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2015 in review: Maintaining youthful rage

  • 15 January 2016

First published 13 August 2015

In the famous essay by Joan Didion, 'Goodbye To All That', the author describes New York City as 'a city only for the very young'. I first read that essay when I was very young, and like Didion leaving New York City, 'I am not that young anymore'.

Didion's New York stands in for youth, the spaces of extreme meaning and promise that become milder and less beguiling with the years. I am learning the hard way, the tried and tested way, of growing older, that I can't spread myself so thinly over everything I once cared about. That there are limits, and protecting them is greatly valuable.

However these limits do not include abandoning some idealistic sense of responsibility to the collective, however specialised that sense has become. One of the clichés about aging in this way, 'growing up', is that you get more 'realistic' about political matters. For example, 'If you're not a liberal when you're 20, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative when you're 40, you have no head.'

The wisdom is that presumably as people age they become more reasonable. But that's not it. As people age, if they follow a certain approved life trajectory (acquire adequate education, attain appropriate partner), their lives become much easier to manage, because they establish tangible social privileges.

If you are not born a particular kind of affluent, youth brings the greatest financial and emotional precarity, violence, and danger. For those looking to political change during this time, the stakes are very high, and very real.

I suspect that this is why many radical discourses are led by young people, people under the age of 25, and that these discourses are often so charged with extremely emotional demands. I am speaking about rage in politics, its value, and its cost. I am no stranger to rage, it is one of my main motivations. It's changed, a bit, in me, but I certainly haven't lost it. But rage is not uncomplicated.

In 1976, Jo Freeman wrote an essay in Ms Magazine called 'Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood', about her experience of being 'trashed', which means being excised from a political community via bullying.

'Trashing is a particularly vicious form of character assassination which amounts to psychological rape,' she writes. 'It is occasionally disguised by the rhetoric of honest conflict, or covered up by denying that any disapproval exists at all. But