Time to listen to the wisdom of youth

In the world of the conservative culture warriors at The Australian and other esteemed institutions of Australia’s ruling elite, there is a sharp generational divide between those who deserve the title of “adults”, and the rest of us – little children who really just need a good smack.

Since the budget was announced, we’ve been treated to variations on a theme most clearly articulated by Amanda Vanstone in the aftermath of the 2013 election: “At last some adults are running the show.” Most recently it was Joe Hockey who joined the chorus – writing in an opinion piece that business expects “adult solutions from the parliament”.

For the editors of The Australian, and other conservative commentators, it must be a frustrating world – one where the adults make up only a tiny fraction of the population, while the rest of society is like a toddler’s birthday party that laid it on a bit thick with the cordial and cake.

This generationalism, as it has been called, is far from confined to the conservative fringe dwellers. In fact, as is evident in the response to the recent spate of student protests, it’s a sentiment shared, more or less explicitly, by many of those who may otherwise regard themselves as progressive.

For commentators like Annabel Crabb, it’s less a question of an entire world view than of the particular strategies adopted by protesters. According to this view, students’ insistence on demonstrating their opposition to the Liberals’ plan for higher education in a loud, angry and sometimes confrontational manner reflects a childlike inability to grasp the political realities of modern society.

If only they’d stop with all that “Soviet era” marching in the streets ballyhoo and just focus on clever online marketing strategies, opinion pieces in mass circulation newspapers and cooking shows with politicians.

The message to all those youthful protesters, whether in the more frothing-at-the-mouth tone of the conservatives, or the agony-aunt style advice from self-appointed “wiser heads” on the left, is this: sit down and shut up.

Unfortunately for them, the state of society today doesn’t really provide a good basis for arguing that the so-called adults should be left to get on with the job.

Wherever you look, there are signs of crisis. The brutal cuts to health, welfare and education in the budget are just a small part of a much bigger picture. Growing inequality, environmental destruction, locking children up indefinitely in a gulag archipelago, spending on fighter jets, police and prisons at the cost of health and education – this is the world that the elders and betters want to force on youth – and everyone else.

And they have the gall to lecture them, to tut-tut at their passion and anger and to throw a wet towel over their hope for something better than the ugly reality being built by those at the top.

Until they show some signs of waking up to the realities, we’d do better to stick with the wisdom of youth.