Alex Himelfarb is both hopeful of and concerned for the next generation.
We have much to learn from young Canadians who bring new experiences, new tools and new ways of thinking to the table. They seem less ready to trade democracy for a super-leader or saviour. Most are not looking for a tough boss or someone with all the answers. They may share the general disdain for government, but for different reasons: it is too opaque, too remote, too hard to penetrate and seemingly impossible to influence – too undemocratic. They don’t want less democracy, they want more.
Yes, many have opted out of conventional politics, including voting, but they are also finding new ways to engage in public life, in their communities or internationally, and some have taken to the streets, standing outside all our conventional institutions and conventional wisdom to find something new. They are the digital generation that can make those of us stuck in the industrial age so uncomfortable. How the semi-leaderless Occupy Movement or the students in the streets of Montreal drove so many of us crazy. Their leadership was emergent, fragile, shifting, in a word, democratic. Networks and communities replaced hierarchies. And the generational divide is exposed. This is not the hyper-individualism or entitlement thinking that detractors claimed. It is about rebuilding civil society from the ground up, about a new kind of solidarity and a different kind of leadership.
Finding new ways to engage and contribute, rejecting government as parent or nanny, refusing to see the state as the answer to everything – that is all part of a better future. But to the extent that the young ignore conventional political institutions, including voting, to the extent that they do not engage with the state and try to make it better, we risk an ever-wider gap between civil society and state and a continuing erosion of our democracy.