Donning the Cilice

In a 10-page article in today's NY Times about a bullshit "new stage" of psychological development (only in America) called "Emerging Adulthood," a 24-year old from Virginia is quoted saying,
"There is pressure to make decisions that will form the foundation for the rest of your life in your 20s. It’s almost as if having a range of limited options would be easier."
They always told me that the next Hitler would be popularly elected, but I couldn't see how that would be possible. But this kind of thinking is real, and ought to be discouraged, and ought to be frightening to us: Less freedom, they seem to be demanding. And the institutions as we have them are prepared to respond in one of two ways: either, as I hinted, to elect a dictator or Great Moral Leader, or else, the happier alternative, to create new institutions where these people can be "shepherded" for a few more years until they are ready to face the full-sheet of options.

I like to make fun of Psychology, so I called this a bullshit new stage of development. But it does seem (objectively, if we are to believe the article) true that today's young people are taking their sweet time "growing up" (defined basically as finishing school, getting married, having kids). And I'm not implying I have no sympathy for these wallowers: I marinated in limbo until I was almost 30 myself, and was very interested in "issues of identity" and the "sense of possibilities." But now I speak as a card-carrying grown up when I say that I think we ought to be pushing people off the diving board rather than helping them slowly inch their way to the end in fear.

To these wallowers, even the term "growing up" is ambiguous, and that makes sense -- they would have to trade in their naive faith that "it'll all work out just as they like" for the realities of never getting a good night's sleep, having to bite their tongue in committee meetings, or buying a less spectacular house than they had imagined. But this is one of those cases where I want to quote Pascal, or paraphrase him anyway, saying something like, "Kneel down, mouth the words of prayer, and then believe." Having crossed that river, I want to say that that's the only way: it will always feel like you're not ready, no matter how long public institutions make is safe and comfortable to forestall.

I only minored in psychology, but even that was enough to get me in on the secret that "discovering" a new stage in life is always a big deal. But I wonder at what point psychology will make a "Zen" move and suggest something even remotely counterintuitive? Oh, you're paralyzed by depression? Then see if you can lie still for three straight days without moving. Oh, you don't want to grow up? Then get married, get somebody pregnant, and take a job you don't want.

Put the damn hair-shirt on, kids. It's good for ya.


Wishydig said...

few serious psychologists would call this "new stage" a discovery. a comforting number of them would just call it a bullshit theory.

when will you take my advice and stop reading journalism to keep up with such things?


Casey said...

That's good to know. What does a psychologist say to a 28-year old who lives in dump-ass conditions and keeps breaking up with girls after dating them for a year and who drinks hard two nights a week and smokes pot and plays video games every day? Do they "judge not?" I'm just curious. After I posted this, I thought it came across as me judging... but it's like what C.K. did the other day: I'm really just talking to my 28-year old self, saying, "Get on with it, man."


Wishydig said...

my best guess is that the psychologist would ask the 28-year-old if that's working out. and if the 28-year-old says "it's awesome" and shows no signs of harming himself, and it looks sustainable, the psychologist would then ask "so why are you here?"

Casey said...

"I get 24 free visits to the psychologist under my parents' insurance plan, so I figured I'd give it a whirl, you know, see what it's all about?"


Wishydig said...

and the circle of life. the psych's moneys will help pay for the round of golf where he'll see the 28-year-old selling beer and candy bars out of the back of a cart.