Monday, 2 November 2009

Forever young

I went to a concert last night which featured all of Focus, the Strawbs and Wishbone Ash. All were good, but Focus remained the most innovative with Thijs van Leer on Hammond (what bands still play a Hammond organ?) - and after seeing Pierre van der Linden I now know that I want to be a drummer when I grow up.

It is a reminder that like it or not (and many don't), those born in the late 40s and the 50s still set the agenda for much in the social, political and cultural scene. Isn't our likely next Prime Minister, David Cameron, a timid and air-brushed version of what we might have been heard 20 years ago, albeit still trapped by the right wing of his own party into insipid ineffectiveness?

But what of young people in Britain today? Very often marginalised, victimised and disposable. The UK was recently criticised by the UN's Committee on the Rights of the Child for its retrogressive (and ultimately self-defeating) approach to the young, and in particular in relation to the demonisation of teenagers. Treat young people as criminals and they will become criminals: yes, binge drinking by teenagers is problematic, but it is not answered by forever bringing in new criminal sanctions. Much of the blame probably lies in the anti-risk culture that has developed, which leaves the young deprived of all meaningful energetic interaction with the world around them, and results in the only release remaining to them being the creation of mayhem on Friday and Saturday nights when they reach an age to tell their elders to get lost. Policies need to be developed not to deprive the young of all creative physical and other impulses, but to channel them into socially acceptable forms free of the excessive regulation encouraged by well intended but socially destructive one-issue pressure groups. Perhaps we also have to be mature enough to realise that in life bad things sometimes happen, to the young as well as to the old, and it doesn't always mean that someone is to blame: but the unfortunate truth may be that we are some way from that.

Maybe a mature public debate is required about the role of risk in society, and how the balance is to be struck between attempts to eliminate all risk on the one hand (it can't be done, and were all risk to be eliminated then life would not be worth living), and the inevitable accidents and misfortunes which are going to happen on the other hand. Perhaps the judiciary need to be involved in this, with their propensity when faced with a hard case to find negligence in any situation.

And surely the use by some Councils and others of so-called "Mosquitos" - devices which emit unpleasantly loud high-pitched sound audible only to those under about 20 in order to drive them from city centres - comprises the most gross and improper interference with the human rights of the young? I challenge any reader and ask them, if your local authority had tried to oust you from town centres with these kind of techniques when you were in your teens, how would you have reacted? If your local council or other local organisations have installed them, why not start a local campaign against this disgraceful practice; all the better if some public spirited individual with the money to spare could combine this with the bringing of proceedings for public nuisance or judicial review against the bodies concerned. It might well lose, but the publicity might be worth the price, and it could just win.

David Cameron should get back to hugging a hoodie, not as a gimmick but by way of starting public debate on how the opportunities and challenges necessary for the healthy development of young people into productive adults is to be accomplished. That will mean listening and thinking, and admitting that it will be difficult to find the correct answer, and not marching into office with an "I'll fix it" attitude. Probably that is more than we can expect from any politician, but just as we cannot live without risk, so we cannot live without hope.

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