Going Directly From Adolescence to Senility

By | March 17, 2014 | 2 Comments

I once remarked that I intended to go directly from adolescence to senility, bypassing adulthood entirely. Yes, it was a joke, but the underlying facts aren’t at all amusing. We seem to be trying to make my joke a reality.
A few good people can help pull up a civilization, and a few bad ones can help pull it down. But in statistics, there is a phenomenon called “regression toward the mean.” A few outliers can pull the figures one way or the other, but over time the great numbers of ordinary people cause the figures to tend back toward the middle.
Think of 9/11. A small group of evil people caused awful suffering, and a small group of heroic people saved thousands. But 12 years later, the condition of America is largely the result of the great mass of ordinary Americans. To a greater extent than we like to admit, we determine the fate of our nation.

Optimists believe that we get the government we deserve. Pessimists fear that this is true.
– Anon.

Go to the mall and look at the people instead of the shop windows. You see males in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond, dressed like teenagers in tee shirts with questionable logos, baggy shorts, and ball caps. Sometimes they have shaved legs, as if they yearn to be pre-pubescent again.
And you see middle-aged females dressed in tank tops or low-cut blouses, and shorts or tight jeans, sometimes competing with their young daughters to see who looks sexier. Note that I did not say “men” or “women.” It takes more than sexual maturity to turn a girl into a woman, and especially to turn a boy into a man.
You also see women in head scarves, often with their husbands and young children − usually two, three, or more children. And you see Hispanic women, also with two, three, or more children. A key characteristic of men and women is that they get married and start a family. As Mark Steyn wrote, “The future belongs to those who show up for it.”
In the past, people were lucky to finish high school. But if they did, they knew as much as the typical college sophomore or junior today. Then they went to work. And they worked until they became disabled or died. If they were lucky, they retired at 65 and lived long enough to draw Social Security for two or three years. Note that many of our great inventors lacked an advanced education but were hands-on tinkerers.
But now, many people go to the university, whether they actually benefit from it or not. As a result, adolescence is prolonged, and adulthood is delayed. And rather than working till they die, they retire at 65, or earlier if they are among the increasing group of government employees. Then they live to 80 and beyond.
From an individual point of view, this sounds attractive − but for a civilization, not so good. A larger proportion of people (we can no longer call them all citizens) are in a pre-productive, student stage. Note that President Obama drew a huge cheer from a college audience when he announced that under ObamaCare, they could remain under their parents’ health insurance until they were 26. They will remain adolescents for one-third of their lives – at least.
In addition, a larger proportion of people are in a post-productive, retired stage, drawing on the Social Security and Medicare contributions of themselves and others. The productive segment of society is thus being squeezed from both ends − prolonged adolescence and prolonged senescence.
Of course, there is a political motivation for all this. Students are influenced by liberal professors, are seeking student loans, and generally retain a dependent attitude. Seniors are dependent on Social Security and Medicare. Both groups are more likely to vote for liberal candidates who promise them greater benefits − regardless of the bankruptcy of the system.
But the downside is undeniable. We are compressing adulthood into an ever smaller segment of life. This has deleterious effects on personal and family life that are now too obvious to ignore. Single mothers, many of whom live in poverty, are but one result of the decline of adulthood. Of single moms with kids under the age of eight, 77% are in either the poverty or low-income groups. They depend on government aid and vote accordingly. They may be in their 20s or 30s, but for practical purposes they are teenage mothers. And the absent biological fathers may be in their 20s or 30s, but they are still teenage boys.
Civilization is an abstraction. It is composed of real people. No civilization can continue to advance, or even continue to exist, if its people no longer carry on its ideals. So what will happen to our civilization if our people live in prolonged adolescence and prolonged senescence, bracketing a shrunken period of productive adulthood?
One need not have occult powers to foresee that our civilization will be likely to follow a similar course. We now are on a cusp. The advance of civilization appears to have slowed. For but one example, we first landed on the moon in 1969, and we last landed on the moon in 1972. With the retirement of the space shuttle, we not only are unable to reach the moon again, we are even unable to reach the international space station without bumming a ride with the Russians – who may be less willing to allow this. And few seem to notice, much less to care.
My fear is that our civilization has come to resemble the people who compose it. The immature phase was prolonged, but the mature phase was compressed, and we are now entering the downhill phase. My fear is that we are going from adolescence to senility, and that maturity was compressed into a few generations.
Nothing would please me more than to be proved wrong. But to do so, we must act:
● We should abbreviate our adolescence. We should send to college only those young people who are likely to profit from college. We should rebuild training programs for useful occupations. We should rebuild high school into what it was for generations − the place where most young people are educated well enough to become productive, self-sufficient citizens. And then we must educate employers that a high-school diploma means something again, so a college degree is not needed unless that job requires specific training.
● We should abbreviate our senescence. We should raise the retirement age, not just to alleviate the financial difficulties of Social Security, but also to alleviate the waste of so much wisdom and experience that was accumulated with such difficulty. And then we must put teeth into laws forbidding age discrimination in employment. There must no longer be a “50 and out” policy. A youth culture is bad enough for show business − it is destructive for a civilization.
● We should vote out of office the self-serving politicians who seek to make themselves more powerful by making us more dependent, thus reducing us from citizens to subjects.
The recession forced many people to delay retirement and continue working. But at the same time, unemployment for young people remains high, keeping them in the dependent class. Often they live with their parents into their 20s and 30s. The net result is that the duration of productive adulthood may have changed little if at all.
In 2016 we hope to elect a new president, one who wants to help create wealth rather than redistribute it. Then the economy will pick up, and we will have to take care not to resume squeezing productive adulthood from both sides. That would eventually doom economic recovery, and much else.
Conservatives often blame our economic and social problems on an increasing number of dependent people and a decreasing number of productive people. But an equally important factor is that the productive people are productive for a smaller portion of their lives than were people in former generations.
Civilizations are built and maintained by active adults. Adolescents and retirees merely live there. It is unreasonable to expect a civilization to enjoy a prolonged period of maturity when its people do not. It is more likely that we will go from civilizational adolescence to senility, and hardly notice that we have passed through maturity. And that would be a tragedy.
Contact: dstol@prodigy.net. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.


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