluble (and even to the extent that it can be addressed is arguably not best addressed by legislation), I have a very strong urge to suggest that he or she channel the passion into individual direct action–volunteer work. I know this would be a bigger help than another rally; OTOH, I know this is arrrogant for people who have to find their own way–it is very difficult for the old to share their knowledge in this area with the young without killing the passion which I think is valuable. (If in my arrogance I think I know a better way, why should they listen to me instead of to someone else who also thinks he knows a better way–I can only appeal to their reason or give them my example.)

While I don’t think it is wrong for older people to try to help young people channel their passions to their most effective uses, I think this often fails because, as Lissa says, we old often scoff cynically at the passion instead of trying to remember and understand it. I can’t teach what I think I’ve learned without respecting the passion and the people who have it. Nothing will encourage the cynicism of the next generation when they grow older more than to remember having been called naive, uninformed and stupid by those who went before.

College is a fantasy world where students can rise up in righteous indignation safe from the the problems of the real world.

Passion and idealism are easy when the only person you are responsible for is yourself. It gets a little harder when you are responsible for a family, a group of coworkers or even an entire country. Suddenly the world is no longer black and white.

No there’s nothing wrong with causes in and of themelves. People should have ideals and try to live up to them. But people should also be willing to take a hard look at those ideals and be able to put them to the test from time to time.

Just because 400,000 people embrace an idea doesn’t necessarily make it a good one.