Source: 36INFO - Photo: 2024

Political Anger Pushing Youth Disillusionment with Democracy

Analysis by Kalinga Seneviratne

SYDNEY | 1 March 2023. (IDN) — A series of elections around the globe this year may change the political landscape. But is democracy making a better world—and if youth and other marginalized groups are still angry, who is to blame?

Wealth inequality, the cost of living, lack of secure jobs and a shortage of affordable housing are just some of the factors creating a sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo. If elections cannot bring change, the problem may lie in the way democracy functions.

A few years ago, a Nigerian journalist told me “Every five years we go to the polls to elect another set of thieves to come and rob us”. Perhaps, this could describe the “democracies” of most countries, including those in the West.

Voter dissolution with their democracies—or a lack of it—has “created fertile ground for the ideas of populist, authoritarian and xenophobic movements supercharged by toxic social media environments”, noted Ilaria Walker, Melbourne Monash University’s ‘360info’ Asia Pacific Editor in presenting a series of scholarly articles on the serious problem of “anger” facing the global community.

“Dire economic prospects are opening the door for an angry world of emotional manipulation that is targeting young men”, argues Dr Josh Roose, a political sociologist at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Melbourne’s Deakin University.

Referring to Australian mass murderer Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March 2019, he noted that the sentencing judge said he had no mental disorder and described him as “having held unusually racist beliefs since his teens, that have developed and intensified through his adult life, to commit a crime for which he was sentenced for life imprisonment without parole.

“Tarrant’s warped view of a society that he will no longer participate in is illustrative of many extremist views held by young men across Australia and the globe”, notes Roose. “These lonely, disconnected men with the chance to exert horrific violence on communities they see as enemies have been one of the stories of this generation.”

The loss of masculine power in modern society

He attributes this to the loss of masculine power in a modern society that they are no more the breadwinner and the head of the family, and women are achieving equality both in the workplace and at home.  Thus, the traditional support mechanisms for men including trade unions, offering solidarity bonds, and church, offering a sense of community, that championed the male breadwinner model have become increasingly marginalised.

“Many men have consequently turned online to find community and fill this vacuum and to air their grievances. Populists and violent extremists mobilise anger against a perceived societal-level attack on men and personal experiences of emasculation. They offer upward social trajectories, be they economic, political, or spiritual and a sense of empowerment in the face of shame, humiliation and despair”, says Roose, based on his recent research findings.

Dr Sebastian Svegaard, a digital media researcher at the Queensland University of Technology, agrees that peoples’ world view today is “less about what we think and more about what we feel”.

“There has been much theorising that so-called ‘filter bubbles’ were the cause of our polarisation. The theory went that the algorithms running our media feeds were serving us only content we agreed with”, he notes. But he says that this is wrong. “Some now believe that it is our constant exposure to things we fundamentally disagree with that is making us disagree even more.”

Exposure to polarising opinions and events

However, Svegaard argues that what is certainly new is our level of exposure to polarising opinions and events, and this exposure happens in large parts on social media, where people spend so much of their time and, increasingly, get their news.  He points out that for example on TikTok, #wartok is full of images from wars in Palestine and Ukraine. Competing accounts support either side in any conflict. These draw lot of money through clicks.

“There is, in other words, money in emotions, because emotions mean engagement, which means clicks, and clicks mean advertising revenue and the potential for direct donations as well for some content creators”, he notes.

Video is a powerful tool in triggering emotions because “we see their face, their eyes, their expressions. It feels as if we are close”, notes Svegaard, who says this is used for political ends, what has come to be known as “effective polarization”.

Thus, these tools help to drive anger, and he argues that people are being driven—in political communications—to dislike people rather than their ideas.

“At this point, it becomes harder for democracy to continue to function. The best we can all do in cases where political content makes us feel something, is to take a moment to reflect on why we are feeling this way”, advises Svegaard.

Dr Justine See, a research fellow at the Sydney Environment Institute points out that at the recently held Indonesian elections, candidates used TikTok and K-pop music to draw youth to vote for them. But he wonders whether they were listening to the concerns of the youth.

Climate change

Climate change is an area where youth voices are being expressed widely across the world. One saw these voices at the COP meetings in Glasgow and UAE in recent years. In 2021, a students’ run network made history in Australia by mobilizing some 350,000 youth to march for climate action, ignoring calls by the government for them to go to school on the day.

In 2023, a students’ project by law students at the University of the South Pacific forced the Vanuatu government to take reparations for climate change damage to the UN General Assembly, which voted overwhelmingly to refer the case to the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

See points out that recent research has shown that young people are expressing fear and anxiety of the impact of climate change, especially in the Global South. They are angry at poor government responses to their climatic concerns.

“The double injustice of climate change where the least responsible for causing it are most harmed and have the fewest resources to cope with its consequences, also draw anger from young generations”, observes See. “Young people who felt their emotions and concerns about climate change were not listened to or silenced feel angry and betrayed”.

“Given our climate predicament, young people are right to be mad. Some will eventually feel overwhelmed and burned out,” says See. Providing safe spaces for them to continue to voice their climate anger may help prevent that.  Being heard can help address feelings of powerlessness, as well as build camaraderie and support.

“The adults also need to do their part”, he adds, “acknowledging intergenerational injustices, validating emotional experiences and supporting youth capabilities can help provide reassurance and fuel transformative action”. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo source: 360INFO

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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