The political forces that value human solidarity and critical thinking are astonished to see that many young people, a priori considered champions of rebellion and promoters of new visions, are manifesting themselves on the public stage by adhering to retrograde or openly fascist slogans.

In the hegemonic media, opinion formers appear who, in their short-sightedness, believe that young people are not interested in politics and are therefore prey to facile slogans. Conversely, the majority of young people feel that politics does not interest them and that these “analysts” show off their profession by thinking with their buttocks.

There are also those who complain that the new generations have learned nothing from history and that we are in danger of repeating its worst aspects. They omit that it has been the older generations and their education systems that have been in charge of such transmission. Worse still, the complaint blames youthful contempt for their reluctance to accept a single account of history – markedly Eurocentric with a strong Hollywood accent – and for suspecting that the memory of each generation rescues in its historical vision only the issues it considers most relevant.

On the other hand, the more pragmatic approaches argue that to capture the interest of young people, it is necessary to modify the aesthetics and certain forms that come from a world that no longer exists. Some even simplify to the maximum by pointing out that it will be enough to occupy digital platforms with colourful or humorous productions to seduce the new cohorts.

The externalisation of the issue fails to capture the essence of the message. The youth revolt, which sometimes manifests itself openly and sometimes in fierce silent resistance, is basically anti-systemic. It points out that the multidimensional crisis cannot be solved with the same recipes or the same protagonisms that produced it, and that the new generations are not willing to let themselves be channelled down the same old paths.

A demographic review

According to data from ECLAC
[1] (2020), out of a total of around 652 million inhabitants of Latin America and the Caribbean, approximately a quarter are children under the age of 14. Another 25% (160 million) are young people aged between 15 and 29. 144 million people are between 30 and 44 (22%) and 108 million are between 45 and 59 (17%). Just over 62 million (10%) make up the 60-74 age cohort and 21 million (3.3%) are now over 75.

A comparison with the 1970s, when the region’s total population was 286.5 million (less than half of today’s), reveals that about a third were over 30 (90 million), compared with 51% today. In other words, we have aged. Or seen in a positive light, more people are living longer.

Two trends are at work simultaneously among the reasons for this demographic development. Firstly, the lengthening of the human lifespan. As a result of a general improvement in sanitation and health care conditions – albeit with enormous inequalities between areas and social segments – the average life expectancy at birth in the region today is 75 years, whereas in 1970 it was fifty-nine[2].

2] At the same time, there has been a sharp decline in the birth rate in a very short period of time. The total fertility rate in Latin America and the Caribbean today stands at two live births per woman, while fifty years ago the average was five children. Women’s liberation from natural determinism and the patriarchal mandate is thus taking on revolutionary dimensions.

Even so, teenage pregnancy, the lack of sex education and the medieval imposition of the churches on the female body, which contravenes the free choice of motherhood, continue to wreak havoc in the region.

Differentiated and common memories and aspirations

Assuming that generations coexisting in the same space of time have the same memories is a serious mistake. Each generation grows up in a different social landscape in which its sensibility is formed. This can be seen in the strangeness and longing felt by the greying generations in the face of the loss or transformation of their environment, which has disappeared around them but is very much alive in their memories.

This is not only limited to objects, constructions and occupations, but also to the values and customs prevailing at the time. Criticism of the habits of the new generations then becomes common currency for the elderly, as well as the false litany about the goodness of past times as opposed to the present.

In the same way, the horizon of life is shaped – although not in a deterministic way – in each generation by the aspirations of the time, as well as the condition in which one is born.

Thus, different generational memories and projects coexist in the same historical period, which, in the case of young people who are growing up as opposed to the established ones, are in tension and enter into friction.

In this way, Silo points out, “The most contiguous generations try to occupy the central activity (the social present), according to their particular interests, establishing with the generations in power, a dialectic in which the old is overcome by the new.”[3] It is also true that there is a substratum of the old and the new, and that there is an old and the new are not always the same.

It is also true that there is a substratum of memory and a common future image, given in general by transmitted history and shared culture, which allows for a certain social cohesion. This substratum is now becoming more diffuse but also more complex, due to historical acceleration, fragmentation and the interpenetration of codes from all the cultures of the earth through direct contact and digital communication.

What does all this mean, and what implications does it have for social and political life and its future?

Generational dialectics

The young generation, critical of established models and in dialectic with previous generations, is often responsible for the state of affairs by action or omission.

Young people always occupy the “front line” of change, in defiance of the oppression and repression they suffer, but the transformative impetus should not be confused with a sign of evolution. There are plenty of historical examples of regressive positioning, as evidenced in Nazism, the cultural revolution in China, or today’s religious fundamentalisms. Even radical environmentalism and denialism of scientific knowledge must be considered as present-day variants of evolutionary tendencies.

The precariousness and exclusion of many young people today is a structural factors in the generational stampede. This is quite legitimate, on the other hand. But the current uprising is also a response to the continuing betrayal of the system’s false promises to the young.

Added to this is a generational “funnel” effect. A large part of the previous generations, who are now older, are reluctant to leave their spaces, preventing access to those who are growing up and immobilising the logic of replacement.

But in the end, it is the rejection of an outdated, hypocritical, and void-of-meaning system of beliefs and values that generates the greatest indignation in the new generations.

Generational clock and political map

The current generational clock in Latin America and the Caribbean is made up of approximately six generations of very different internal temporality. The older ones were born in the period before the Second World War. Then came the generation that grew up in Latin America and the Caribbean under strong leadership and nationalist projects, in the times of cement and large infrastructure projects. Those who are now over 60 drank in their adolescence from the guerrilla revolution, rock and roll, hippie psychedelia, oriental mysticism or something of all of them.

After the brutal repression of the system to eliminate all traces of counterculture, a generation arose through neoliberalism, the ideology that dictated the end of history and ideologies. Faced with the disastrous effects of a capitalism without a deaf ear, a new generation of protest emerged, which helped to build the region’s projects of political and cultural self-determination in the first decade of the 21st century.

It is in these social-political environments that today’s youth have grown up, and, like previous generations, they refuse to allow their horizons to be shaped only by the dreams cherished by the youth of other eras.

While the political preferences of the adult generations tend to a greater extent towards conservation – an aspect that is becoming more acute with the demographic increase of the middle-aged social strata – the political stance of the younger generation is far from univocal.

One faction maintains that progressivism avoids greater evils, and mobilises with the idea of “all against the worst”, adding to the accumulation of forces to defeat the right and ultra-right. There are those who, as already mentioned, opt for the high-flown and conservative proclamations of grotesque characters who have emerged in the heat of systemic failure. An important contingent of young people, in a more radical critique of the established institutional framework, adhere to the proclamation “let them all go”, while others, driven by situations of extreme deprivation or other types of violence, offer their support – perhaps with their noses held to the grindstone – to the highest bidder.

The question today, for the older generations concerning the social progress of the large groups, is if it is possible to establish a dialogue with the new generations, who are mostly critical of models that are typical of the visions of the last century. A dialogue whose horizon is to prevent their justified rejection from being functional to a disastrous pendulum towards the absolute dominance of capital, today dressed up as supposedly digital and green innovation.

This dilemma is complemented, in turn, for the less conformist spirits of all generations, by another even more intricate question: how can this youth encourage revolutions of a new type whose sign is humanising?

The total revolution

Over the last four centuries, the look on the world has been permeated by the advance of science and its youngest daughter, technology. A daughter that, with a total lack of respect for its progenitor, has tried to detach itself from its foundation, pretending to become – quite successfully – mistress and mistress of the planet.

In tandem with the enormous advances achieved by both in the last few centuries, there has arisen as a counterpart a biased view, in which all truth must pass through the sieve of certain parameters established by scientific methodology in order to be accepted.

This axiomatic belief system, imposed in parallel to colonial domination, annihilated other forms of knowledge existing in the different cultures, while at the same time implanting an analogous way of looking at the human as just another phenomenon, merely external, subject to natural laws and with a definitive and immovable nature.

This approach to the human buried, or at least subordinated, the importance of the inner world, of individual and collective subjectivity, relegating it to a secondary role.

In dialectic with this objectified and technocratic look, its idealistic nemesis emerged in rejection, with a significant number of people adhering to the rules of a realm governed by immaterial essences. In a resurgence of the world that was thought to have been liquidated by the rationalist Enlightenment, the theistic variant reappeared with force, manipulated to a large extent by religious interpreters, a vision that gave rise to a political current with strong regressive content. In its predominantly atheistic aspect, the issue drifted towards spiritualist absolutism, generally distanced from any hint of collective action in the political field, which was considered polluted and spurious.

Perhaps the new revolutions needed have an integral character, not placing the social political in contradiction with the existential, but postulating a continuous interaction between human interiority – favoured in its evolution by better living conditions for all – and a non-violent society, made possible by the change of values in the inner world of each individual.

This complementation of opposing assumptions, of the dense and the subtle, of the earthly and the eternal with a sense of ascent and human development, can constitute the creative and integrative synthesis of differences.

If the new generations and some of the older ones adopt the idea of simultaneous transformations in both the social and existential spheres, it will be possible to satisfy the equally pressing needs of the body and the soul in parallel. The revolution will then also have consistency and permanence in time.

This new world opens up as a possibility before us. It is time to leap the barrier of the known and try it.



[3] Silo. Dictionary of New Humanism. Generations. Collected Works Vol. II. Ed. Plaza y Valdés (2002) D.F. Mexico.