Do you ever feel out of step with your own age group? I do. Almost all the time, in fact. Take music: to me, dubstep sounds like one of those old-fashioned modems exploding to the accompaniment of a gut-thumping bass-line that has the uncomfortable effect of making you want to scratch your Adam’s apple from the inside. Also, why call it dubstep? It goes wub. “Dubstep” sounds like a dance craze from the 1940s. Music is only the start, however. I’d rather have a double espresso than a red bull; a dry martini over a strawberry daiquiri; Newsnight instead of Glee. You can imagine how I felt, then, when there emerged yet another way for me to feel out of touch with my peers.
I confess I didn’t protest on Thursday, the day of the tuition fees vote. I’m probably not alone in this. Nevertheless, I wish to defend my position. I absolutely hate noisy crowds. Politics and ideology aside, the idea of being in an over-excited group of people chanting slogans (many of which don’t even scan) appeals to me about as much as the thought of listening to dub-step.
In fact, I imagine going on a demo would be much like going to a music festival, though of course I can’t be sure, since due to my aforementioned dislike of noisy crowds I have experienced neither demo nor festival. I’m not claustrophobic, just slightly misanthropic. I can cope with an orderly queue, and I have no problem being in a packed lift or train carriage, because in this country there are strict regulations about those things: do not talk, do not make eye contact etc.
A protest, however, is by its very nature chaotic. A structure of sorts is imposed by the route of the march, but the point of a protest is not to get from A to B, and, at any rate, no one ever sticks to the planned route.
In every way, protests are messy. Not my cup of tea, I’m afraid. Best let other people get on with it. They’d do a much better job of it than I ever could. If I were occupying the Rad Cam I would ask people to be quiet so that I could get some sleep. I would bring a folding chair and a book to a sit-in. On a march I would get annoyed if the people in front of me weren’t walking quickly enough.
Please don’t think, though, that I am opposed to protests in principle. On the contrary, I think they are terribly important. Every so often, in extreme cases, citizens need something more direct than the ballot box in order to register their disapproval. For this reason the right to protest is one that ought to be valued above almost all others, and should be considered nearly as important as the right to vote itself. With rights come certain responsibilities, however. As a vital channel of democracy, protesting should be afforded a great deal of respect, both by the protesters themselves and, crucially, by those in authority. Both groups seem to have forgotten this, though.
The effectiveness of the kind of demonstrating we have seen recently is only going to be damaged if people take it too far too regularly, and on too flimsy a pretext. Making students pay for degrees that they stand to benefit from is hardly an injustice of the severity to inspire a Mahatma Gandhi or a Martin Luther King. In fact it seems to have inspired the kind of people who get a kick from fighting authority purely for its own sake; in most people’s eyes the face of student activism is not Aaron Porter but the odious Charlie Gilmour.
Everyone agrees that education is a human right, but it is unreasonable and downright naive to argue that the principle of free education for all should extend to a situation where everybody who works for a living would be required to shoulder the entire burden of funding three year degree courses for a lucky few. The danger is that our generation will be remembered for fighting a battle of self interest. Go and ask a foreign student how much sympathy they have for the cause of “free” higher education (“free” is a misleading word: someone will have to pay). We live in a country where some people are illiterate into their teens. I am taught Latin and Greek by world experts. Why is it necessary for the taxpayer to foot the bill for my further development when schools in Britain fall so shockingly behind those of our neighbours?
I don’t understand why people like dubstep. This is a simple matter of personal preference. It is my firm belief, however, that our generation has made a mistake in choosing to fight the present cause. It may well be true that I would make a rubbish protester. Having said that, the point is not to enjoy yourself. I guess that’s what separates a truly worthwhile fight from an excuse for an anarchic day out. “Free” university is not an issue worth fighting for. That’s why I didn’t protest on Thursday. That, and the fact I was on the Varsity trip.