The recent violent protests against the Government's policy on University tuition fees and other aspects of student finance have divided opinion. For some, the sight of students protesting on the streets of the capital is a welcome sign that, at last, the younger generation have engaged with politics. For others, the protests are an indication that society is on the verge of collapse.
Of course, neither view is entirely correct. Images of criminal damage being caused, violent clashes between police and demonstrators, and (especially it seems) the attack on the car carrying Prince Charles and his wife, The Duchess of Cornwall have been beamed all over the world polarising opinion. Once again, one particular image will dominate the front pages and news bulletins whilst the more complex story goes under-reported. And many people will call for tough sentences to be handed down to the culprits when they are arrested - and such a high profile incident will almost guarantee a series of arrests. How many of those people demanding such justice will ask the question of who is and was actually responsible for the behaviour witnessed recently?
The uncomfortable answer is that we are all responsible. It is too easy to accuse others, to point the finger and apportion blame. It is satisfying to be able to claim the moral high ground and watch someone else take the wrap. The truth of the matter is that we have failed in our duty to nurture and teach our young people in such a way as to make them conscious of and responsible for their own actions. We parents, teachers, older relatives and siblings, in short society as a whole have allowed this situation to occur. If we do not act swiftly to address then we shall be reaping a bitter harvest for some time to come.
Young people today are constantly bombarded with conflicting information; the media and advertising selling them an unobtainable dream of success without effort, rights without responsibility, and the ideal figure. Instead of asking them what they want or, more importantly, what they need we simply tell them what they should have. Young people have precious few opportunities to express their feelings or concerns, and lack the ability to do so in a coherent and cogent manner. Rather we feed them a hybrid diet of hyperbole and 'newspeak'; bite-sized chunks of information sensationalised and packaged to give maximum impact with minimum content.
Instead of listening to young people we ignore them, preferring them to plug themselves into technology that isolates them from others and promotes the self above all else. We provide them with an unlimited cyberworld where anything is possible to be experienced vicariously but do not provide them with real places to go to meet and interact with one another in a safe, secure environment. We feed them images of darkness, misery and horror (without context or explanation) and make ourselves feel better by telling ourselves that it is what they want. We sexualise virtually every product and service in order to make them consume more and then criticise and condemn teenage parents.
Reality TV - an oxymoron in itself - promotes the ideals of fame and wealth without work. When someone who was unsuccessful in one TV competition can win another one and become a millionaire by eating insects, what kind of aspiration do we set up in our young people? The X Factor perpetuates the myth that whatever your level of talent you will get your fifteen minutes of fame. What it does not show is the level of dedication and practice that it takes to be successful. When we have a host of so-called 'celebrities' who are famous simply for being famous it is no wonder that our young people will play up to a camera. Acts such as those seen at the Cenotaph are as much about getting seen on TV as they are about actual protest.
This brings us back to the student protests. The core issue is the tuition fee rise that will inevitably go ahead, and the impact of them on those from low income households. Many people feel that this is a direct attack on the poorer members of society - a method of social engineering to maintain a status quo and make Higher Education the preserve of the wealthy or well-connected. People are very angry about this but they lack an adequate means of expressing it. They don't trust the political system; after all what faith can you have in a system whereby the Government do not represent the opinions of the majority and the supposed leaders of that Government lack all moral fibre and the courage of their convictions?
So we may look upon the recent protests with disgust, we may condemn those few idiots who acted in criminal and violent ways, and we may call for swift and serious retribution for those acts, but we must also take the time to ask ourselves, honestly, who is really responsible?