Youth, Riots, Rwanda, and Ridiculousness


"Post Riot Clean Up" Credit K-Anne Guray

This is a post about the vancouver riots, sensationalism in the media, the plight of youth in a chaotic world, nega-community, and how they all fit together in a ridiculous way.

It will take you a while to get through it all – and your head might spin – but if it’s not worth it by the end then I’ll give you your money back.

A lot of things happened in Vancouver and on the Interweb during the last two weeks. A lot of people – well over 100 at last count – have been charged with crimes relating to the infamous Vancouver Riot. A lot of people became vigilanties and crowdsource surveiled and turned-in people in their communities who were photographed at and/or told the Twitterverse about their involvement in the riot. A lot of theories have been put forth about who’s responsible for the riot (Kurt even wrote about it last week) and why seemingly normal people would do something so terrible.

The youth hopelessness argument was an interesting one, as young men – going nowhere fast, as Tony Wanless claimed - played a pretty key role in burning and breaking Vancouver. The The Tyee‘s Bill Tieleman pointed several fingers at our corrupting, cheating, lying, stealing, and generally community-corrosive societal role models. Adrian Mack and Miranda Nelson from the Georgia Strait weighed into the conversation with a swears-filled assessment of the grim future facing young people today:

So, why are there so many hungry souls out there, ready and willing to bring chaos down on the so-called most livable city on the planet? In reality, matters have only gotten much worse politically and economically since 1994, and Generation Y has been delivered into a beyond-callous world facing a perfect storm of crises. They know it. What does the future look like for the average 20 year old? It’s a depressing, empty place where they can’t get decent-paying (let alone secure) jobs or ever have a hope of owning property. Can you imagine how much more fearful and angry they would be if they fully comprehended the seriousness of peak oil?

This is a grim outlook to say the least. And there is a ton of data to back it up. A recent article by the The Globe and Mail‘s Rita Trichur fully addresses the current plight of six-language-speaking, graduate-degree-receiving, international-work-experience-having young people trying to find work. And sucking at it. Speaking of things that suck, the jobless rate for youth in British Columbia (14.9% in April 2011) is twice the national average (7.9% in April 2011). Says Trichur:

Stagnation in youth employment is worrying because students who graduate during poor economic times are at higher risk of “scarring” or sustaining long-term damage to their nascent careers.

According to the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada, 13 weeks of unemployment can reduce next-year wages by 3.4 per cent for a full-time worker, while a six-month spell could hurt income for as long as four years after.

Now. Before moving into this next section – which is a deadly serious one – I want to underscore the purpose of my hyperbole. The sensational exaggeration that unfolds below came to mind after watching a clip of Jon Stewart engaging with Chris Wallace on Fox News. Our unofficial leader of Jo(h)nism International, Mr. Stewart, made a stellar point about the media: “the bias of the mainstream media is towards sensationalism, conflict and laziness.” Some other stuff got to me, too, which I’ll get to in a minute or two. It is with the concept of sensationalism and conflict in mind that I carefully move forward.

In 1994, while a few idiots were probably planning their riot route through Vancouver for the first time, Rwanda* was descending into the kind of hopeless tragedy that most of us here in Vancouver cannot possibly imagine. In his book about the end of civilizations, Collapse, Anthropologist Jared Diamond controversially argued that Malthusian economics can explain what happened:

“Both Malthus’s supporters and his detractors could agree that population and environmental problems created by non-sustainable resource use will ultimately get solved in one way or another: if not by pleasant means of our own choice, then by unpleasant and unchosen means, such as the ones that Malthus initially envisioned.” – Collapse, p. 313

Speaking of disenfranchised youth, by 1993 in the Northwestern district of Kamana “not a single man in his early 20s lived independently of his parents.” According to Diamond, Rwanda’s “perfect storm crisis” (I borrowed that language from a quote above describing disenfranchised young people in Vancouver) started by the immense pressure put on growing families and shrinking farms in Kamana:

“With more young people staying home, the average number of people per farm household increased (between 1988 and 1993) from 4.9 to 5.3, so that the land shortage was even tighter than indicated by the decrease in farm size from 0.89 to 0.72 acre. When one divides decreasing farm area by increasing number of people in the household, one finds that each person was living off only one-fifth of an acre in 1988, declining to one-seventh of an acre in 1993.” – Collapse, p. 321.

And we know what many of these alienated, hopeless and angry young men did following the assassination of the country’s president on April 6, 1994. Out of this chaos and horror emerged a simple, unifying motto for the very wounded nation: never again. Over 17 years later, I’m not too sure which city – Vancouver or Kigali – and its people have come further with its approach to life, the universe and everything. Hopefully the connective and hyperbolic metaphor has sunk in.

No, genocide and hockey riots are not even in the same universe of comparison. This is a ridiculous and, perhaps, offensive juxtaposition. How does our sensational, hopeless, world-ending, eternally-negative language look now? I’d argue that it looks pretty ridiculous in such a global and historical context, which doesn’t take away the justified anger in many of these letters from the front lines, but does kinda sorta call into question the fervor with which people are digitally lynching their fellow community-members. And, from a disenfranchised hopeless youth perspective, well, it’s hard out there, don’t get me wrong, but our condos and parent’s basements aren’t that small, either.

I first thought about connecting bigger ideas and problems to the riots after reading the quote that concluded my first article about the hockey riots. It was a comment from my friend Kim: “Useless violence and destruction. No one in this country takes action for things that matter, yet will destroy a downtown when a hockey team loses.” I thought about Rwanda again when I saw words like “genocide” and “would we forgive Hitler if he apologized for killing millions?” used by the online mob to comment on videos and blog posts by confessing and apologizing rioters. I mean, people fighting for their freedom and hockey riots aren’t even in the same stratosphere of comparison … though, unfortunately, some of the friggin’ pictures look way too similar. Who are we, Metro Vancouver Community?

Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. Here’s my point. Yes, it’s not the best time to be searching for a job, especially when the job searchers come from a generation that has been raised on the unchangeable belief that they will be inheriting and running the planet before their 30th birthdays. This attitude of entitlement certainly correlates to the frustration, anger and hopelessness that’s lauded by some of the articles mentioned above. And there are ways to make the most of the terrible youth job market. For example, Statistics Canada is launching a survey that strives to pinpoint where Canada’s jobs develop, “a move that will shed light on a key aspect of the labour market that has long puzzled economists and policy makers: where the jobs are,” says the The Globe and Mail‘s Tavia Grant. Unemployed youth and prospective unemployed youth, there will soon be a matrix that identifies areas of the economy that have need ranging from “somewhat” to “huge” – so says the article:

It will help both job seekers and employers in the job-search process. Also, comparing unemployment on one side and job vacancies on another will give a ratio that will show the degree of tightness in the labour market, he added. The data can be used as indicators of the health of the economy, as well as showing the inflationary pressure on wages.

A better understanding of current needs is also key to analyzing any shifts in the labour market. And having a clearer sense of present conditions should, in turn, help policy makers make more realistic assessments of future needs.

In addition to this, people who cut their teeth on a terrible job market, in my opinion, emerge stronger, better and faster 10-years down the road. In this market, you cannot search and apply for jobs on the Internet while wearing pajamas. You need – and are expected to – get out into the community and introduce yourself to the people who work where you want to work. The emotionally intelligent social and professional skills that you develop during this initially awkward and ever-evolving connective experience will inform your decision making, instincts and wisdom as your career grows.  Youth. In this post-riot state of sobering clarity there is a moment to seize. And it’s not great seats for the next MMA fight. It’s probably looks a bit more like doing right by your community and contributing to something that connects people to a common purpose. Let’s start by making our purpose not rioting, speaking positively about each other, and really thinking about what we want our neighbourhoods to look like in 10 years by getting out into our communities and building that tomorrow today. If you need any tips, let me tell you that this blog alone has about 800 tips on how to do it.

And, to the rioters, your grasp of social media channels – which were used to crowdsource riot-activities, post riot-related updates, retract riot-related updates, apologize for riot-related activity, and emphasize pre-riot-related-positive-things – makes me think that you were (and could still be) a unique and catchy targeted video resume away from landing that elusive post-graduate job. Maybe not. And yet the point still stands: clearly, a lot of energy was – and still is – being directed to the riot. Be it Orwellian crowdsourced surveillance and public shaming of rioters (and alleged rioters) or the physical and digital acts of destructive celebration, people are really, really misusing human capital. Leave the vigilante justice to Batman and, possibly, these crazy dudes in Seattle and think about applying this spectacular cross-cultural and inter-generational energy to the most amazing non-riot street festival or community event that Metro Vancouver has ever seen. Shamed rioters, you must do positive things and celebrate them online. For if you do not, your current digital shame will be your unfortunate online legacy. Aside from making you more employable, spreading happiness that jives with your style will totally erase the hopelessness, too. Trust me.

Maybe take a page from the Book of Awesome playbook and start by sharing some positive stories with friends.

Finally, to the non-Daily Gumboot-like media: if you look for negativity and sensationalism you will find negative and sensational things. I mean, look what I just did!!! If your angle to a story is like Mr. Tieleman’s angle to a story then you will find corrupt leaders who are horrible role models. Or you will find young men going nowhere fast. Or police and politicians to blame. Or someone new to shame for the terrible mistake that they made because of booze and energy. Maybe your audience would like a different message if you fed them one. A message of hope, like the post-riot clean-up or of humour, like this amazing Katy Perry parody:

This is our community and these are the stories to share with our neighbours. Well, maybe not the Katy Perry video, but there ar- wait, you know what, my 14 year-old cousin probably likes it and we’ll talk about it next week! Anyway, many of our leaders have said and are doing the right thing – celebrating that would be a breath of fresh awesome to say the least.

So there it is. The riot and its myriad fallout is making everyone look bad or even worse. Yet there are many, many positive things in this city on which to focus and celebrate. Let’s think about a new tact for a change. And then let’s be that change.

*[Editor's note: I chose Rwanda as an example because I spent some time there a few years ago and made some great friends who have undoubtedly looked through the window of social media into what they initially pictured as an intelligent, free and peaceful place and are now shaking their heads incredulously]

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