I have believed in many lies, but there is one that I have always been immune to: the one that celebrates youth as a time of rebellion, independence, and the love of freedom. I did not give much credit to this mumbo-jumbo, even when it flattered with me. On the contrary, what impressed me very deeply from the very beginning was the conduct of my generation’s companions, the spirit of herd, the fear of isolation, the subservience to the current voice, the eagerness to feel the same and accepted by the cynical and authoritarian majority, the disposition of giving up everything, to prostitute everything in exchange for a vacancy of neophyte in the group of cool fellows.
The youth, truthfully, often rebel against parents and teachers for the simple fact they know deep down they are on their side and will never repay their unrespectful behavior with full force. The fight against the parents is just a play, a deck of marked cards in which one of the contenders fight to win and the other helps him to win.
Quite different is the situation of the young person before those of his or her generation —— whose have no complacency of paternalism. Far from protecting them, this noisy and cynical mass welcomes the novices with contempt and hostility, which shows them, first of all, the need to obey in order not to succumb. It is from their generation’s comrades that they get the first experience of a confrontational power, without the mediation of the difference of age, which gives a right to discounts and mitigations. It is the survival of the fittest, the most brazen, the one who predicate himself with all his cruelty about the fragility of the outsider, imposing on him or her trials and demands, prior to admitting him or her as a member of the pack.
How many rituals, how many protocols, how many humiliations does not the postulant submit, to escape the terrifying prospect of rejection, of loneliness? In order for them not to return, impotent and humiliated, to the mom’s arms, he or she must pass an examination that requires less courage than flexibility, ability to conform to the whims of the majority — in short, the suppression of personality.
It is true that he or she submits themselves with pleasure, with a passionate craving in exchange for a condescending smile. The mass of his or her generational peers represents, after all, the world, in which the adolescent, emerging from the tiny domestic experience, asks for admission. And the ticket is expensive. The candidate must first learn a whole vocabulary of words, gestures, looks, a whole system of codes and symbols. The slightest fault is motive to ridicule, and the rule of the game is normally implicit and must be presumed beforehand, parroted prior to guessing. The method of learning is always imitation — literal, servile and unquestioned. The debut into the youth’s world fires at full speed the engine of all human ravings: the parroting desire of which René Girard speaks, where the object does not attract by its intrinsic qualities, but by being simultaneously desired by another, that Girard denominates the mediator.
No wonder the ritual of admission into the group — costing such a high psychological investment — ends up driving the youth into complete exasperation, while at the same time, preventing him or her of resentment from returning to the same group, an object of love that is neglected and for this he has the gift of transfiguring every impulse of grudge into a new investment of love. Where, then, will this grudge turn, if not to the less dangerous direction? The family emerges as the providential scapegoat of all the failures of the young man in his ritual of acceptance. If he fails to be accepted into the club, the last thing that will happen to him is to blame his situation for the fatuity and cynicism of those who reject him. In a cruel inversion, the guilt of his humiliations will not be attributed to those who refuse to accept him as a man, but to those who accept him as a child. The family, who has given everything to him, pays for the evil of the mob, who demands everything.
THIS IS THE SUMMARY OF THE FAMOUS ADOLESCENT’S REBELLION: LOVE THE STRONG WHO SCORNS YOU, AND DISREGARD THE WEAK WHO LOVES YOU.
All mutations occur in the half-light, in the indistinct zone between being and non-being: the young person, in transit between what is and what is not yet, is by fatality, unaware of himself, of his situation, of the authorship and guilts of how much is happening in and around him. His judgments are almost always the complete opposite of reality. That is the reason why the youth — since the cowardice of adults gave authority to them to command anything and everything — has always been at the forefront of all the errors and perversities of the century: Nazism, fascism, communism, pseudo-religious sects, drug use. It is always young people who are one step ahead towards the worst.
A world that trusts its future to the discernment of young people is an old and tired world, which has no future of their own.
This text is a translation of an article published on April 3, 1998, as literally translated: The imbecile juvenile by the Brazilian philosopher Olavo de Carvalho.
As still relevant to this generation.
Translated by Tiago Hirayama