Radical Solutions Needed
As a 22 year old student concerned with the present state of society, I was looking forward to the Rebellious Media Conference in the hope that it would present some solutions to our current problems. Opening the conference on the 8th of October was the world renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky. The anticipation in the crowd was eerily tangible, all eyes and ears peeled, and erupting in applause when his Michael Albert (co-founder of Z Magazine and South End Press) completed his lengthy introduction and Mr. Chomsky took the stage.
He was expected to talk about radical media and its priorities - that is, any media which reports on radical politics thus serving as an alternative to the mainstream media’s coverage of war, climate change and the economy. Despite being qualified by most as a radical, this was not overtly recognisable in his speech. Calm and composed in his demeanour, Chomsky's moderate voice covered many historical points and very few current points about the media itself. It is not that the powerful militant labour movements of the 70s are insignificant to us today, but they have little to do with what radical media should seek to achieve.
Chomsky's radicalism flourished through his critique of the Boston Occupy protests, the demands of which he deemed “pretty conventional”. These were the regulation and taxation of hedge funds, investment vehicles, derivatives, passing a fair and progressive income tax, imposing a Tobin tax on financial transactions.. etc. The few radical demands made were “so remote from anything obtainable” that they had to be put aside: an end to the two party plutocracy and the corporations that own both parties, by the dismantling of the federal reserve and the central bank system.
Radicalism as a political group isn’t very well known. On the surface it seems to be a general pejorative term for those favouring or seeking political reforms which include dramatic changes to the social order. It is here that Chomsky helps distinguish radical actions from impetuous, maladroit and reasonable actions. The conventional demands listed above act as mere plasters to a much deeper wound. While being at fault for not presenting a clear remedy, the very understanding of this serves as a first basis for concerted action.
What Chomsky is appealing to is a better understanding of what should be demanded in accordance with what is realistically achievable. The complete dismantling of the banking system for example, would in practice simply lead to chaos. Rather than being outraged by corporations complete disregard for externalities and consequently calling them evil or deceitful, we should realize that this is what is to be expected in such a system that deals with transactions between agents A and B.
A feasible approach to problem solving would be to start exploring new ways of living and actually implement them in practice. "Radical media ought to be offering an opportunity and a forum for people to explore the kinds of world they want to create [..] Kuhn pointed out that we ought to be constructing the pieces of the future, the institutions of the future, even on a small scale within the present society."
Leaders of Tomorrow’s world
Michael Albert, who was the last to speak at the Rebellious Media Conference, echoed the importance of youth impetuses in today’s climate. His optimism was enticing when, addressing himself to youth, he pronounced “this may be your moment, an unbelievable opportunity to take part in something historic [and to] take action because there’s a high likelihood that in doing so you will contribute to something profound.”
Noam Chomsky certainly does not have the energetic oratory skills of his former student, but pay close attention to the content of his words and Albert’s optimism comes under scrutiny. To me, this appears to be the challenge youth face today, in that they tend to prefer style over substance.
Paula Varjack hits the nail on its head in her spoken word poem “Not even worth stealing”. It questions the teenagers of the London riots’ decision to steal sportswear, technology, cigarettes, anything under the sun, anything that is, other than a book.
Books just aren’t that cool. In fact most of the time, they’re the opposite of cool. In any case, who needs books when you have the internet? Not that I believe the London rioters spent much time researching books or articles on the internet - more likely facebooking their friends on the whereabouts of the closest footlocker.
The solution to this problem - that some youth have futile priorities and little interest in becoming the responsible citizens the world is in need of - is not to point fingers. Rather, to engender a much wider discussion in which the underlying causes can be sought out. Education, changing family and societal values, the advertising industry, the media, online social networks - all play a crucial role in how we develop, affecting our world view and hence where our focus resides. In a video game or in real life?
Radical media can play a huge role in helping create the fertile space Chomsky called for, in which ideas can circulate freely among adults and youth and ultimately lead to action. Interaction needs to be made not only on a youth-to-adult level, but more importantly on a youth-to-youth level too. Troubled, disinterested and skeptical youth are more likely to be inspired by someone closer to their age and background.
Marx’s famous aphorism “Philosophers have sought to understand the world; the point, however, is to change it.” was the object of Chomsky’s final and most poignant remark. Both understanding the world and methods of changing it are two tasks that need addressing by the radical media. Noam Chomsky raises the third, critical point that Marx didn’t mention: the question of what is it we are trying to change the world to. What is the goal?
It seems clear to me that a necessary step towards progress would be an educational system that brings the notion of responsibility to the centre, engendering a common notion of civic virtue, with creativity as a means to changing one's environment. An environment that is growing more and more complex by the day, and needs a great amount of effort to be profoundly understood. Being an educated, responsible and creative person who is conscious of his environment could become the new epitome of being hip. Now there’s a sensible goal I’d like to see us strive towards.