25
Feb

Campus Rape: Defining the Problem

   Posted by: Robert   in Uncategorized

If news reports are to be believed, campus rape is a major plague at America’s colleges.  According to statistics cited by the White House in a recent press release, one in five American women are victims of sexual assault.1  Other government sources suggest lower numbers.  Regardless of which set of statistics is correct, two things about these citations become quickly apparent:  First, that campus rape is both socially and politically significant; and second, that the numbers tell very little about what is actually going on.

The exact meaning of rape in statistics varies depending on the exact definitions used.  The Bureau of Justice Statistics collected three definitions (emphasis added, internal citations omitted):

Definitions of rape and sexual assault. The NCVS, NISVS, and CSA target different types of events. The NCVS definition is shaped from a criminal justice perspective and includes threatened, attempted, and completed rape and sexual assault against males and females. The NISVS uses a broader definition of sexual violence, which specifically mentions incidents in which the victim was unable to provide consent due to drug or alcohol use; forced to penetrate another person; or coerced to engage in sexual contact (including nonphysical pressure to engage in sex) unwanted sexual contact (including forcible kissing, fondling, or grabbing); and noncontact unwanted sexual experiences that do not involve physical contact. The CSA definition of rape and sexual assault includes unwanted sexual contact due to force and due to incapacitation, but excludes unwanted sexual contact due to verbal or emotional coercion.

Unpacking these definitions, it’s clear that there are there are three broad categories of rape and an additional two categories of sexual assault.  The three categories of rape are rape through violence, rape through non-consent, and rape through coercion.  The two categories of sexual assault are unwanted sexual experiences with or without contact.  So, how do these definitions translate into real world behavior in our schools?

Rape through Violence

Rape through violence is likely the easiest category for people to understand.  It includes what we might call the “classic” rape scenario: A young woman taken at night by a stranger while she walked home alone and tied, naked, to a bed while her assailant has his way with her.  More broadly, it includes any scenario in which the victim is physically overpowered by the attacker or rendered incapable of physically defending themself.  No rational attacker would have reason to believe that the victim has consented to sex under these circumstances.

Rape through Non-Consent

Rape through non-consent is also relatively easy to understand in most circumstances.  It includes a wide variety of circumstances that, much like violent rape, leave no ambiguity that sex for the victim is undesirable.  Obvious examples include sex with a person who is unconscious, whether or not they were drugged by the attacker, and sex where the victim has expressed their non-consent.

This category, however, also includes a different form of sexual encounter which has taken on political importance.  This form of encounter, which is being called rape, happens when the victim is deemed “unable to consent” due to drug or alcohol intoxication.  This becomes rape even if the victim expressed consent at the time of the sexual encounter and even if the victim became intoxicated voluntarily.

Rape through Coercion

Rape through coercion is a somewhat difficult category to understand because it potentially includes a number of things which are difficult to easily define as rape.  The notation that this category includes nonphysical pressure to engage in sex implies that the coercion may be either physical or nonphysical.  The key to this category, is that the victim agrees to the sex under protest, meaning that consent happens, but the victim does not actually want to have consented.  This is likely where the distinction between consent and “enthusiastic consent” comes from.

Non-Rape Sexual Assault

These categories of sexual behavior are outside the scope of what I intend to discuss, but they are worth noting because they may or may not appear in various sets of rape statistics.

~~*~~

With these definitions in place, it becomes easier to talk about the policies being put forth from various sources for addressing the situation of rape on campus.  An ideal policy should address rape in all of the categories noted above as well as non-rape sexual assaults.  The better solutions will address only some of the categories, and the weaker solutions only one or none.  The wide variety of proposals in the world should make future posts in this series a great deal more interesting than this review of definitions.

  1. The White House article references this statistic as 1 in 5 of all women in one place and 1 in 5 women while in college in another.  Without reading the underlying study, I am not certain which interpretation is correct.  Suffice it to say, it is a large number. []
16
Feb

Sex and College: An Introduction

   Posted by: Robert   in Uncategorized

Looking through headlines today, I discovered a single random report of a new policy taking effect on Harvard’s campus.  The new policy appears to do little to advance the virtues of learning in the academy, but may be frustratingly necessary for the health of campus life.  It has nothing to do with advancing new speech codes.  It’s about sex.  In particular, it’s about prohibiting college professors from having sexual relationships with undergraduate students.

The policy seems almost too obvious to be worth having.  It strains the imagination to think of what a healthy romance between a student and a professor might look like.  The normal age difference alone should be reason enough to avoid those relationships.  Age, however, is far from the only thing which should stand between professors and the pool of students.  The fact that an official policy is necessary should be seen as a failure of our campus culture.

The relationship between college and sex seems likely to become a minor chord in the media symphony leading up to the next election.  Stories of campus rape have been working their way through the news coverage.  Harvard’s policy change is apparently worthy of mention by CNN.  The entire environment echoes back to grade school sexual education and echoes forward to contraception and abortion.  Campus sex also touches the “war on women.”  And Republicans have, at least in recent years, been either too embarrassed or too stupid to talk about sexual matters intelligently.

Conservatives, though, have no reason to be embarrassed to talk about sex at college.  Indeed, a little conservatism would go a long way toward curing the problems of sex at college.  The alternative, a proliferation of ineffective policies driven by the Federal government’s abuse of Title IX, is no way to help the young men and women who head to college.  What’s needed is a change in college culture that goes far beyond random freshman seminars.

In an upcoming series of posts, I plan to explore the failings of college culture and show where conservative principles could cause significant improvements.

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11
Feb

Words Matter!

   Posted by: Robert   in Uncategorized

News broke yesterday that the University of Michigan spent the tuition paid by nearly three of their undergraduates on something known as the Inclusive Language Campaign.  The ILC is a program that first appeared a few years ago at the University of Maryland and appears to be in the process of making its way around the country. Although the news out of Michigan only recently came to light, the program actually began with the start of the Fall term in September last year.

The professed goal of the ILC is “to educate students about hurtful phrases that are not inclusive and eliminate language that perpetuates hate and prejudice.”  In simpler terms, it’s a speech-code campaign aimed at removing certain words and phrases from college campuses.  They describe the campaign as educational, rather than regulatory, meaning that, at least for now, nobody is going to be officially punished for uttering one of the disfavored bits of language.  That’s good, because while we would certainly be better off without some of these words and phrases, we should not be so quick to cast all of them into the tides of history.

In the first category of language, we have words like “downsy”, which I suppose is something that someone, somewhere, must say.  Although my exposure to that word is new, it’s apparent that it’s meant as a reference to Down Syndrome and is probably not all that flattering to people with that disorder.  If used exclusively, it also pays very little respect to the Upsys.  Other words on the list are generally known to be pejorative (“tard” comes to mind), and otherwise just difficult to use in an intelligent sentence.  Such words add little to our public discourse, and it’s likely we could do just as well without them.

More difficult to call are phrases like “hebe-jebes,” which are supposedly tied to some history of cultural insensitivity (anti-Semitism, in this case).  Whether or not that such ties are accurate, the reality is that nobody uses that phrase in that way.  Whatever air of insensitivity that phrase may have had has been so thoroughly lost to history that it’s doubtful anyone would be offended without having been told that they ought to be.  While cultural insensitivity is bad, teaching people to be offended by non-offensive things is worse.  Teaching people to be offended in that way does nothing but turn them into victims of a distant past in which neither they nor the people around them played any part.  This is the antithesis of social progress.

Of course, social progress is almost certainly not the point.  The inclusion of “illegal alien” and “terrorist” on the list of disfavored language make clear the political leanings of the entire exercise.  The phrase “illegal alien,” we are told, may be dehumanizing to “someone who is living in the US without authorization.”  Fortunately, the recommended alternative phrase “unauthorized migrant” is not at all dehumanizing, so we can just move forward with that.  The word “terrorist,” of course, is offensive to Arabs, because not all of them are terrorists.

Speech codes can be one of the most effective ways to change the course of a political discussion by placing off-limits the language needed to fully talk about a situation.  Restrictions on speech are tool as old as language itself, and self-censorship has long been recognized as the most effective form of control.  Even if it could be said that the word lists are politically neutral, policing speech would still be bad.  The University’s endorsement and funding of the campaign is especially troubling, as open discourse is essential to both academic freedom and the intellectual development of the student body.  It also raises the spectre of more official sanctions coming in the future which would cut directly at the heart of free speech.

All that being said, I do believe it important that we avoid offending people where we can.  To help promote a more civil discourse, I have found a listing of words which may be offensive.  I would suggest that we all strive to modify our speech accordingly.

9
Feb

Is Terrorism Really Not an Existential Threat?

   Posted by: Robert   in Uncategorized

In a recent interview with CNN, President Obama made some remarks concerning the ongong war on terrorism.  In response to a question about the importance of terrorism, he offered the following as part of his answer:

What I do insist on is that we maintain a proper perspective and that we do not provide a victory to these terrorist networks by overinflating their importance and suggesting in some fashion that they are an existential threat to the United States or the world order. You know, the truth of the matter is that they can do harm. But we have the capacity to control how we respond in ways that do not undercut what’s the — you know, what’s essence of who we are.

His comment that terrorists are not “an existential threat to the United States or the world order” is, I believe, both true and misleading.  It is also entirely beside the point.  The threat posed by terrorists is somewhat unusual in world history and that type of language does not help to describe what they are doing at all.

The typical definition of an “existential threat” is that it is a literal threat to the continuation of a country.  The most recent “existential threat” to the United States is most likely the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and before them were the Axis powers of World War II.  Those threats carried with them a specific outcome: The removal of the United States from the world map.  For a country the size and strength of the United States, this level of threat can pretty much only be brought by other well funded nations.  In that sense, Obama is correct; it is highly unlikely that terrorists have the means to bring the United States to the same fate as the Ottoman Empire.

In a deeper sense, however, that analysis misses the point.  The goal of terrorism is not to directly overthrow a nation.  Rather, the goal of terrorism is to disrupt a nation and cause it, over time, to defeat itself.  This technique is especially powerful against a country like the United States, which is defined as much by its values as it is by its geographic area.  If terrorists are able to destroy those values, the end result is little different than destroying the country entirely.

For most of the past fourteen years, America’s values of freedom, personal liberty, and independence have been under general assault.  We are routinely inconvenienced in public places by the casual inspection of our personal belongings.  We have seen the aggression of our police forces increase to the point that a prank phone call can result in a military-style home invasion scenario.  We have been told to get used to a world in which the government has unfettered access to all of our private electronic data.  We are forced to suffer from these things, and more, all on the promise that they are somehow necessary to keep us from being obliterated.

The effects on our society can already be seen in our responses to otherwise innocuous situations.  To see how, one need only look at the reaction to The Interview, which would have been unceremoniously buried from the world if not for a major online campaign to bring the movie back to life.  In a nation which holds few values more deeply than ours does the freedom of speech, the scrapping of such a major film due to fear should be nearly unthinkable.  And yet, we found ourselves exactly there.

How much more would be necessary to render the US unrecognisable? It is difficult to say.  What is not so hard is to recognize that we are on a path leading away from those values which make America unique.  Avoiding that fate has nothing to do with the actions of our military; our essence is not diminished by the strategic decisions necessary to fight terrorism abroad.

Strong leadership and commitment to American values is our best defense against the real existential threat posed by global terror.  Our military, of course, serves an essential role in keeping the threat of foreign terrorism foreign.  But the real threat to America will not come from the damage inflicted by an extremist wearing an explosive vest, but rather from how we fear that someone else with a similar vest might step into our lives next.  The sacrifices we make to avoid that fear are the real injuries that could ultimately lead to our destruction.

6
Feb

Responding to Terrorism

   Posted by: Robert   in Uncategorized

Over the course of the past few weeks, the forces of global terrorism have been showing off just how global their activities have become.  Beginning with their activities in France, Radical Islam has brought their penchant for violence to several countries who are not part of the traditional terrorism narrative.  The response in each of these countries has been interesting, particularly in light of President Obama’s recent remarks about terrorism and the US.

This game of global compare and contrast begins on January 7, when two Islamic terrorists killed eleven people at the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper.  President Hollande came out right away to declare that the shooting was “undoubtedly a terrorist attack” and the response from the people of France was equally strong and clear.  Although not much has come from the attack other than demonstrations, it gripped the media and brought out condemnation from groups who would likely have preferred to avoid the subject entirely.  The attack was perhaps most effective by reminding people that terrorism can strike anywhere, with only the slightest of provocation.

Indeed, terrorists can strike against peaceful nations without any provocation at all.  When Japan pledged to contribute some money to the war against terrorism, the terrorists of ISIS apparently decided that equal representation was only fair.  They demanded $200 million from the Japanese government, who we can all be glad politely refused.  When that led to the beheading of two Japanese journalists, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was “infuriated.”  In response, Abe has pledged to continue Japan’s non-military support of anti-terrorist efforts and it appears he is also looking to find ways to bring Japan’s military to the fight.  In the meantime, we can all hope that they will attend “an international conference on countering violent extremism” on February 18.

Likely not attending that conference will be King Abdullah II of Jordan, a leader whose recent clash with the Islamic State left two of his countrymen dead.  The terrorists, it seemed, wanted to trade those two Jordanians for one of their fellow terrorists.  The problem came when King Abdullah learned that his people had already been killed.  Finding it unfair to trade terrorist prisoners for corpses, he went ahead and created some dead bodies of his own.  So upset is he about the death of his countrymen that there have been reports, however untrue, that he is personally leading air strikes against ISIS.

Meanwhile, in the United States, President Obama gave an interview to CNN in which he said that we must “maintain a proper perspective and that we do not provide a victory to these terrorist networks by overinflating their importance and suggesting in some fashion that they are an existential threat to the United States or the world order.”

It seems unlikely that the rest of the world will see things in quite that way.  It is, of course, relatively easy to think it no big deal if somebody else is being attacked, and so far the rest of the world has been able to mostly sit back and watch the US spar with Radical Islam at home and abroad.  As ISIS expands their reach, attacks against other nations are likely to become far more frequent and more violent.  The beheading of two Japanese journalists was portrayed by some as “Japan’s 9/11.”  We can expect to see more of that type of thinking rather than less as other countries become involved.  As far as what that means to the “world order,” only time will tell.

8
Jul

Standards of Outrage

   Posted by: Robert   in Uncategorized

Lately, it seems like every time I turn around, there’s a new government surveillance program to worry about.  This whole series of revelations started back around the time that the Democrats needed any excuse to get off the topic of Benghazi and, ever since, has blossomed into a full fledged story in its own right.

In the past two months, we’ve learned that the government wiretapped a Fox News reporter, routinely gathers metadata about international calls (this wasn’t news), metadata about purely domestic calls (this was), may or may not have direct access to the data we store on the internet through a program called PRISM, and stores the contents of every encrypted message they happen to intercept (even the completely domestic ones) until such a time as they break its encryption, and has pictures of every envelope sent through the mail since somewhere around 2001.  Looking further back in time, anyone who’s watched an episode of CSI knows that the government can track your cell phone, often without a warrant.  Less well known is the fact that the government can read your email, without a warrant, as long as you store your email in the cloud1 and it’s been more than 180 days since you sent or received that message.  Automated license plate readers store the passing of every car in a database for police to access and the data is considered so non-sensitive that private insurance companies are allowed access.

Despite voluminous reporting on the subject, it’s hard to see the overall response as anything other than a collective shrug of the shoulders.  The liberal media, for its part, has been more interested in playing a game of “Where in the World is Edward Snowden?” than it has been in investigating anything that he had to say.  Conservative media, too, seems far more interested in Edward Snowden himself than in any of the information he brought to light.  In typical fashion, Democrats have no qualms about invasive government programs as long as it happens to be a Democrat running them.  Somewhat surprisingly, Republicans — even the smart, conservative ones — are satisfied that the government is legally allowed to do these things, which makes the whole thing a non-story.

If there’s really nothing to see, here, how about we go back to talking about Benghazi?

The fact of the matter is, the story here is huge.  But it’s a story that nobody wants to tell, and it’s a story that most people don’t want to hear.  We are, for the most part, content to believe that the only people who have something to fear from government surveillance are people who have done something wrong: Our enemies, terrorists, and criminals.  But law abiding citizens have plenty to fear, as well.  After all, if there was no benefit to collecting data on law abiding citizens, what possible reason could justify its collection?

To even ask the question in that way — to ask the government to justify why it is doing something — is to defy the current prevailing wisdom.  We almost never demand to know why the government does something.  Instead, we’re content as long as they stay within the bounds of the Constitution, as we’ve come to accept those bounds, and accept them at their word that whatever they’re doing is important.

As recently as six years ago, our news reporting was filled with hard questions about whether or not the government had become too powerful for anyone’s good.  Time and again, liberals expressed their outrage in volumes about how the government mistreated its enemies; cried about how Bush’s actions were, if not unlawful, then at least unbecoming of the most powerful nation in the world; and ran to the courthouse demanding that any law which supported the military’s activity be stricken.  It simply didn’t matter whether or not the government acted lawfully, it didn’t even matter if what they accused the government of doing even happened; the one and only question was whether what the government allegedly did was right.

As I plan to explore in my next series of posts, there is absolutely nothing right about what the government has done to privacy in America.  Its erosion has been a long term campaign, waged by both parties, each one picking up where the last one left off.  In many cases, the encroachment by the government has been lawful, but that doesn’t mean we should just shrug our shoulders.  Instead, we ought to be out in the streets, in front of the Capitol, and maybe even in court to demand that the government step back.  It’s time we got pissed.

  1. This includes using a web mail provider like GMail, Yahoo Mail, Microsoft Live, or any of the hundreds of others out there; checking your mail using the IMAP protocol; or if you  have some other way of synchronizing your email between more than one device. []
1
Jul

Initiatives, Cases, and Controversies

   Posted by: Robert   in Uncategorized

What an interesting resolution the Supreme Court found to the question of California’s Proposition 8 in Hollingsworth v. Perry.  Although a resolution on jurisdictional / standing grounds was always a real possibility, it had always struck me as one of the least probable outcomes.  Like many others, I expected the Supreme Court to reach the merits of the case to decide either, narrowly, whether the initiative process could be used to overturn the California Supreme Court or, broadly, whether the Federal Constitution requires acknowledgement of gay marriage.  The non-ruling has left many commentators discussing the implications of the decision with respect to Prop 8 (with the State, very quickly, jumping at the opportunity to begin ignoring it state-wide, despite it theoretically remaining in force outside the District Court’s geographic jurisdiction).  The implications for gay marriage, however, are probably the least interesting part of the ruling in the long term.  Far more important is what the ruling means for the ability of the people to check the actions of their government through the initiative process.

In his dissent, Justice Kennedy lays out the new and significant hazards posed by the Court’s ruling for the initiative process (citations omitted):

The very object of the initiative system is to establish a law-making process that does not depend upon state officials. In California, the popular initiative is necessary to implement “the theory that all power of government ultimately resides in the people.”  The right to adopt initiatives has been described by the California courts as “one of the most precious rights of [the State’s] democratic process.”  That historic role for the initiative system “grew out of dissatisfaction with the then governing public officials and a widespread belief that the people had lost control of the political process.” The initiative’s “primary purpose,” then, “was to afford the people the ability to propose and to adopt constitutional amendments or statutory provisions that their elected public officials had refused or declined to adopt.”

The California Supreme Court has determined that this purpose is undermined if the very officials the initiative process seeks to circumvent are the only parties who can defend an enacted initiative when it is challenged in a legal proceeding. See id., at 1160, 265 P. 3d, at 1030; cf. Alaskans for a Common Language, supra, at 914 (noting that proponents must be allowed to defend an enacted initiative in order to avoid the perception, correct or not, “that the interests of [the proponents] were not being defended vigorously by the executive branch”). Giving the Governor and attorney general this de facto veto will erode one of the cornerstones of the State’s governmental structure. And in light of the frequency with which initiatives’ opponents resort to litigation, the impact of that veto could be substantial. As a consequence, California finds it necessary to vest the responsibility and right to defend a voter-approved initiative in the initiative’s proponents when the State Executive declines to do so.

In other words, the State of California provides special standing to proponents of initiatives precisely to defend against the type of gamesmanship played by the State in this case.  By enforcing a law that it refuses to defend in court, then refusing to appeal its loss (if “loss” is even an appropriate term, under the circumstances), the State can use a Federal District Court to strike down initiatives that it does not like without a single appellate court having any opportunity to review the case.  Such a result defies our usual understanding of Due Process, which typically includes so many appeals that we often wonder if a case is ever going to end.

The appellate process serves as a check on the human nature of judges and courts.  Even an ideal judge, with years of education and experience, who is committed to the law with no plausible interest in the outcome of a case (either personally or politically) is prone, as all humans are, to making mistakes.  The appellate process is a means to reverse those mistakes after they’ve happened, but before they can have a lasting effect on the parties, the law, or the nation.  In cases where a judge may not meet the ideal, the appellate process is all the more important.  Indeed, it is worth wondering, in a case such as this where there is no realistic opportunity for appeal, if the case should even have been heard in the first place?

In light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Hollingsowrth, it now seems clear to me that it should not have been.  What possible “controversy” can there be when the plaintiff comes to court asking for a law to be overturned, and the State, as defendant, essentially tells the judge, “Yes, we would like that, too.”  When all of the parties in a case agree, there is no plausible controversy to find.  That an interested third party has a different point of view should make absolutely no difference; Hollingsworth makes clear that only the named parties matter for federal Article III standing.  In addition to vacating the decision of the Ninth Circuit, the Supreme Court should also have vacated the District Court’s opinion and instructed that the case be dismissed for lack of Article III jurisdiction.

Even if the Supreme Court had dismissed the whole case, the initiative process would still be in trouble.  States could provide a pro forma defense of undesirable initiatives to create a false “controversy” which a court could adjudicate and then, as they did here, bow out of the appellate process as soon as their “opponents” win.  Perhaps that could be corrected somewhat with a state constitutional amendment compelling state officials to appeal the loss on any initiative all the way to the Supreme Court, but how to enforce such a mandate is a critical and hard question that would need to be addressed.

Assuming that the mandate could be resolved, a pro forma defense is certainly not the sort of vigorous defense that makes for effective litigation.  In the realm of criminal defense, we have requirements for effective assistance of council which are particularly applicable to public defenders (attorneys who, it is often assumed, do not have the utmost interest in giving their clients the best possible defense, or the skill to provide such a defense even if they wanted to).  To eliminate the pro forma problem, we would need something similar in the initiative defense arena, but, as the only people interested in claiming ineffective counsel would be third parties who lack standing, there would be no means to develop or enforce such a system unless federal judges were to take it upon themselves.  Federal judicial interest in creating such a system is doubtful for a number of very good reasons.

The unfortunate reality is that states now have a judicially sanctioned playbook for eliminating initiatives that they do not like which initiative sponsors will find difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.  Indeed, the states now have a perverse incentive to want to litigate in federal court, where the decision of a single Federal District Court judge is enough to overrule the opinion of the state’s voters in a way which cannot be reviewed on appeal.  Because District Court rulings are technically binding only on the parties to that particular case, a state can (decline to) litigate the issue ad infinitum, in multiple courts, in front of multiple judges, with multiple plaintiffs, in a variety of circumstances, and needs only to get an un(?)favorable ruling in any single one of those cases to have an initiative federally, permanently, and unreviewably enjoined statewide.

The initiative system in California, and other states, was originally developed as part of a populist movement in which public distrust of the government led to an effort to enact laws in a more democratic manner.  Because the initiative process was a check on government power, it is intentionally difficult for the government to undo an initiative once it’s been enacted.  But now, because it will nearly always be possible to find some judge somewhere to rule against any law, defeating initiatives just became as easy as encouraging lawsuits and waiting.

Despite the apparent modesty of the Supreme Court’s ruling, their opinion in Hollingsworth has dealt a critical — possibly fatal — blow to one of America’s most well known direct democratic processes.  It is, in fact, a sweeping power grab for state governments by way of the federal judiciary.  While it’s impossible to know how the Court might have ruled on the merits of the case, it is doubtful that any merits ruling would have had such a profound and sweeping impact as their decision ducking the merits seems likely to create.

11
Apr

The Growth of Childhood

   Posted by: Robert   in Uncategorized

One of the long term progressions of Western society is the increasing length of time in which people are considered to be, in important ways, children.  Although there remains a robust and healthy debate over when a person ought to be considered to have changed from a child into an adult, the progress of society has increased the age significantly regardless of our opinions as to what the age ought to be.  While the Millennials are not unique in finding themselves bound to a longer childhood than that of their parents, the amount of the change is more dramatic than it has been at any other point in history.

Increasing the age of adulthood has been a trend in Western society for centuries.  As anyone who watches Game of Thrones will discover, people as young as thirteen were once able to hold positions of importance and leadership in the medieval world.  As life expectancy increased to the point that people were no longer “over the hill” at age twenty, so too did our understanding of childhood.  By the time of America’s founding, leadership was generally not given to teenagers, although many held jobs and participated in the militia and other armed forces.  Over time, society would settle on an amalgamation of ages each of which represents certain aspects of adulthood; common “adulthood” ages in the US are sixteen (age of consent in many states), eighteen (legal adulthood in most jurisdictions and the approximate age of high school graduation for most students), and twenty-one (drinking age).

Those three most common ages of adulthood came about in roughly that order.  Age of consent is particularly challenging because its contours vary widely between jurisdictions, interacting with marital age (which can often be as low as 14), consent between minors, and differences between state and federal law.  Legal adulthood largely maps to the fact that people aged 18 years or older are able to serve in the military and vote, thus giving them the legal ability to decide their own fate.  The drinking age came as a result of federal legislation in the 1980s which uprooted drinking ages in many states which tended to extend as low as 18.  High school graduation, of course, is about as close as America has to a cultural “rite of passage”, although its occurrence at the same time as the age of majority is most likely a historical accident.

More recently, however, the goal posts for adulthood have been moving again.

By some measures, twenty-two is becoming a new demarcation of adulthood for America’s youth.  As young Americans are increasingly pushed into college, high school graduation has become a less significant event than it once was.  Instead of marking the transformation from being a student to being a worker, completion of high school is increasingly becoming a much smaller transformation from the world of mandatory education to the world of nominally optional education that everyone is told that they need to have.  Individuals making the march from 18 to 22 are now expected to do so on a college campus, where they may live farther away from their parents, but are still largely unable to support themselves.  College graduation today is becoming what high school graduation used to be, but it does so four years farther down the line.

Then, of course, there’s Obamacare, which took the unprecedented step of defining childhood all the way up to 26 years of age.  That change extended childhood once again past one-third of the average American life expectancy by adding a full five years to the previous highest adulthood measurement defined by law.

Socially, it’s becoming increasingly common to view college students as children despite many being older than when their parents would have been seen as adults.  Society has not yet accepted 26 as being so child-like, though it’s possible that this recent legal innovation has simply not had time to work itself into the fabric of society.

For the Millennials, the growth of childhood presents significant immediate problems which may have serious long term consequences.  Whatever their age, the opinions of people perceived to be children are generally considered less valuable than the opinions of people considered to be adults.  In a world where people stop being children after their teens, such an attitude makes some logical sense.  Most ten year old children simply lack the experience or the maturity to hold well founded opinions on important matters.  Most eighteen year old individuals are not so disabled, although they still lack a great deal of experience.  Thanks to college, many 22 year olds are little better off than they were at 18.

As a result, the older and more experienced generations are largely able to have their way because the Millennials are unable to effectively argue to the contrary.  Even into their higher twenties, the Millennials are still treated as if they have no understanding of how the world works, and as if they need the kind guidance of the older generations to make all of their decisions for them — decisions which, naturally, benefit the older generations far more than they benefit the Millennials.  Disturbingly, the younger generation seems to not even realize that this is happening.  Having been indoctrinated for years through the media and through their government sponsored educations, the Millennials have been deprived not only of their adulthood, but also of their ability to notice the deprivation.  The result is that the Millennials, in too many cases, still act child-like, reinforcing the belief that they are still too young to be taken seriously.

The ever expanding domain of childhood needs to be understood as a problem for the future of America.  Older generations naturally and inevitably give way to the young, and it is up to the children to be able to take over when the time comes.  For the Millennials and for the generations that come after, each generation is being given progressively less time to prepare.  In the vocabulary of the skilled trades, we should be journeymen in our development by now.  Increasingly, however, we would be lucky to even be acknowledged as apprentices.

Today’s young Americans live in a remarkable future.  From the day we were born, we’ve been told by our parents, our relatives, our teachers, our coaches, our mentors, and our friends that the world for us is a land of unbounded opportunity.  Pick a dream, we were told, and fight for that dream.  Nothing would be off limits to those of us who worked hard enough.  Thanks to our parents, racism, poverty, sexism, and so many other social ills had supposedly been defeated; men had gone to the moon; and dinner could be made by placing food inside of a magical box-shaped machine.  We were handed what looked like a world of guaranteed excellence, without any significant obstacles left in our way.

To earn our place in this brave new world, we dutifully spent our childhoods in school (not that we had a choice).  There we learned how to read (sort of), how to write (or type, whichever), and how to do math (2 + 2 = potato?).  We learned about history (so full of evil white men, and nobody else, ever, except maybe MLK… and the guy who invented peanut butter!), science (E = mc2 = atom bombs), and government (all five1 branches).  We took classes on art and music (until their budgets got cut).  And in the end we were told it was time to go to college, to learn the skills that we would need to prepare us for the rest of our lives.

Those of us who followed the template, we each spent a year or two in preschool, twelve years in mandatory education, another four (or five, or six) years in might-as-well-be-mandatory education.  What we got in exchange for those twenty years of our lives was a confidence that we were finally ready.  We were told that it was time to take on the world, to be truly our own people, and to make our dreams come true.

Confident and daring, we went out and got ourselves into post-collegiate housing (which looks conspicuously like our childhood bedrooms) and mastered the art of gourmet cooking (“Insert burrito [A] into magical machine [B]”).  We got used to taking charge household chores like mowing the lawn (or calling the lawn service, or letting the lawn service service call the lawn service, or letting the lawn service service service… uh… where were we?), vacuuming (roomba!), and laundry (just like in college).  We went out and got found looked for talked on Facebook about how hard it is to get jobs, thankful that being an adult doesn’t mean we have to stop playing games with our friends.  And when one of our things breaks, our parents are right there to tell us how to fix it (or to just fix it themselves, since, after all, they already know how).

Right from the beginning, we’ve been raised in a sea of useless knowledge with a promise that, somehow, all of that would come together to unlock the pathway to our dreams.  The truth is that, for most of us, it won’t.  Very few of us pass our days dreaming of being able to sit around for days on end thinking, perhaps trying to conceive of amazing new worlds, or unique new perspectives through which to view the world that we share.  Most of us want to actually do something, but through our whole lives we have never learned how.

The full ramifications of this are far from obvious, but a few important observations are in order.  Because we have been systematically denied knowledge of the world, we are often ill-equipped to handle many of the bad situations which naturally arise during life.  This leads to the perception that even though we are now in our 20s and 30s, that we are still children who are helpless without our parents’ care.  Worse still, it denies us the ability to stand up for ourselves, because we have become so dependent on others for help that we wouldn’t dare to risk disrupting that support network — a support network which includes the government.

In our culture and media, it’s become common to make fun of the Millennials for being so clueless about “common sense” kinds of things.  While this makes for good comedy, it neglects the true nature of what’s really happened.  The lack of knowledge isn’t a result of laziness or stupidity.  It is, instead, a systemic result of doing what we’ve been told, learning what we’ve been taught, and living the life that was set out in the template that we were provided at birth.

It seems that our world without obstacles may be an obstacle all to itself.

  1. Legislature, President, courts, administrative agencies, and the news []
4
Apr

A Generation of Broken Promises

   Posted by: Robert   in Philosophy

Over the Easter holiday, I had the opportunity to catch up on some television as I passed some time with my best friend.  In watching some of those shows, it was hard for me not to notice their disturbingly accurate portrayal of the Millennial Generation.  The plight of the generation raised by the Baby Boomers remains largely unknown in society and in America’s popular culture.  Although most people know a Millennial whose life is not all that it seems like it should be, and while many people recognize that such trouble is common to the point of seeming normal, the plight of the Millennials remains largely an open secret.  At its core, much of the trouble comes from a series of bad and broken promises which threaten to destroy the entire generation.

On those rare occasions where we see Millennials in the media, the portrayal is often far from positive.  The standard portrayal is of young adults who live mostly single lives, often amidst a stream of broken or failed relationships which are as heavy on sex as they are light on romance.  These Millennials tend to have rather poor jobs, when they have jobs at all, and being satisfied with their work is more of a bonus than a goal.  The Millennials are educated far more than people would realize based on the jobs that they have (or don’t have), although schooling is also not a focus.  Indeed, it’s hard to discern any particular focus, as they mostly seem cast astray in an uncaring world filled with uncaring people who offer no help or direction for their lives.

Reality, it seems, is kind of like that.

On a whole, vast range of issues, Millennials were promised the world by their Boomer parents only to find that the world is a lot different than they had expected.  Millennials were taught during their childhoods that they can do anything, only to find out that they were never taught how.  They were told that they are unique and special individuals, only to find their lives reduced to data which gets fed into overgrown advertising machines.  They were taught that education was the key to success and that college was the key to unlimited achievement, only to find that even the most banal of jobs have come to require a bachelor’s degree.  They were shown a world full of opportunity, only to find that the people who currently hold all of the power are trying to cling to the world of yesteryear with no great visions for the future.

This month, I plan to consider the Millennials and the unique circumstances which affect the generation which will be the next to blossom across the American scene.  Although they have been carefully hidden, their issues will become an increasingly important part of the American landscape within the next twenty years.  Understanding their issues now may pave the way to ensure that there is still some future left for a generation which is trapped in the shadow of their parents.