Thursday, 12 February 2009

Do things ever change?

How typical is it for people in their early 20s and/or college students to be so idealistic about the world and their place in it. And equally, how characteristic is it for those same people to graduate and almost instantly turn jaded? Why is it that people feel so helpless thinking they won’t actually be able to make a difference? Why is it that in campus coffeeshops and sociology classes problems seemed big, but solutions tangible? And why at the encounter of one or two setbacks, those once idealistic people think that they were just na├»ve, young college kids who had yet to experience the so-called “real world”.

I speak for myself here as well as for many of my peers. We would attend meetings, learn about issues in class, and discuss with each other global conflicts and social problems. I saw the realities of US public school education on a Native American reservation right out of college, and then I went to India and saw the agrarian problems farmers had to face, despite India’s “booming” economy. A few other instances dealing with bureaucracy and the NGO culture left me feeling jaded and thinking that so few people care enough to take the little steps to make society a little better and develop our humanity that I thought “forget the big stuff, it’s a lost cause”.

What about these experiences left me so blind to the fact that change can and does happen?

In my current Literature and Culture class, taught by the intense Dr. Shamoon Zamir, from King’s College, we have been reading parts of The Long Revolution by Raymond Williams. I might understand the book better after I write my essay, (which is what I should probably be working on now) but the main message I’m hearing from Williams is that we live in a world that is and has been going through a democratic, industrial, and cultural revolution, a genuine revolution, that changes people and institutions and is impacted by the actions of people who oppose the status quo.

He introduces the idea of the ‘structure of feeling’, which I take to mean the embedded cultural norms we embody. He says we are often not even aware of our cultural norms until they are disrupted. It’s like a fish in water doesn’t realize the water until it is removed from the water. So, often any form of cultural production is a repeat of the structure of feeling. It is rare to break out of the structure of feeling and one example he provides is that of the socialist movement, who often seem to revolt against capitalism, but do so on the terms of capitalism. So, for example, when unions get together and demand higher wages, they are demanding something that feeds the capitalist structure, when perhaps they should be lobbying against the work they have to do, or the fact that they need such unions in place to protect their rights.

I know the above example relates to change somehow, but I can’t quite articulate it. Regardless, there are such clear indications of change. The fact that I (a woman and of color) attended University of Illinois and am working towards a masters program, without any stigma is something that not too long ago would not have been possible. The fact that Barack Obama is the president should be sufficient proof to demonstrate that things do change.

So what if people are often motivated by economic incentives? People will drive less when gas prices become exorbitant or only turn off their lights when they are paying for their bills. Well, at least it’s something to motivate people. So what if people do things to join the trend? At least it is the trend. Millions of people who turn up to protest a war indicate concern and not apathy and that in and of itself should provide hope that people do care. As Williams says, it’s a long revolution, not just a revolution…

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