Parents and Activists

Parents and Activists
Renato Constantino
GRAPHIC, April 28, 1971

Graduation has been aptly called a commencement. It is on the conventional sense a commencement of adult responsibility for the young. For their parents, it is the climax of years of anxious waiting and of sacrifices. But, if both want to invest it with deeper significance, a commencement should mark the beginning of understanding and of partnership with the young in patriotic involvement.

We live in a period of turbulence, of instability and of change. A decaying society leaves in its wake many dislocations, many confusions and rising tensions. These dislocations and tensions have been dramatically projected by the activism of militant youth.

All at once parents are seized with paroxysms of fear; many in an excess of protectiveness, have sought to isolate their young from activist fever, while others have reacted with anger and despair. The result is a growing alienation between parents and activists. In many homes a bitter battle now rages between the old and the young. The young today are so different, parents say, bewildered; our parents are so reactionary; they are fascists, the youth reply.


Difference in outlook

Activists have elaborated at great length on the basic issues of our society. They recognize the main forces locked in mortal struggle but they may have overlooked some subsidiary contradictions or they may have not given sufficient thought to the manner in which these should be resolved. One such problem is the problem of the generations. It may be useful to focus some attention on this question during this period of student ferment.

Activists know that every aspect of life has a political dimension; even the relation with one’s parents is part of the overall political struggle. Parents whose children are not activists may view developments with more detachment but they are still puzzled and apprehensive. Many of the uncommitted among the young, if they are honest and patriotic, will eventually join the movement for revolutionary change because of the flow of history cannot be denied. Consequently, no one can remain wholly untouched by the problem.

What causes this division between generations? Is it merely the so-called generation gap? Is it just a passing phase in the process of growing up? Why is parental reaction one of dismay and antagonism? Is it because of the irresponsibility of the young?

The growing alienation between parents and activists cannot be dismissed with the facile explanation that there exists a generation gap. There is something more basic here than a mere difference in ages or a mere rebellion against authority as such; there is a fundamental difference in outlook.

Asocial behaviour

Long years of miseducation, long years of constant subjection to the blandishments of Western propaganda have made the older generation unappreciative of the commitment of the young today.

For a number of generations, most adults, including the parents of today, has been concerned with the day-to-day struggles of life solely in their personal dimensions. They were therefore unaware of the contradictions that the operative forces of history were building up in the society. These quantitative accretions of events have resulted in a reality qualitatively different from the past.

The old see social changes only in their quantitative aspects – prices are higher, corruption is more rampant, crimes are more numerous. Their frames of reference remain the same. Like the young, they see the problems of our corrupt society but, unlike the young, they offer only the same old solutions that never worked before or else they retreat into individualism and asocial behaviour.

The activist outlook is totally different, hence the frequent lack of communication resulting in bitter tension within families and erosion of parental control and influence.

To re-establish communication, the older generation must understand the basic nature of activism today.

Nature of activism

Activism rejects the older generation’s belief in an immutable social order. Its allegiance is to revolutionary change, not to reformism. It is disillusioned with the patchwork solutions of the previous generations. Therefore the young scoff at parental suggestions that they reduce the dimensions of their protest to specific problems like crime control, the exposure of corruption in government, or the amelioration of living conditions in the slums.

They know that these specific problems are interrelated and will never be solved unless basic changes in society are instituted. They no longer pin their hopes on the election to office of good men as previous generations did. They know that mere changes of men will mean nothing.

If the same system prevails, it will corrupt the men; in fact the system practically ensures that only the corrupt get elected. As a result, parents think the young are impractical dreamers, while the young counter that their parents have no understanding of the real nature of our society.

We often hear older people explain that protest actions are part of the idealism of youth. They imply that young people have ideals but will outgrow them when, as adults, they come face to face with practical reality. This judgment is both wrong and immoral.

Idealism in the sense of having ideals is not something that should be outgrown. N the other hand, philosophically speaking, activism is not idealist; it is materialist because it is based on social reality. It is these older people with their condescending conclusions who are idealists – not in the sense of having ideals but because they have unreal view of reality.

Some parents treat activism as they would an attack of the measles. They wait for it to subside so the patient can be normal again, which to them means being career-conscious, materially ambitious, and moderately civic-minded.

Youthful frivolities

But activism today is more than a passing phase of youthful restlessness; it is not the same as those frivolous activities with which many of us were expected to amuse ourselves during our school days; it is not one of those fads which produce temporary irritations between parents and children.

Activism is a social phenomenon because it is an exercise in collectivity, a \rejection of individualist solutions to purely private problems. Activism is the antithesis of individual action which is a romantic survival of the days of so-called self-made men; it is the negation of individual ambition because a new counter-consciousness is contraposed to the consciousness engendered by private free enterprise, a legacy of imperialist rule.

It is the rejection of individual ambition that parents find most difficult to adjust to. The poorer parents, especially, find this painfully disappointing. All their lives they worked and sacrificed to give their children an education so that the young ones might become successful, pore prosperous. Now they find that what they live for is to be discarded. Instead, their activist sons and daughters have deliberately chosen a difficult and uncertain way of life which will bring no money, only hard work and danger, even death.

Nothing can assuage the anguish of such parents – nothing, that is, except an understanding of their children’s convictions. If these convictions are firm, appeals to the young person’s individual self-interest, or pleas that he think of his personal safety would only alienate him further. Nothing is more revolting to a committed youth than to be told to let others “do the dirty work” and run the risks. Such a position is morally indefensible. Young people correctly assess it as the product of selfish individualism and social irresponsibility.

Neither should parents offer charitable activities or so-called civic action as substitutes for involvement in the protest movement. Activists know that do-gooding is ineffectual in the long run and, as practiced in conventional circles, is nothing more that conscience pacifier or a publicity gimmick for the socially ambitious. This does not mean that activists have no sympathy for the sufferings of their fellowmen; in fact, it is these very sufferings that they want to eliminate. However, they know that the real solution does not lie in palliatives but in a change of the system.

Antithesis of the system

The youth of today are not only the products of the system; they are also the antithesis of that system.

During our period of adjustment to the imperatives of the times, we of the older generations allowed material and intellectual influences to transform us into bases and pillars of the social order. Young activists reject these material and intellectual influences for they have developed insights in to the evils of the system; they have seen fit to rebel not primarily against the old generation as against the very system which the old seem to represent.

Thus many of the older generation are appalled by the sweeping rejection of the values to which we were all acculturized. All the verities and the comfortable platitudes under which we had been nurtured have gone by the board.

We cannot view present militancy in the same way that our parents regarded our own youthful rebellions. For where before youthful frivolities were merely interruptions in a long line of continuity, today activism is definitely a discontinuity which has accelerated a social process that is well nigh reversible. And thus discontinuity will represent a leap in the continuity of our social existence – a leap that will usher in a higher level of human development.

Activism is a product of the great social upheavals of our times which are mass movements for national liberation from the oppressions of imperialism. Imperialist rule has progressively depressed the lives of the peoples in the underdeveloped areas of the world; it has deepened human alienation, cheapened human life and has been responsible for the flagrant degeneration of culture. We are now witnessing in our country the growth of counter-forces created by the dynamics of imperialism.

With the few individual exceptions, previous generations allowed and even abetted the imposition of a colonial society in our land. Now that the young reject imperialism and are trying to protect the possibility of a better society for all, the old complain and even questions the motives of the youth. A few become very angry, try to intimidate and threaten, and even precipitate a severance of relations. That is why many of these young people have come to believe that parents are essentially fascistic.

Question of discipline

An important condition for understanding is the need to credit the young with good intentions and enough patriotic dedication. They have a right to resent bitterly such false imputations as that they are being led astray by agitators or used as tools by their leaders. The old should make a real effort to understand their political beliefs and instead of condemning them outright.

When the young people question the political opinions of their parents and insists on participating in the mass actions of the protests movement, parents should not regard this merely as a disciplinary problem.

It is true that a desire for independence from parental authority may have been a factor in the initial stages, but, once convinced of the correctness of his cause, the young person regards activism as a patriotic duty. Part of his rebellion is directed p[precisely against the values of the defenders of the status quo, and the right to impose strictures solely by virtue of age is one of these values.

Gone is the day when the older people supposed to do the thinking and the acting and the young were expected to remain meekly in their classes. The old have made such mess of things that the young feel they are no longer capable of effecting the changes demanded by our times.

Discipline for these young people is the discipline of their commitment. It is a self-imposed discipline, which, ideally, should be collectively arrived at, and which derives from the needs of the movement. Discipline in this sense is positive, not negative. And who is to say that this is not the higher form?

Reversal of roles

There was a time when the old were supposed to be wise. Today the old must not fall in to the error of claiming wisdom as a prerogative of age. They may be in for a bog surprise.

A reversal of traditional roles seems to be occurring. Traditionally the young were expected to be self-centered, intent on only on pleasure, to a great degree socially irresponsible. The old saw themselves as the guardians of the society, the people who worked and sacrificed, the planners and makers of a world they would be proud to leave to their children. Today, it seems as if it is the old who are more guilty of social irresponsibility and the young who have taken it upon themselves to plan and sacrifice for a better world for themselves and for the future.

The least the parents can do is to listen to the young, ask questions, read what they read, examine their values.

Since imperialism is the compelling fact of present society, and since anti-imperialism is what animates the activist struggle, parents must know more about imperialism. They must learn how imperialism plunders the poor nations and what techniques it uses to retain political and economic control of its neo-colonies. They must become aware of its fraudulent use of aid and its employment of cultural aggressions. And finally, they must understand how it uses its control, made more secure by its military might, to force nations to adopt policies inimical to their own interest but beneficial to the imperialist.

Intensity of discontent

Many of the older generation have known economic want and oppression in the society but they fail to attribute the suffering of the workings of the imperialism. Instead they tend to condemn only the leaders of the country for the evils they see, little knowing that these men are merely agents of the system or oat most active collaborators.

Activists have dramatically brought out the fact that our colonial condition is the root of all problems. Most parents do not understand this. Many are self-complacent apologists for the system. That is why the young resent their hypocritical attitudes and their selfish indifference to their country’s plight.

Of course, the methods of the activists mat shock many of the elders. There have been certain excuses but these are to a great intent traceable to the intensity of discontent and to the futility of the forms of the protest of which we have been accustomed.

It is not my intention to idealize the protest movement nor the typical activist. I have deliberately described activism at its best and highest level – what it could be rather than what it is – in a n attempt to purge parents of their prejudices and misgivings. After all, a movement’s political and ethical aspirations are as valid as a yardstick as it presents achievements. Furthermore, I trust the activists, conscious of the need to be profoundly self-critical, are aware of their own deficiencies.

Many activists have unnecessarily alienated their parents. They have not thought of including their elders among those who are in need of re-education. Thus they must also bear part of the responsibility for the tension and the alienation which results from the lack of communication.

Discontinuities in continuity

Perhaps activists cannot be blamed completely for their quick and total rejection of present institutions and values. The situation is really that desperate. But they must bear in mind that we are living in a reality which changes because of the contradictions arising from within. The continuity of society exists through discontinuity of basic change.

Radical change cannot be wrought overnight. Revolution is not a moment in the course of history; it is a process that encompasses broad historical periods. The new comes from the old and negates it.

New institutions are not imposed from the outside; rather, these institutions develop in the course of the struggle. That is why the techniques of struggle must take cognizance of existing reality, and this reality includes the very institutions and ideas that continue to control the consciousness of the majority.

Knowledge of local reality

Activists must know their reality and work within that reality in order to change it. Parents are very much part of that reality.

They must therefore struggle with their parents, not with an attitude of total negation or in antagonistic confrontation but with the same spirit of forbearance that they show to the unpoliticized masses.

Their success in involving their parent – at least to some degree – will be a test of their ability to rally other sectors of society.

A thorough understanding of Philippines reality will insure correct techniques of struggle. To persist in mastering only foreign models based on the experience of other nations would result in a doctrinaire and sectarian point of view.

Theory-Practice congealed

The theory that activist study is a distillation of concrete experiences which have both universal and particular validity. If this theory is to guide local experience effectively, it must be applied creatively and this means recognizing its universal and particular character.

The correct determination of what is applicable to the local situation will depend on the depth of our understanding of local reality. Later on, local experience can become the basis for a further development of theory which will have universal and particular validity.

Theory is practice congealed. Therefore, reading and studying theory can be considered a form of practice. This theory should guide practice, but not blindly. Our duty is to be able to derive our own theoretical formulations from our own practice in order that our experiences may also become of practice congealed.

Activists need more thorough grounding in Philippines history and society. Concomitant with this weakness is the failure to remember that, to effect revolutionary change, there is need to rally the most diverse elements of society to form a united front of all sectors that see the need for change. Or, perhaps the need is recognized but there is insufficient understanding of how this is to be achieved.

Some activists disdain those who only partially accept their goals. They may have failed to appreciate the fact that the struggle must be undertaken on various levels of consciousness and therefore they must give special regard for allies who may not yet have the same level of awakening that they have.

Internalization of struggle

The struggle is a protracted one. The power of the state and the influence of imperialism still cannot be minimized. That is why the battle must be waged with extreme creativity on all fronts and the knowledge that a protracted struggle may consume lifetime of endeavor. What is needed is patience, humility, integrity, dedication, and patriotism. A resolute struggle must be waged against impatience, arrogance, intellectual dishonesty, instability and opportunism.

Changing people is a long and difficult process, for it requires not merely change in political viewpoint but also change in character. Part of the struggle, then, has to be internalized, since some activists still carry with them many attitudes of the society they reject such as dogmatism, opportunism, vindictiveness, vanity, anti-intellectualism and lack of discipline.

In the struggle with older people and with the rest of society, a change in attitude, emanating from an internal change will be more effective than a thousand manifestoes. For in the behavior of the activists themselves the rest of society expects to see an aspect of the future society that is being advocated.

There are still many things that have to be learned about present society. Parents may have much useful concrete in formation. The young need all available resources. A partnership with parents, aside from reducing tensions which impair efficiency of activists, can yield valuable facts about specific areas of society beyond the present experiences of the young.

Growing up and growing young

The young are growing; the old must grow young. In situations develop and eventually fossilize and along with them the thinking of men.

When a man grows old because of inability to appreciate and adjust to changes, he becomes reactionary even if he still regards himself as progressive because years ago he was considered as one. To note change, to work for change, to adjust to changed conditions – that is the mark of youth. If an individual believes in social change, he will never be an anachronism in the successive alterations of his social milieu.

If parents of today do not march with the youth, they will be left behind and will deserve only the censure of history. If the youth fail to enlist the active participation of other sectors of society, their movement will suffer from a fatal distortion.

In an intolerable society, the task of working for revolutionary change is the duty and the privilege of all patriots, young and old.

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