“The Rise of the Adolescent Mind”

It is a mark of maturity — and, sadly, in our modern age a rare one that is diminishing into nothingness before our eyes — to visualize a possible improvement to a situation, and yet simultaneously concede that there’s no great transgression being committed while we’re waiting for the improvement to come about; no gross violation of human rights if the improvement somehow fails to materialize. Wouldn’t that be refreshing? “I think it should work such-and-such a way; but if someone disagrees with me, or presents an obstacle, I’ll just deal with it like I would deal with any other dissenting opinion. I won’t carry on with maximum drama like justice and human dignity themselves depend completely on my whiz-bang idea.”

Victor Davis Hanson bemoans this loss of situational perspective:

We live in a therapeutic age, one in which the old tragic view of our ancestors has been replaced by prolonged adolescence. Adolescents hold adult notions of consumption: they understand the comfort of a pricey car; they appreciate the status conveyed by a particular sort of handbag or sunglasses; they sense how outward consumption and refined tastes can translate into popularity and envy; and they appreciate how a slogan or world view can win acceptance among peers without worry over its validity. But they have no adult sense of acquisition, themselves not paying taxes, balancing the family budget, or worrying about household insurance, maintenance, or debt. Theirs is a world view of today or tomorrow, not of next year – or even of next week.

So adolescents throw fits when denied a hip sweater or a trip to Disneyland, concluding that it is somehow “unfair” or “mean,” without concern about the funds available to grant their agendas. We see now just that adolescent mind in Wisconsin. “They” surely can come up with the money from someone (“the rich”) somehow to pay teachers and public servants what they deserve. And what they deserve is determined not by comparable rates in private enterprise, or by market value (if the DMV clerk loses a job, does another public bureau or private company inevitably seize the opportunity to hire such a valuable worker at comparable or improved wages?), or by results produced (improved test scores, more applicants processed in an office, overhead reduced, etc.), or by what the strapped state is able to provide, but by what is deemed to be necessary to ensure an upper-middle class lifestyle. That is altogether understandable and decent, but it is entirely adolescent in a globalized economy.

Why so? In a word, the United States is not producing enough real wealth to justify a particular standard of living among its public workforce far superior to counterparts in the private sector. We are borrowing massively abroad for redistributive entitlements. We fight wars with credit cards. We talk of cap-and-trade and “climate change” without prior worry about how to fuel the United States, as we sink in perpetual debt to import well over half our oil. We have open borders and pat ourselves on our backs for the ensuing “diversity,” without worry that illegality and lack of reverence for federal laws, absence of English, no diplomas, multiculturalism instead of the melting pot, the cynicism and chauvinism of Mexico, and recessionary times are a perfect storm for a dependent, and eventually resentful, underclass extending well into a second generation, one that fumes over why things outside are not equal rather than looking within to ensure that they could be.

Who would not wish pristine 19th-century rivers to run all year long? But that same utopian rarely thinks like an adult: “I want water releases into the San Joaquin River all year long and am willing to pay more money at Whole Earth for my produce to subsidize such diversion of irrigation water; I do not wish any more derricks off Santa Barbara, so I choose to drive a Smart car rather than my Lexus SUV. And I want teachers to be able to strike, and receive $100,000 in compensation and benefits, and therefore am willing to close down a rural hospital in Wisconsin or tax the wealthy with full knowledge that many will leave the state. I insist on amnesty and open borders, and will put my children in schools where 50% do not speak English, and live in the barrios to lend my talents where needed to ensure parity for new arrivals. I want cap-and-trade and so believe that the lower middle classes should pay “skyrocketing” energy bills to subsidize such legislation.” And so on.

Finally, the adolescent thinks in a rigid, fossilized fashion in explicating the “unfairness” of it all, unable yet to process new data and adjust conclusions accordingly. So we now hear that the evil corporate/Wall Street nexus is turning us into a Republican-driven Third World – apparently unwilling to see that among the largest contributors of campaign cash were unions, and both Wall Street and international corporations favored Barack Obama in the last election, the first presidential candidate in the history of campaign financing legislation to opt out of the program in order to raise even more “fat cat” money. Just because one is a former Chicago organizer does not mean he cannot be the largest recipient of Goldman Sachs or BP donations in history. Railing against Las Vegas jet-setters does not mean that one cannot prefer Martha’s Vineyard, Vail, or Costa del Sol to Camp David.

But I think this snippet really says it all:

There are lots of issues involved in Wisconsin, in the impending financial and fuel crises, and in the sense of American impotency abroad. Yet a common denominator is a national adolescence, in which we want what we have not earned. We demand the world be the way that it cannot; and we don’t wish to hear “unfair” arguments from “bad” and “mean” people.

Hat tip once again to Gerard.

It would be almost the textbook illustration of intellectual recklessness itself to, when an undesirable but possibly meritorious idea is seen ambling into the discourse, simply shunt it aside, effectively stick one’s fingers into one’s ears and yell “la la la la.” The sin we see committed lately goes somewhat beyond that I’m afraid — we marry up the unpalatable idea with the identity of the person or group presenting it, and then effectively exile that entity from the discussion and all subsequent discussions.

If I can take yet another swipe at those emblems of ultimate intellectual flaccidity, the Palin haters, to me the sentiment seems to work like this: “Oh, her again, won’t she shut up and go away once and for all? Let’s talk about how much we hate her, constantly, unceasingly, and with great passion, until she is no longer mentioned.”

But on the subject of the adolescent mind. Yes, there is a fundamental requirement to adult thinking that is missing here. Read that as, thinking in such a way that all of the ramifications of a decision, positive & negative alike, are anticipated, offset, prevented, paid in full, amortized…somehow dealt with. And no, I’m not talking about predicting how many fives, tens, ones, quarters and nickels will be in your pants pocket on Tuesday, January 28, 2025. See, that’s how it starts — I’ve lived with this attitude, and I understand it. Wondering naturally, in an adult way, “how are we going to pay for this” is seen not quite so much as gloomy, but obsessive. That’s the mental illness. The patient has been disciplined to separate the dance to the tune from the paying of the piper, and to think of this exercise as one of planning carefully around “what really matters.” The dancing, the eating and drinking and fun stuff, is envisioned as a functional, workable, thirty-thousand-foot view. All that dour sad stuff like “this is out of line with what we can afford” is seen as a detail. Therefore, if thinking about it does have some bearing on the final decision, then whoever paid attention to it is guilty of losing themselves in the details.

Just stick to the important stuff! Our kids need this! It’s for the kids, what about that is so hard for you to understand you old fuddy-duddy?

Cross-posted at House of Eratosthenes and Washington Rebel.

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