The youth of the world are disenchanted — disenchanted by the older generation’s politics as well as their economics, by their ideologies and their religions and by their inability to halt ecological destruction. And they are the ones who will replace the current leaders of the world.

What are the chances that they might just opt for a way of living that will differ radically from that clung to by older generation(s), including the political and economic leaders of the world, as well as the yuppies? As far as I can see, the chances are excellent for this to happen, both from my own experience as well as from what I read these days.

Personal experience first. Many of my students make no secret of their disenchantment with the way the world is governed or with the lack of foresight on the part of the leaders of the most powerful countries in the world. One of the most radical among them, who has a master’s degree in philosophy and working in Britain, is planning, together with a number of close friends, to return to South Africa and start a permaculture (“working with, instead of against, nature”) farm, to become as independent as possible from ordinary economic processes of buying, banking, consuming and so on.

It is unlikely that they will be able to opt out of the “normal” economy completely, at least in the short run, but theirs is a long-term commitment, not least to the well-being of the planet and her creatures, including what they see as the selfish, destructive human race.

These young people are growing in number, and are committed to inventing a better future — recently my young friend (and many of his British friends) joined the Occupy Wall Street movement in the UK, and spent many hours voicing their justified discontent about the economic lot of the 99% as opposed to the 1%.

But my own experience of young people’s dissatisfaction with the shape of the present world order is not the only indication that this is the case. In a recent article entitled “The Jobless Generation” (TIME, April 16), Michael Schuman elaborates on the plight of the under-25s in the world, where the percentage of unemployed in this category surpasses the overall rates of unemployment in every country he surveys, sometimes by as much as three times as many.

In Italy, for instance, unemployment among the young stands at 31.1%, compared to 9.3% overall unemployment. The figures for the rest of the developed countries don’t look much better. In Spain and Greece youth unemployment, although not quite three times as high as overall unemployment, stands at over 50%. Estimates based on the latest research indicate that, globally, as many as 75-million young people are unemployed.

And we are not talking about individuals without the necessary qualifications to fill posts requiring a certain expertise — as Schuman’s article reveals, many of these young people have master’s and doctoral degrees, and regularly send out resumés to companies and other would-be employers, without as much as a response.

South Africa is no different in this respect: most people are probably aware of the fact that the waitresses and waiters serving them at restaurants and coffee shops are better qualified than ever before and are doing this lowly-paid job because they can get no better.

I know a young manager of a pizza joint in Port Elizabeth who has a B.Juris, LL.B, but has not been able to secure a job at a law firm for at least five years. When I talk to him about it he shrugs — “It’s not much, but at least I have a job.”

Schuman also points out that what is nothing less than a crisis facing the young people of the world has been simmering for some time but catapulted to crisis proportions after the 2008 financial crisis.

Many of the people he interviewed for his article highlight the potential of these figures for political as well as more severe economic instability — for one thing, if the number of young people finding work remains low, the economic pressure to fund pensions and health care for pensioners will increase dramatically, because of fewer people funding the tax base.

For another, if this trend continues, it could escalate into violent protests and not just peaceful ones, like the one staged in Madrid recently by the disaffected, jobless youth. Schuman further reminds one that economic deprivation among the young has been a key factor sparking the protests in Arab nations since early 2011, and that it was a factor in the London riots later in the year.

He sums things up like this (TIME, p. 28):

“The longer the youth job crisis persists, the more severe the consequences will be for the global economy, in both developed and developing nations. Instead of nurturing the labour force of the future, the world is creating an underclass of millions of disaffected workers …”

What strikes me as especially relevant regarding future prospects, is the remark made by Gianni Rosas, coordinator of the International Labour Organisation in Geneva (quoted by Schuman in TIME, p. 28), that: “We are in a situation where our kids are worse off than we were 20 years ago. We are going backward.” In other words, the neo-liberal world economy, supposedly (according to its free market adherents) best capable of providing “everyone” with a decent livelihood, has failed, or is failing the youth.

And not, as many would argue, because of government interference (in fact, in the US the banks and other corporations had to be rescued by government with taxpayers’ money), but through financial sector greed and irresponsibility.

The effect that these trying circumstances have on individuals varies, of course.

In Japan, where personal honour is still highly valued, especially a man’s, unemployment is so embarrassing that young men in this position sometimes go into complete isolation, and require professional assistance to overcome the psychological resistance to re-entering society in search of a job.

Other young people are spurred into active attempts to deal with the problem, either by economically “risky” entrepreneurial efforts, which dovetail with the existing economy, or — like my ecologically-minded young friend, who is attracted to permaculture — by opting for an alternative, truly “sustainable economy” altogether.

To my mind these are the (young) people who hold the best promise for a better future for everyone — human as well as non-human — on the planet, not only because of their increasing disillusionment with the kind of economy dominating the world, but (perhaps more importantly) because of their acknowledgement that we don’t have another home.

We only have this planet called Earth, and its precious ecological resources therefore have to be rescued for future generations. And this takes ecological commitment — more than can be discerned among the so-called leaders of the world’s nations.


  • As an undergraduate student, Bert Olivier discovered Philosophy more or less by accident, but has never regretted it. Because Bert knew very little, Philosophy turned out to be right up his alley, as it were, because of Socrates's teaching, that the only thing we know with certainty, is how little we know. Armed with this 'docta ignorantia', Bert set out to teach students the value of questioning, and even found out that one could write cogently about it, which he did during the 1980s and '90s on a variety of subjects, including an opposition to apartheid. In addition to Philosophy, he has been teaching and writing on his other great loves, namely, nature, culture, the arts, architecture and literature. In the face of the many irrational actions on the part of people, and wanting to understand these, later on he branched out into Psychoanalysis and Social Theory as well, and because Philosophy cultivates in one a strong sense of justice, he has more recently been harnessing what little knowledge he has in intellectual opposition to the injustices brought about by the dominant economic system today, to wit, neoliberal capitalism. His motto is taken from Immanuel Kant's work: 'Sapere aude!' ('Dare to think for yourself!') In 2012 Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University conferred a Distinguished Professorship on him. Bert is attached to the University of the Free State as Honorary Professor of Philosophy.


Bert Olivier

As an undergraduate student, Bert Olivier discovered Philosophy more or less by accident, but has never regretted it. Because Bert knew very little, Philosophy turned out to be right up his alley, as it...

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