Democracy Matters by Cornel West. West’s central thesis is that America has three reoccurring distortions.
First, the free-market fundamentalism has an overwhelming power and influence in the economy that puts fear and insecurity in the hearts of workers to meet the corporate goals of profit. The free market encourages sleep walking robots to see that the false prophets are handsomely rewarded with money, status, and access to more power.
Second, is that America is obsessed with aggressive militarism. West comments that “violence is deployed by those who cloak themselves in innocence–those unwilling to examine themselves and uninterested in counting the number of innocent victims they kill.” (6)
Third, America has an escalating authoritarianism problem. The authoritarianism is rooted in our understandable paranoia toward potential terrorists, our traditional fear of too many liberties, and our deep distrust of one another. West goes on to illustrate how these three distortions play out in the American identities of the Jewish, Islamic, Christian, and youth population.
In the youth chapter (ch. 6), West argues that many of the American youth have been the direct target by corporate America for consumption. This produces an adolescent to be fragile, which does not enable them to withstand the emotional trauma generated by the fast paced capitalist culture of consumption that confronts them. The youth of America are being bombarded by consumption, which leads to consumption addiction. Adolescents become addicts of alcohol, sex, video games, popularity, technology, success, and fashion. These addictions leave them with little room or time to become mature and to become concerned about others and or politically engaged in social change. Who knows a 20-something year old that is living at home and still leaving off of mom and dad’s money who is liberal?
I would argue that the late adolescent (19-24) population of America are extremely upset about how they were disillusioned by American adults who shoved consumerism, militarism, and authoritarianism down their young throats. I think this is why so many late adolescents are so anti-adult world, because all they know of the adult world is depravity of morality, egocentricity, and greedy tendencies.
West communicates that late adolescents long for energizing visions worthy of pursuit and sacrifice that will resurrect their old consumed souls in a story bigger than themselves and locate themselves in a narrative greater than themselves. So, it is imperative to engage the youth in something that is outside of themselves, but we must first break the consuming psychological strong holds. If they even sense a fake adult authoritative power, they are out of there.
For the last two months in youth group, I have been requiring that every single youth (jr and sr high) that walks through the door turn off and turn in his/her cell phone and ipod in the designated basket. At first, they hated me and gave me much resistance. Now, I have them trained like dogs. It was my small way to confront the distractions and consumption mentality in their life. Youth group is one hour and 30 minutes, students can easily go that long without music, text, or talking on their phone. And who knows God may get their attention since they are not glued to their cell phone? I have actually sensed an increase of attention and engagement since my cell phone/ipod policy. But seriously, that basket is like a mini earthquake. Every other second a cell phone is vibrating.
Last weekend our youth group was a part of the 30 Hour Famine. It was a major success! The students were deeply moved by the 29,000 kids that die a day of starvation and malnutrition. I was floored because some of my major party students showed up on both Friday and Saturday night. I asked them why they decided to skip out on the rager to come starve for the hungry in Africa? They first said that there is a real power in part taking in something much larger than their own private-self absorbed world. They also said if there is a great cause, they are willing to make great sacrifices.
As a youth pastor it is my dream to break through the adolescent consumption mentality and their misconception of unmoral adults. I want my students serving God and serving outside of themselves while feeling no desire to buy things. Lastly, I want them to feel that adults are safe and trustworthy and adults genuinely care for who they are.