Gazing out of my bedroom window this morning, I discovered something shocking and striking: the world is turned upside down. Every detail, every aspect of social and individual life, is characterized by lack of meaning and especially by lack of harmony. If we strengthen our effort and fine-tune our ears, we hear millions of voices shouting out loud about the affliction of living, or more accurately, of surviving. If, instead of walking the well-worn paths of everyday routine, we try harder than usual to focus our eyes and look at the reality around us, we discover that this normality in which others live is fraught with problems, squeezed tight by a crisis which we could not—or perhaps did not—want to see before. If we do this, if we put ourselves forward to directly feel something beyond our simplified ‘I’, we inevitably discover that the world is upside down. And if we do not make an effort to equilibrate it, the world will remain in this state.
Conflict between the interests of individuals is inherent in the history of our nation-states and the world: interests mostly oriented towards insubstantial satisfactions such as money, power and property, or other matters which have caused most if not all of human suffering. Those exclusive interests were embraced and spread to the point of becoming a cultural expression of the people: the ‘people’ in this sense referring to the immediate conflict provoked by these interests. These objectives and their implementation constantly meet and cross with others’ interests, or worse, require the lives of those others to be instrumentalized in order to materialise. The utilisation and exploitation by some (the few) of others (the many) manifests itself in this way and many other forms.
Much of modern philosophy and modernity sought to justify the individualism of human beings based on the domination of the mind and its demands. This phase was the result of a struggle for freedom from divine dogmas and the independence of human beings in their epoch. But we must be aware that this stage of liberation was part of a greater struggle: the search for true liberation. With modernity and its institutions we learnt that human reason and its formal liberty allowed us self-determination and apparently enabled us to take control of our actions as individuals. Today we have to understand that the challenge is still present, and that liberation cannot be reduced to a formal question. Rather, it has to open the way towards essential liberation, real liberation, liberation which opens the possibility for a new stage of society.
The constant breakdown of social institutions—including the repeated dilemmas of the state—reveals the necessity for sectors and people to reflect deeply on the viability of the current social model. In appearance, the dimension of the human being and the dimension of individuals grouped in society exist in a safe haven of calm water. But simply taking an internal review of one’s consciousness (dimension of being) and accessing the information in the media (social dimension) is enough to reveal the existence of a deep human crisis: the crisis of modernity.
The project of modern man—or, better, the project of the modern human being—is not new. It is the fruit of historical accumulation in both time and space on a global scale. It is the result of technology, mass media and market economies controlling the rhythm of societies and overwhelming nearly every corner of the world. But we, the youth, know: the system cannot sustain itself forever, and its hourglass has only a few grains left to run.
The course we were on, which claimed to bring both modernity and happiness, has crashed. It shines and is reflected as perfect in the sterile image of satisfactions, in the artificial light of commercial centres in the mega-cities with their mega-constructions, or in the false perception of self-realisation through material accumulation. But as soon as we take a moment to distance ourselves from this consumerist and predatory frenzy, we will understand that it is false; that whatever amount of momentary pleasures we acquire they will not make us happy; that there is a certain void in our existence waiting to be filled. Modernity does not address the issue. Family, children, siblings, love, moments of peace—among other elements of the sincerity of being—may be able to absolve part of the blame or allow us to forget about this vacuum, leading us to instants of harmony that give momentary sense to life. Yet we know that the feeling of emptiness and all its repercussions remain to be overcome.
The challenge we face is to reflect on and implement a radical process of transformation towards a new social model which can give new meaning to existence. In general terms, we are talking about the struggle for the supremacy of life over any other manifestation of material values. In specific and pragmatic terms, we are talking about the urgent need to shake the existing structures and introduce a whole set of offensive and comprehensive changes to the system.
The time has come to think of and to feel a philosophy more committed to the heart and less committed to reason, linked to life and a collective dimension as its sole direction; a philosophy which captures knowledge and wisdom and connects science with everyday life; a way of higher and more transcendent thinking of the human being. The methods and guidelines of social sciences and research should disassociate themselves from a denotative reading of reality. The positivist and rationalist vision should be replaced by one that defends life and all its manifestations, offering less logic than symbolic reflection.
The dominant schools of economics, including those that believe in ‘sustainable growth’, must be replaced with systems of economics which allow for a quality of life, a style of living which demands less energy and consumerism. Similarly, we must challenge political theory and its insufficient, prostituted concepts of ‘democracy’. I am not arguing for dictatorial or other repressive systems, but rather referring to the consolidation of local power away from the nation, new forms of political organization and innovative forms of a social pact.
The aim of this article is not to bury this question in one of the many existentialist debates, or, even worse, in insufficient post-modern positions; nor is it to scatter on the winds a utopia with good intentions yet little pragmatism. The primary purpose of this essay is to transmit to those reading it the conviction held by the author, that the modern way of life and its ideals have come to an end. We are in no way close to individual or social happiness, and moreover, if the essential mode of wellbeing slides from our grasp, dealing with the forms and mechanisms learnt from modernity will require a transformation to another stage of human history in which the relationships between these forms and mechanisms are fundamentally altered.
Secondly we must realize that no revolution can be made without the presence of a revolutionary actor, and with the same certainty with which we announced the end of modernity, we proclaim that this actor is ourselves as the Global Youth Movement. ‘Youth’ because we are full of energy and more replete with ideals than any other social group; we are the agents of a generational transformation, the group closest to the educational systems—the fundamental institutions for this project—and we are notoriously numerous too. ‘Global’ because the revolution should arise with an international focus free from notions of borders and frontiers, yet conscious of all the places in the world where injustice and oppression are reproduced. And ‘Movement’ because its dynamics must start operating today, at this very moment, both with the mobilization of the personal conscience (changing your own world) and with acts of social transformation (changing the world itself).
It is the youth who will seize and take up the revolutionary process towards a new society, with the decline of modernity or any earlier social model, and the advent of a new day, of true liberation, of social happiness, in which culture is stirred and revived: until that wonderful morning where I can wake up, look out of my bedroom window and observe a world which is not turned upside down. •
Aquiles Hervas Parra is the spokesman of the Confederación de Estudiantes Universitarios y Politécnicos del Ecuador and founder of the Movimiento Juvenil Contracorriente. He is currently studying law, anthropology and economics.
The article was translated from Spanish by Vera Wriedt.