The Vanishing American Adult with Senator Ben Sasse
According to Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, we’re currently experiencing a coming of age crisis without parallel in American history. On numerous fronts, our culture appears to be promoting what he refers to as “perpetual adolescence,” and, as a result, many of us no longer know what it means to be an adult.
“Politics is obviously not the center of life. It’s to provide a framework toward liberty. But in our system, the citizens are supposed to be empowered. But we’re also entering a very odd time in economic history… There’s huge potential and opportunity in this moment but there’s also a lot that’s disrupted and therefore disorienting. We’re entering now this global economy, the knowledge economy, the IT economy, the digital economy, the service economy…
“One of the most disruptive parts of this trend is the idea that job choice, which is kind of a new concept in human history, is going to be something that people go through multiple times in their lives. We’re entering a world where our kids and grandkids are going to have job choice and job disruption and job mobility many, many times across the course of their lives. There’s never been a worse intra-generational, economic work disruption before and we’re going to have it as the norm. We’re going to need to create a civilization of lifelong learners and there’s never been such a thing in human history. Our kids are going to need to be even more resilient than past generations.” – Ben Sasse
Term to Learn:
The social category of “youth” is a modern phenomenon which was constructed during the post-Second World War period in the West. This term “youth” is often defined in opposition, and yet in relation, to adulthood. Not every culture or society has equal views of what this term may mean. This new social status has become a private space where young adults use their new access to information through media and new technologies to seemingly create their own culture. This movement to establish their own identity places them in a precarious situation of alienation which seems to place them in opposition to those who have different social identities (i.e. adults and children) and mediums of self-communication, failing to integrate them in the broader family. This restlessness and questioning is itself now part of their identity at this transitional time of life, which is often misunderstood and perceived by adults as inherently disrespectful and insolent, (which it may be in some cases). This process has become the new means by which he/she navigates the path from childhood to adulthood. In the past, the path from adolescence was never cast in tension with adulthood but seen within the confines and nurture adults provided to make the journey productive and healthy. In today’s youth culture, young people’s path is cast in opposition to those familial and social structures which had been seen as necessary in the past, taking a different path often defined by new technologies. (Adapted from Shirley R. Steinberg, “Why Study Youth Culture?” Contemporary Youth Culture: An International Encyclopedia, Vol. 1 [Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005])
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