21 August 2007

Embracing the Incompetence of Perpetual Adolescence

If a society is to preserve its stability and a degree of continuity, it must know how to keep its adolescents from imposing their tastes, attitudes, values, and fantasies on everyday life.
—Eric Hoffer

It is the child in man that is the source of his uniqueness and creativeness, and the playground is the optimal milieu for the unfolding of his capacities and talents.
--Eric Hoffer

These quotes begin to reveal the complexity of maturing into adulthood. Youthful energy is always useful, whereas youthful petulance and naive impulsivity can make fools of persons of any age.

27 percent of adult children striking out on their own return home to live at least once; and that 46 percent of adult couples regard their parents’ houses as their “real” homes.7 Over in Italy, nearly one in three thirty-somethings never leave that “real” home in the first place.8 Neither have 25 percent of American men, ages eighteen to thirty.9 Maybe this helps explain why about one-third of the fifty-six million Americans sitting down to watch SpongeBob SquarePants on Nickelodeon each month in 2002 were between the ages of eighteen and forty-nine.10 (Nickelodeon’s core demographic group is between the ages of six and eleven.) These are grown-ups who haven’t left childhood. Then again, why should they? As movie producer and former Universal marketing executive Kathy Jones put it, “There isn’t any clear demarcation of what’s for parents and what’s for kids. We like the same music, we dress similarly.”11

...In considering what I like to call “the death of the grown-up,” it’s important to keep a fix on this fact: that for all but this most recent episode of human history, there were children and there were adults. Children in their teen years aspired to adulthood; significantly, they didn’t aspire to adolescence. Certainly, adults didn’t aspire to remain teenagers.

...The National Academy of Sciences has, in 2002, redefined adolescence as the period extending from the onset of puberty, around twelve, to age thirty.5 The MacArthur Foundation has gone farther still, funding a major research project that argues that the “transition to adulthood” doesn’t end until age thirty-four.6

The Death of the Grownup by Diana West takes one look at the perpetual youth culture that has worked its will upon most western societies. Ms. West suggests that a society that attempts to focus upon youthful attitudes and proclivities to the exclusion of mature concerns, may be setting itself up for a hostile takeover. In this case, the hostiles would be Islamic supremacists.

The takeover would be demographic (differential birthrates) and by force of will--the barbarians who are willing to take the issue of control to an extreme that the "civilised but perpetual adolescents" cannot bring themselves to do.

Readers of Al Fin blog may recognise the much-mentioned issue of "psychological neoteny"--the perpetual incompetence of pampered adolescence--in my description of West's book.

Another book with overlapping concerns is The Case Against Adolescence by Robert Epstein. Epstein touches on another Al Fin concern with psychological neoteny--society's unwillingness to expose adolescents to the adult world of work and responsibility.

North American attitudes toward adolescence are certainly dysfunctional, and may even lead to increased vulnerability to outside threats. It is worthwhile to consider these concerns while there is time to address them.

The tenured incompetents who run much of academia and the media do not want ordinary people to concern themselves with these issues, since they consider the education of youth and the public to be their exclusive purview.

It is up to us, how long we allow them to believe that.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This story struck me as evidence of how immature our society has become. Somehow, it seems grown-ups just would not act this way.


Tuesday, 21 August, 2007  
Blogger AntiCitizenOne said...

Western cultures don't really have a ceremony for their children becoming adults.

Most other cultures do. Maybe you could look into this aspect more?

Wednesday, 22 August, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

don: Yes, I agree.

anticitizenone: Good point. I'll add the label "rite of passage" to this posting, to point to postings dealing with that issue.

Wednesday, 22 August, 2007  
Blogger Audacious Epigone said...

Seems to me the rite of passage used to be something along the lines of: "Okay, you're eighteen. Time to move out and move on."

Not anymore. Many boomers may have felt they leapt into the world too soon, and overreacted in the other direction with their own children. That was certainly the case for my dad, who moved away from home before he'd even turned 18, worked, went to school, and lived in a hole in the wall. I left home when I was 22. Even at that point, he didn't want me to, despite well-paying work and savings.

Thursday, 23 August, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

Joseph Kett wrote a very informative book on Rites of Passage, looking at the 1800s particularly.

When you combine Kett's book with John Taylor Gatto's book on the history of American education, you get an amazing look at pre-baby boom "adolescence" and passaging to adulthood.

We really are living in a never-never land.

Monday, 27 August, 2007  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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