Archive for April, 2013

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.