The student strike and the social compact

Large numbers of school students have gone on strike today to protest about global inaction on climate change. This action has been met with a lot of huffing and puffing to the effect that students should stay in school and leave politics to adults.

Ideally, this would be the correct view. Part of the social compact of democracy is that the adult voting population should take account not only of their own interests but those of children who currently can’t vote and of future generations.

For those who have dependent children of their own, this isn’t a very demanding requirement. There’s no sharp distinction between your children’s interests and your own.

For older voters, the social compact is a bit more demanding. They cannot benefit directly from policies that make the world better for today’s and tomorrow’s children (a group that may or may not include their grandchildren). But they are morally obliged not to vote selfishly, taking advantage of the fact that they are enfranchised, while the young are not.

Sadly, the last few years have seen numerous instances where a majority of the old have violated this social compact. They have voted against the interests of the young out of a mixture of self-interest and cantankerous dislike of change, on climate change, Brexit and support for reactionary demagogues like Trump.

Having been let down by their elders, young people are fully justified in protesting against them, and ignoring their hypocritical expressions of concern about missing out on education.

38 thoughts on “The student strike and the social compact

  1. Somebody said to me today, quite insightfully I thought, that the angst underpinning those who have been commenting critically about the student strike is that they are not in control of the situation.

  2. So what do you do about old people voting on matters whose dominant impact will be felt after they are dead? A significant proportion of Brexit voters are already dead, and Brexit hasn’t even started yet.

    You can’t deny the oldsters the vote. But you can give it less weight by lowering the voting age to 16, maybe with the wrinkle that voting is not compulsory for 16 and 17 year olds. That way, those who engage in politics can have their voice counted and those who are not engaged can sit out until they turn 18.

  3. This action has been met with a lot of huffing and puffing to the effect that students should stay in school and leave politics to adults.

  4. True enough – but don’t forget the other side of the coin: selfish changes imposed on older generations by some uncaring and wilfully ignorant young people, whether through political influence. through the abuse of bureaucratic authority or through market power.

    Don’t forget, either, that many older people had to struggle against many very difficult obstructions to warn of environmental hazards and damage; they were the ones who made it so easy for young people to have their protest today, and to get so much excellent publicity.; 30 or 40 years ago, ringing any alarm-bells was non-news, to be kept off the air and out of the papers.

  5. A headline on ABC Net is:

    “Climate change student strike inspired by politically correct teaching, academic says”

    “Dr Kevin Donnelly, a conservative commentator and senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University, claimed the movement was the product of “biased” academics and failings in education.

    “I’ve just been on the Strike 4 Climate webpage, where you’ve got seven or eight-year-old kids barely out of nappies being involved in a strike. A lot of these students are barely literate or numerate. I think it’s absurd.”” – ABC Net

    Dr Kevin Donnelly is not one to talk about literacy as he is clearly science-illiterate. Apparently, teaching students about climate science is “politically correct” but lining them up and taking them to pro-war rallies aka Anzac Day memorials is not in any way politically correct. There was a large rise in children being regimented by adults to attend Anzac Day during Australia’s Iraq wars.

  6. “Having been let down by their elders, young people are fully justified in protesting against them, and ignoring their hypocritical expressions of concern about missing out on education.” – J.Q.

    Hang on, essentially this is a critique of the baby boomers generation. One I agree with even though I am one. Generation politics after all? 😉

    We baby boomer oldies are out of time. Late stage neoliberalism has been a sclerotic and ossified era. Change has been held up but the pent up forces for change will rebound. One again, science and society will advance one funeral at a time: our funerals, the funerals of the baby boomers. We will be “A dream the world breathed sleeping and forgot”. When resources get scarce, the young will out-compete the old. Humanity will advance into socialism or barbarism depending on the choices of those after us.

  7. Tim – I suspect it must be galling and dismaying to the right wing media to witness their power to influence opinion diminishing so sharply – the shriller their rhetoric gets and the more mentions of support for coal the more votes the LNP loses. In a turnabout any publicity on this is becoming good publicity… for stronger climate action – apathy, ignorance and denial are no longer the sure bet for inaction they used to be. So long as the issue gets oxygen it works against the pro-coal climate science deniers – and that in itself shows how far and how fast attitudes are changing.

    This global protest action has been fortunate timing for Australia for keeping the issue hot. Of course a terrorist incident – well, a Muslim extremist incident, not so much an extreme Right incident – and boat loads of refugees might still get Morrison’s team over the line. They would not dare say they would welcome it in the way that some idiots were wishing for major blackouts to add emphasis to the alarmist fear of RE they were peddling – but they would not hesitate to take full advantage.

    I fully support this action by students even as I wish it were not necessary. Some of the placards said it – if the adults in charge were doing their jobs they would not need to.

  8. Most would agree that schools and their staff should be political neutral. More so on controversial issues. There are enough causes of bullying at school with introducing political topics.

  9. Jim Rose,

    Climate science in itself is not political. It’s science. I assume you are not advancing the idea that climate science per se is political? Advocating against teaching climate science would be on a par with advocating that schools do not teach evolution science. Do you advocate either of those?

    Policies, prescriptions and actions based on climate science, or the denial of it, are what is political. People are entitled, in their own time, to engage in debate and actions which are political. This applies to adults and to children under parental or guardian supervision or permission. “In their own time” is then modified by the modification imposed on that by state mandated attendance of children at school. The fact that the children have gone on “strike” from school to protest is a form of civil disobedience. In most cases, that civil disobedience will have been sanctioned by parental or guardian permission.

    Notwithstanding that, the recognition that children have rights, must in turn entail the recognition that children will have at times, even without proximal adult or even government permission, the right to protest against parental or civil or political oppression or neglect. It can be argued we are neglecting the futures of these children by neglecting action on climate change. Where adults or classes of adults are excessively neglectful or oppressive, children have the right to protest to other, presumably wider classes of adults who may be sympathetic, supportive or nurturing to their cause. This even stands when we consider that children may have less independent ability than adults to judge such issues. They cannot be presumed to have no independent ability once of at least school age.

    Beyond that, children themselves are the best judges of what makes them anxious or hurts them. It is impossible to avoid anxiety-inducing messages about climate change from the media and internet even at a young age. Children need to feel assured that adults are taking these messages seriously. There are clear and objective (scientific) reasons to take these messages seriously. There is substance to the fear. There is nothing immature about being afraid of what may be genuinely dangerous. It’s a survival-promoting response we all share.

    See UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.


    “Article 3.1 – In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

    Article 29.1 – Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:

    (e) The development of respect for the natural environment.

  10. From a future now horses mouth…

    “Striking for our future” by
    Louisa Menadue is a High School student who works behind the scenes at P & I. 
    “On the 15th of March, I was one of the thousands of students from Australia who participated in school strikes for climate. Students from 105 countries worldwide are striking for climate because climate action is imperative. So many seem to view climate change as something far away that will have little effect on their lives, and for those of you old enough, maybe it is. However,…”

  11. Jim Rose,

    You may be so old that your personal opportunity cost of inaction on reducing ghg emissions is approximately zero and you don’t care what will happen to the children of the students in question (your marginal rate of substitution between consumption now, Co and consumption in say 30 time C30 is not defined because you are dead then).

    Is it not obvious that these students would not be on the streets protesting against the inaction on ghg emissions on 15 March 2019 if most if not all current adults would be sufficiently educated to at least know whether or not they are educated in science to allow them to distinguish between scientific knowledge and hogwash, and have generationally interdependent preferences (‘altruistic preferences’) such that their interests to survive and their children to survive in the future in climatic conditions that are at least similar to those enjoyed by you?

    Is it not obvious that these students would not be on the streets protesting if they would have
    evidence that they live in a society where the notion if a social compact is understood and practised?

    Jim Rose, are you just trying to derail the thread by writing ostensible nonsense wrt the topic of the thread?

  12. The industrial revolution gave us steam, electricity, inequality and climate change.
    Since then we have used are capital, the earth, as income, beyond its capacity tom recover.
    All the evidence shows that global warming, carbon-dioxcide emissions have increased at a rate well above what nature could have managed.
    The young ones are aware that they will ‘pay for the sins of their fathers’, and are justifiably protesting.
    I support them, marched with them in Yeppoon, and am again looking at how I can make a difference, both politically, and by reducing my foot print.

  13. +n: “Jim Rose, are you just trying to derail the thread by writing ostensible nonsense wrt the topic of the thread?”

    Via a 16 y old relative I have a 2nd order link to a student who has travelled to sydney as an organiser. I have offered and will donate these to empower her further. If you can find a sufficiently engaged young person these may be very appropriate gifts. No offense but saying read jq wont provide the necessary context / age / visual learning. Pedagogy for them, not us.

    “First Look: World Citizen Comics aims to create super-powered activists:
    …”of new graphic novels from World Citizen Comics, which aim to excite and inform readers about how they can fight corruption in elections, blast fake news with truth-telling, and even battle would-be dictators both near and far through a better understanding of constitutions and the rule of law.”

  14. Good on the kids, for stepping up where their elders have obviously failed.

    And good on the kid that cracked an egg on Anning’s head, a most perfect way to make a political statement without having to resort to military action.

  15. good on the kid that cracked an egg on Anning’s head,

    I do not agree. Once political violence is legitimised this gives them the green light to carry out acts of violence against politicians they do not like, and a lot worse than an egg.

  16. Have a look at Fraser Annings fb page, his call to armed violence. An egg is an appropriate response to Annings self pitying outrage.

  17. He wasn’t a kid. He was a young adult. An egg was the perfect response to Fraser Anning’s proto-fascistic idiocy. The police obviously thought so. He was released after being rescued from being nearly choked by Anning’s neanderthal supporters (apologies to the extinct neanderthals who were probably much better beings than white alt-right racists).

    An egging is a time honored tradition when a politician advances an argument so absurd that an egging is the only possible non-violent response when in close proximity.

    Disclosure: I am an old white male agnostic humanist.

  18. An egg was the perfect response to Fraser Anning’s proto-fascistic idiocy.

    Oh grow up. I’m offended by some of the infantile nonsense you write but that doesn’t give me the right to physically assault you. Stop excusing violence.

    As to the kiddies demonstrating about climate change, good on them. Sadly, half of them will be grumpy old reactionary farts in 30 year’s time. I wonder why that happens?

  19. Hugo,

    You label my endorsing an egging in the given circumstances as “excusing violence”. Yet you have nothing to say about Fraser Anning’s statements.

    His declarations are one-sided and definitely proto-fascistic, if not fascistic. These insane actions, the shooter’s and then Anning’s comment, will only inflame a real and concerning problem.

    If we look at the activities of 15th and 16th C Spanish Catholics and other Europeans in the New World, we can find massacres and atrocities as great or greater than any known or alleged about the Islamic world. If we look at Ghengis Kahn and his Hordes we can see the same thing. If we look at the the Europeans in India, Africa, S.E. Asia, China and the activities of early white settlers in Australia we can find the same things again. To collectively demonise modern groups for centuries old history would leave no groups un-demonised. Have you read any history at all?

    I’m offended by the infantile and parochial nonsense you write. You need to educate yourself.

  20. His declarations are one-sided and definitely proto-fascistic, if not fascistic. These insane actions, the shooter’s and then Anning’s comment, will only inflame a real and concerning problem.

    You and Anning deserve each other.

  21. Oi!

    The egging of Anning was a wonderful piece of performance art. The young and very brave 16 year old (by my definition 16 year olds are young) carefully cracked the egg on Annings skull and allowed it to gently fold.

    This is not violence, this is Masterchef.

    On cue Anning punched this young man a couple of times and then his gang wrestled the young 16 year old to the ground and held him in a potentially lethal chockerhold whilst mumbling the usual mother trucker type of expletives.

    Nationalism captured in flight.

    This excessive use of force has already attracted the attention of lawyers, which has to be a good thing for those who uphold the law.

  22. The very fact that people get a hit out of someone else getting hit – because they think the victim deserves it – is the reason I think the threat and use of physical attacks, even messy ones rather than painful ones should be strongly discouraged. Many of humanity’s darkest deeds have been committed by people who think the victims deserved it – a judgement that require no weighing of evidence.

    We need whatever civility we can preserve – it’s value is much greater than the dubious gratification – and will add my voice to those who condemn egging Mr Anning.

  23. Anning forfeited civility when he published some very vile,racist and violence-inciting hate speech. An egging, gently from behind, is a very mild response: political performance art as characterized above. It scarcely warrants the term assault. The police released the youth in question. Some people appear to be clutching their pearls and worrying about the egging of Anning but nary a word for the 50 dead, and Anning’s hate speech and massive disrespect of the deceased and their families. Talk about skewed values!

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