April 24, 2007
The Adolescent SocietyBy Christopher Chantrill
Some people think that we have extended adolescence way too far into adulthood.
In rural society there is no such thing as adolescence. One day you are a child. The next day they conduct a coming-of-age ceremony and you are a man or a woman.
Not any more. Now you can live in the adolescent twilight zone between childhood and adulthood until way into your twenties. We talk, a generation after the liberating 1960s, about the responsibility of colleges in loco parentis for people who have already attained the age of majority. Today, college kids are treated more like children-except of course in their all-important "sexual life"-than back in the good old days when students had to keep one foot on the floor.
So when a crazed kid, sorry an adult adolescent complete with reversed baseball cap, kills 32 people in a gun-free zone of a college campus even the Wall Street Journal starts busily editorializing about what the college woulda coulda shoulda done to stop it.
But surely the pundits should be marveling at how well colleges prevent student violence.
Young men, science tells us, are wired for violence. We bombard them constantly with the message that violence never solves anything. But we titillate them with all kinds of virtual violence in movies, music, videos, and first-person shooter video games. Then we humiliate them in our compulsory schools run, for the most part, by women with the assistance of mood-altering drugs.
On top of that we have deliberately targeted young men of little or no color in the past generation with a deliberate program of discrimination to atone for the sins of their fathers. Everywhere you look the education system has a plan or a program to humiliate young men of little or no color.
So what do our young men do about all this? Are they erupting against daily indignity in an existential rage that will not be denied? Not at all. They just hunker down in front of their first-person shooter video games and vote with their feet against the schools and colleges that so humiliate them.
The astonishing thing is that, with all this barrage of instruction, titillation, and humiliation, only one middle-class boy misses the point, shorts out his social conditioning, and fires up his hard wiring. It's a testament to the effectiveness of our cultural conditioning system, or at least the tolerance of modern young people for rank, unapologetic oppression.
Of course, the system doesn't work so well among the lower orders.
The annual murder rate in the United States is about 6 murders per 100,000. It's a bit higher in places like New Orleans, according to Nicole Gelinas in City Journal, about ten times higher. That's understandable. There's nothing you can do about inner-city problems without solving the root-cause problems of poverty and discrimination. So that's different.
But in the world of higher education almost every kid seems to get the message. Except for one student at Virginia Tech last week.
Now we are engaged in the usual Monday-morning quarterbacking. Should the university have warned the students? Should authorities have removed the disturbed young man from school? Should there be more gun control? Should there be less gun control? Did the university make a mistake by declaring the campus a gun-free zone?
All these questions have only one answer: More research is needed.
But some people wonder whether we are asking the right questions.
They want to look at the bigger questions. They want to question the entire program of extended adolescence and endless education.
William W. Lewis in The Power of Productivity has found that the importance of education to a productive economy is overrated. You can train people for most jobs. And you can train very ordinary people to be the most productive in the world, as Wal-Mart has proved. Judith Rich Harris in The Nurture Assumption argues that adults have grossly overestimated their ability to control and influence children. Indeed she raises the question: Do we really know what we are doing by crowding children into our factory schools, given that children learn mostly from older children rather than from adults? And Robert Epstein in The Case Against Adolescence argues that we should do away with an arbitrary age of majority and emancipate children as soon as they can pass tests of responsibility.
It's an interesting question. Is all this extended education that is so central to our society really such a good thing-other than for the education industrial complex, of course?
Don't expect changes any time soon. Vast privileges and powers depend upon the existence of the Adolescent Society and the extended childhoods of our children.