The Youth Pushing Quebec Toward Maturity

Saturday, April 28, 2012


By Catherine Lalonde

Faced with the failure of neoliberalism, generation "Y" advances a humanistic vision for the long term.

The leaders of the student movement, Jeanne Reynolds, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and Léo Bureau-Blouin, have become spokespeople for a generation of young people, forced to push Quebec toward greater maturity.

In the right-hand corner, the government avoidance dance. The excuses to avoid addressing tuition hikes—the basis for the strike movement. The semantic dickering on the question of violence in order to detract from the complexity of the issues at hand, to discredit a more nuanced view, the condescension. In the left-hand corner, the youth. Though not expected to look beyond the immediate future, they say they are fighting for the children of the future. They refuse to be divided, are committed to solidarity and democracy, and fully embody their ideology. Could they be ushering in the age of reason in Quebec, long held to be in its adolescence?

Like his father, Nicolas Lévesque is a philosopher, but is also a psychologist, psychoanalyst, and the editor of a collection of essays called “Nouveaux essais spirale,” published by Nota Bene. In 2009, he published “(…) Teen Spirit,” an essay about our era and the adolescent nature of our society, not yet fully matured. In it, he extols the end of cynicism, and the beauty of mature thought: “We often associate adulthood with tying the knot, becoming mired in comfort, when it is precisely the opposite: it is about breaking boundaries, expending all of your energy, experiencing discomfort, fatigue, a lack of time—it is about no longer expecting to fit into a particular category, but instead forging your own path, unlike any other, like a lunatic, like a sage […].” Following is a series of questions and answers with the author, on the current crisis.

How do you view the current crisis?

I think we have reached the end of “teen spirit”—the tail end of it. I think we are seeing the culmination of the adolescent crisis which will open Quebec to adulthood. As if we were moving, as Miron said, from the age of speech to the age of reflection. The student crisis has made clear that we have moved beyond the model of authority put forth by the government. We know that it is no longer our leaders who make decisions, that our social structures are out of balance. That the neoliberal, capitalist, and economic ideologies drive themselves, and the government is neither sovereign nor autonomous, but is subject to these forces. We elected into power human beings, capable of judgement, and they, in turn, rely only on statistics, market studies, and numbers. Instead of telling the young people and the CLASSE to stop playing games of intimidation, we could ask the government to stop being intimidated by economic powers.

Is generation Y (18- to 34-year-olds), which has been characterized as apolitical and individualistic, more mature than its predecessors?

That generation is showing the world the suppressed anger of generation “X,” revealing that they were merely the first generation to run up against the invisible wall of a new, radical, and unavoidable form of capitalism. Today, generation “Y” is up against this same wall, but is actively taking it on. They are making it visible, revealing its forms: a big money-making machine that has taken hold of society and all its institutions—universities, hospitals, political parties. The students have humanist ideas, and are mobilizing in the name of the next generation. They have an impressive long-term view. The government, on the other hand, has no patience. It examines things in small fragments; it is concerned with resuming the school semester, with the consequences for this summer, or, at best, for the end of its mandate. This short-term view of education is, frankly, terrible. It's not easy to ask the students, at their age, to be more mature than the government.

Can we ask the government to be "more mature?"

What we can see now is that our leaders are essentially pawns. Children playing games. It would be great if Jean Charest woke up one day and and said, “I'm sick of getting phone calls from Power Corporation, from mining and oil companies.” I think our leaders are so fixated on their roles that they don't see the big picture. They’re like frogs trying to be bigger than the ox. As a result, we have children in positions of authority versus children that have been forced to grow up too quickly. If you were one of these youths who have all this weight on their shoulders yet at the same time are being being told they’re individualistic little shits who just sit around listening to their iPods all day, of course you’d feel like smashing windows, too. The impasse that these young people are revealing through violence is very real. What's disgraceful is that Charest and Beauchamp are denying this impasse. It's the Titanic all over again. The problem now is that young people can't see who to vote for to change things. That's when democracy no longer works—when all the parties are funded by the neoliberal ideology.

How do we restore dialogue between these generations, whose values are so different?

I don't think a dialogue is possible at this time. Period. Young people view our society as thoroughly colonized by an external system. Those in power are in denial. The CLASSE is right not to accept any easy solutions. I think it should be even more radical in its discourse and philosophy, and less so in its actions, to say that we must rethink the system as a whole: health, education, politics. It's time to take it that far. Even if the students win now, it would represent a meagre savings. They haven't held out for this long for a measly $1,000. That would be a huge defeat. We have to tell them that they are changing the world and that we will help them. That we will give them the tools to change society. We cannot excuse ourselves by saying “well I paid my tuition, so should they.” That’s just bitterness speaking. That would truly be a sign of growing older but no wiser—not wanting the young to have a better life than we did. We must always hope that our children will surpass us.