Perpetual Adolescents in the Widening Gyre -UPDATED

I give you two rather different pieces, both sharing a common thread: the full-rein head we have given to all of our adolescent leanings.

If the society has been dumbed-down — and it has been — it has also developed a case of arrested development, and both issues appear to stem from a generational and cultural mindset that has embraced the sensibilities and reason of 14 year-olds.

Think about being 14, for a moment. When you are 14, you know everything, and you resent anyone saying you don’t. You don’t want to be told what to do; you don’t want to hear about rules or accountability. Perfectly reasonable explanations or boundaries are dismissed as “unfair” or “tyrannical.” You’ll do anything to be accepted by the “cool” kids, and to avoid being tagged as a geek, or a nerd or a “faggot” (in the parlance of my generation, that had nothing to do with homosexuality. You were a “faggot” if you actually followed the rules, or didn’t sneer at the teacher, or hadn’t yet embraced cynicism, or thought hippies wearing $150 fringe leather jackets while pretending to rail against “the greed, man…” were asinine. I was a “faggot.”)

When you are 14 years old, you didn’t ask to be born, so everything is owed you. And the word “no” cannot be tolerated; it reacts upon the adolescent like too-rich milk on the immature digestive system of an infant – the projectile vomiting covers everything.

And when you are 14 years old, you want solutions to be based on feelings. You feel a certain way, and those feelings are to be considered as legitimate as anything as cold as brute reason. Feelings are not just equal to reason, they’re superior to reason, because feelings are “real” and that makes them noble and unconditionally good.

Feelings are not bad. In fact, feelings can spur us on to greatness – a woman like Maggie Gobran does great things because her heart was touched. Throughout history we’ve seen people who do great things because something awoke a fire in the breast, and motivated them to give up a part of themselves, for something greater than themselves. But feelings alone do nothing; feelings that are assuaged when someone else “does something” or that seek solutions in bureaucracies and can therefore remain detached – they do not bring us out of adolescence. They do not bring maturity. They do not help us to grow, or to become great.

And we’ve lost sight of what greatness is, and how it is forged through difficulty, or how it is usually sparked by one person, daring to act, even if it means social rejection.

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We no longer even recognize greatness when we see it, because true greatness is usually humble, and all we care for at this point is the flash. We grab at the shiny thought, even if it proves to razor with a rusted edge; we suck on pacifiers of mediocrity and expediency, because they are quick to soothe the tantrums.

And that’s why it matters when someone comes along and reminds you that adolescence is supposed to be a means to an end, not a stall that gets redefined as adulthood.

[the censoring of books] always seems to bring out intense sentiment on both sides. . . . We see parents outraged by supposed assaults upon their children’s purity . . . on the other side we find reflexive cries of “Censorship! Puritanism!” and the hysteria of the school librarian-type who genuinely believes she is the only one left to protect civilization from the vandals, fanatics, and book-burners who would destroy what they haven’t even tried to read, probably because they can’t.

Adolescent sensibilities and sentiments abound. And into that fray, walks that square, grown-up and supremely smart faggot, Flannery O’ Connor. She’s talking about books, but don’t be distracted; she’s talking about perpetual adolescence and how we’ve enabled it:

The real problem, she says, is not that the schools are assigning “dirty” books, but that they are assigning a preponderance of modern books, and that there seems to be no clear purpose behind the teaching of literature in most middle and high schools other than to try to capture the “interest” of the adolescent mind. This principle—the idea that it is the school’s duty to excite or gratify the unformed tastes of teenagers—she calls “the devil of Educationism . . .” and she notes with bemusement that mid-20th century America seems to be “the first age in history which has asked the child what he would tolerate learning.”

The (modern) author has for the most part absented himself from direct participation in the work and has left the reader to make his own way amid experience…The modern novelist merges the reader in the experience; he tends to raise the passions he touches upon.

It is here that the moral problem will arise. It is one thing for a child to read about adultery in the Bible or Anna Karenina and quite another for him to read about it in most modern fiction…modern writing involves the reader in the action with a new degree of intensity, and literary mores now permit him to be involved in any action a human being can perform.
And if the student finds that this is not to his taste? Well, that is regrettable. His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed.

Read it all at Catholic Phoenix. It’s a huge gulp of fresh air

After that, pick up on Victor Davis Hanson, for the one-two punch:

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.
[. . .]
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.

I watch that video of the gentleman who saw people eating their own waste out of hunger, and I find myself all out of sympathy for perpetual adolescents who are going into hysterics because they’re being asked to contribute more to their own insurance and retirement plans, because their states are bankrupt, and their struggling neighbors just can’t sustain all the perks anymore.

It was not my intention to go on a generational harangue, especially because I hold out great hope for the younger generations. My sons are 25 and 21, and while one may bear left and the other centrist, they are reasonable people who have never bought into the trend-mentality that has left my own boomer generation so ironically hypocritical, so cynical, and so quick to pursue feelings-based solutions, or to mindlessly embrace a the shiny thought because it is easier (and safer) to play the parrot than to risk being a “faggot” who is thought to be out of touch.

I’m just in a bad mood tonight. I clicked on Drudge and saw that with everything going on in the world, his headline was about some Charlie Sheen sitcom being canceled and I just thought, “really? This is news? This is what people care about? Lindsay Lohan in handcuffs? Justin Beiber’s haircut? Charlie Sheen’s sitcom?”

I mean, I love Drudge, but it depresses me to think that these are the headlines. And I am not a humorless sort. I can get caught up in silly, pop-culturish things. I like 30 Rock and The Big Bang Theory and Mad Men. I like to look at fashion pages and watch the red carpet walk at the Oscars (how I miss being on the phone with my brother and hearing him say, “oh, that’s just cruel! Her stylist must hate her to dress her like that!”)

But it just seems like things are out of balance; the center cannot hold. Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer.

And maybe that’s why you can ask anyone about Lindsay Lohan, or Charlie Sheen and they can give you the whole low-down on what they do and say, but mention John Markoe or the Healy Siblings or Rick Frechette or even Mychal Judge and their brows furrow as they guess feebly, “um…football players?”

Excuse my bad mood. But it just seems to me like the culture needs to grow-up. And fast.

Ed Driscoll; Yes, it’s perpetual

This helps: Msgr. Charles pope on Mystery

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Airstreamer

    I too saw the Drudge headline but there was another story on the page that wasn’t fully fleshed out. The photo of the Shuttle Discovery launch was covered. What you couldn’t appreciate were the number of excited people who turned up for the event. I was one of them. For miles in all directions beaches, parks & roads were jammed with folks who wanted to witness this majestic launch. The turnout would have made the biggest of any of Washington, DC’s marches seem like a gathering of a couple folks on a street corner compared to what was likely close to a million people that showed up to watch Discovery liftoff. People still yearn to see the greatness of our country and they showed up to watch.

  • Cathy

    Amen, Amen , Amen!!!

  • Brian

    You should think about doing what I did last week. I looked at all of my bookmarks and anything that would bring any kind of negative thoughts into my mind I simply deleted from my bookmarks. Once I was all done I searched google for “good news web sites”, found several and bookmarked those instead. By making this one simple change (thereby following the “watch out for what you put into your body” idea) I found that my mood was far better and I have gotten more work done this week than I have in the last month. I seem to have boundless energy.

  • Anonymous

    Brian, if I did that, I would never blog about the headlines. And then ppl would say, “why aren’t you blogging about the headlines!” :-) I regret my bad mood last night. I was just cranky. But I still think this stuff is true.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent post, Anchoress. I remember my high school history teacher (back in the late 60′s) telling us that we should not argue a point saying “I feel,” but rather “I think.” He was concerned that being emotion driven would lead to mushy thinking or no thinking, and we could never sort out our differences. You can’t argue emotions, but you can argue logic (and I mean argue in the classical sense). So much of what we’re seeing now on the world’s stage is people acting on emotions rather than thought.

    I’m also in a bit of a funk, our daughter is bringing her boyfriend home this weekend – he’s a lefty who runs on emotions and he thinks his emotions are intellectual positions. And, he’s smarter than everyone else, acording to him. It’s weird how emotional he gets anytime he hears anything he doesn’t agree with.

  • Wilsonia

    Yes, people would rather talk about Charlie Sheen and Justin Biebers’ hair as opposed to India. We’ve been sending aid to India for decades now and people are still still sitting in dung heaps. The problem is not that we don’t care but that Indians don’t care. theier

  • Stephen J.

    Perhaps I am merely nostalgic or naive, but are all adolescents at 14 truly as shallow as described above? My sister certainly wasn’t, and I hope neither I nor my friends were, and we were both *very* capable of hearing “no” without throwing tantrums.

    (But then, we all had a common advantage, one that seems in tragically short supply nowadays: we came from stable, unbroken and relatively happy, if certainly far from perfect, families.)

    That these sentiments are widespread among teenagers is beyond doubt, but I sometimes think the “perpetual adolescence” tag is a disservice to real adolescents.

  • Brian

    Understood. In my case there was a financial website that also commented on political things and the website owner is a “bear” (as in bull/bear). It was mainly his site that, as a “bear” was so unrelentingly negative that it profoundly affected me in a bad way. Headlines are one thing, constantly negative things is another. :-)

    Cheers, Brian

  • JG

    Another amazing essay. I’m sending you a virtual hug. Once again expressing my thoughts in a powerful way that leaves me speechless….thank you. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Your comment about being “out of balance” is something I have been thinking about for a while. Looking at all the problems piling up the thought simply occurred to me that, we are “out of balance” and we will not solve any of these problems until we recognize that we are out of balance and try to remedy that.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Excellent essay!


  • Anonymous

    Your comment about being out of balance is something that most people feel. I think it is a sign that our world is not what it should be. It (and we) are fallen and it’s up to us to do what we can to bring it (and ourselves) back into a relationship with God.

  • Nan

    Very well said! Our culture does need some growing up; especially the 40 – 60 year olds; aka “perpetual adolescents”, including our elected government officials.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, the Charlie Sheen story is totally related by the fact that he is the perfect example a perpetual adolescent. It’s all about HIM. No concern for his children and others involved in the production of his television show who will now be without a paycheck. And this is the highest paid sitcom star ever in one of the highest rated shows. Sad…very sad…

  • Katherine

    MeanLizzie Ha! I would read your shopping list. Infact I have, and I still reread the Costco post whenever I need to be reminded about the true nature of the worlds problems.


  • Have_Indian_In-Laws

    Some Indians care, some do not. Bless that man.

    One Indian here in the USA cares about India killing off their female babies before and AFTER birth:

    Dayspring International has been helping Indians to convert to Christianity since the 1970s. Now, when the paraiah find Christ,they no longer belong to a caste. They are free, these “untouchables”. And are they joyful!

    Sadly, Indians often cannot fathom life without castes so, they now have a new caste: the Christian caste. (sigh) Its a tough road to hoe but, Jesus is bringing in literally HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS by this awesome Christian ministry using a film about the Passion of Christ with all Indian actors. The film is awesome and is about 40 years old now. When Indians see it, many are so moved they spontaneously come to Christ.

    We must pray for India. She needs our prayers.

    And good outreach groups like this need our prayers and financial help too.

    Perhaps the good these groups are doing will change your mood to a brighter and more positive one, dear Anchoress.

  • Mary

    Excellent! One of your best posts!

  • Nan

    It would be wonderful if the the female babies could be adopted. There are so many childless couples who would love a baby or two.

  • Cindy

    I had this very same conversation with a friend this morning. What a coincidence. We have arrived at the conclusion that what is sadly lacking in the lives of these “kidults” is adversity.

  • Joelwest3

    Well, if you want adolescent adults, let’s not forget the man-boys who plan to use and discard our daughters like a used take-out container. ( Hopefully your sons know better.

  • Have_Indian_In-Laws

    I agree, Nan. They are killing 7,000 baby girls a day. A day!

  • RandomThoughts

    …Think about being 14, for a moment. When you are 14, you know everything, and you resent anyone saying you don’t. You don’t want to be told what to do; you don’t want to hear about rules or accountability…And the word “no” cannot be tolerated…
    And when you are 14 years old, you want solutions to be based on feelings.”

    Wow. My 14 year old son must be a total anomaly. So must his three siblings; they were not like that at 14. Oh sure, the girls had their share of adolescent emotional dramas, and all my kids had a few “do I have to?” moments, but they were never whining rebellious know-it-all rule breakers. Never. Nor were their closest friends. They were, every one of them, very well adjusted highly moral kids who grew up to be very well adjusted, well educated, highly moral, and gainfully employed adults.

    But they’re not 14 anymore, so they don’t count, only my youngest son who is currently 14 counts as he is supposed to be the epitome of immaturity.

    I wonder if my 14 year old son’s freakishly abnormal maturity has anything to do with his habit of watching Glenn Beck while doing his homework (a habit he acquired totally on his own; I didn’t watch Beck at all until my son suggested I do so) and talking with me about what he sees. Or maybe it’s the fact that he’s not a victim, er, not a product of the public school system. Or that I was at home to raise him during his infancy and toddlerhood.

    Or maybe I’m just lucky. Yeah, that’s it, his maturity, like that of his siblings, is a random fluke, nothing whatsoever to do with the upbringing he’s had thus far. He should be a whiny self centered brat because that’s what all 14 year olds are, right?

    If we persist in expecting adolescents to behave like poorly house trained puppies, how can we ever expect them to grow up to be anything more? How can “the culture” ever “grow up” when we expect so little from our own kids?

    Yes, I’m a little cranky tonight on behalf of the tiny handful of 14 year olds who are apparently more mature than most adults.

    And I see no point in paying attention to the media’s coverage of pop culture and then whining about pop culture in the media (if you refuse to consume it, they will stop selling it), but that’s another issue entirely.

  • Mandy P.

    I’m late to the party here, but I must concur with the first link (about the books). I get so mad at others parents who let their kids read absolute trash and justify it with the “so long as their reading…” quip. Literacy is important, to be sure. But reading for the sake of reading is not inherently a good thing. The content of what you read is what’s important.

  • Jim

    How true your observations. Thanks for the insights.

  • Greta

    Mother Theresa said as long as America is lost in the culture of death with abortion, there can be no peace. Look at how America has changed since we adopted birth control in the general population as if it were aspirin and then saw the obvious next step which was abortion. America last saw a sense of peace under Eisenhower. We had problems then with still not equality in race relations and some believe in the rights of women. From the 60′s on the world of values as taught for centuries and key to every major religion were rejected along with anyone or anything in authority.

    If you are not in sync with God and the values we all need to find peace, you are going to have the Charlie Sheen values become the news of the day. You will have politicians on the take from every lobby group. I just heard where the term lobbyist came from. President Grant use to like to disappear from the White House at the end of the day and go off to the Willard Hotel for a drink. Those who wanted something would lay in wait at the lobby of the Willard and Grant termed them lobbyist. Today, we have one party, the Democrats, who have tied themselves to abortion and so they are the party of death. As long as they are lock step with the lobbyist for abortion and fighting any effort to save lives of the unborn, they are doomed to bring nothing of value to America. Of course they were also the party of slavery and denial of civil rights up to and including lynching for about 150 years and also support the gay lifestyle rights. This forces those who are against them to one party and often that party gets lost. Anyone who has values that include the lives of the baby in the mothers womb and for marriage between one man and one woman will feel lost in America.