I’ve seen some commentators claim that young people are not warranted in political protesting nor justified in taking strong political positions, because they’re still far too ignorant to be able to offer meaningful solutions. For example, Professor Jordan Peterson makes this argument below:
Full exchange here: https://youtu.be/OD-VCRNIp-U
Although I acknowledge that people are often poorly informed or uninformed and that being uninformed can result in the advancement of destructive proposals, I don’t think this justifies inaction or long preparation to act. Setting aside the empirical questions of ① whether teenagers who protest are significantly less informed than adults who protest and ② whether every political problem is so complex as to require academic qualifications to resolve, I want to argue that we all must act politically despite our being inadequately knowledgeable. I think this simply because those in power are already putting in place policies formulated by pressure from corporate entities or interest groups who are not interested in evaluating the facts, e.g., to find the best way to achieve common good. They are just pushing for their profit. Moreover, the policies they’re pushing for are going to affect you whether you like it or not. In this context, there is no safe ground from which to adequately prepare for political life without being affected by politics.
I find William James’s examination of genuine choice useful here. James argues that some choices we face in life are forced (unavoidable) and momentous (having significant repercussions to you), in which case there is no uncommitted position for deliberation – or, what is the same, refusing to act immediately is itself consequential.
In the movie adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, the protagonist Llewelyn Moss finds himself, in one scene, having to run for his life to the edge of a cliff – below which is a river.
Although some might say Moss had “no choice” here, I think it’s more useful to say that his choice was forced. He had to act, since not-acting (e.g., just freezing) would have been as consequential or momentous as choosing to slide down the loose dirt of the cliff face. He had no time to perfect the skill of such a manoeuvre.
This is analogous to political action. In politics, there are already people and processes working against your interests before you’ve had a chance to think about expressing yourself. (There are also those working for your interests, but let’s just keep the former in mind for now.) Here, your action and inaction are equally unwarranted by your present ignorance or lack of knowledge about the best policy.
Inaction or long preparation to act politically can be practically equivalent to acting for the policies of the status quo or the policies of others which will be implemented without your resistance to them. (It is not always the case that inaction is morally censurable. The test in law is whether the person who refuses to act has a duty of care to the people foreseeably affected by the inaction. In the present context, it is assumed that the choices before you are consequential and that you always have a duty of care to yourself – even if no one but yourself will censure you for failing to meet this duty.) So either way, when the policy is momentous and unavoidable, we are – everyone of us – being political despite our limited knowledge and despite our neutrality.
This is why I don’t think it is justified to prescribe long deliberation to young people as a prerequisite to political protest. I do think that it’s important to ask young people to remain open and inquisitive, however. To balance the demand for deliberation and the demand for action is to be constantly learning and sincerely open to re-evaluating one’s policy positions while also acting for political change or enforcement of policies already in place. In this way, it is possible to act in the world while accounting for the best available information to motivate your action.