Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

You’re So Immature

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So, I keep running into weird things that make it hard for me to post, which is interesting in itself.  The latest is a pulled muscle in my top left thigh, which I apparently did while falling off the porch.

Long story.

Really long story.

The thing is that it doesn’t hurt when I’m sitting down, and it doesn’t hurt when I’m standing up, but going from one to the other is a bitch.

Which brings me here–no, really, it does.

I’ve looked at all the comments from the last post, and I’ve got a couple of things to point out.

First, I do get out–I get out a lot.  I probably have a wider field of human contact than the vast majority of people in the country, for a lot of reasons that amount to how complicated I’ve made myown life, added to the accident of being related to just such a range.

And I do know that there are other people out there than the people like those I described the last time.

For one thing, this term I took one “regular” section of Composition to teach, just to see if I’d like it better.

And I do like it, a lot.

The point, though, is that in that class I’ve got (among the eighteen or so students):  two ex-military (both combat vets, one Army and one Marine); one working firefighter; one present member of the National Guard due to be deployed; one girl whose fiance is also due to be deployed; one eighteen year old who goes out on the Internet to argue everything from evolution to a kind of Ayn Randian near-anarchic government model. 

What’s more, of the two ex-military guys, the Marine was an MP and the Army guy joined the cops after he was discharged and spent nine years working at that until he got hit by a car and was rendered physically incapable of going on with it.

The two ex-military guys and the firefighter are all grown up.  They take responsibility for what’s going on around the as a matter of course. 

The other three are all about eighteen or nineteen, but they’re getting there.  The National Guard guy is probably going to get there fastest, but I would have to say none of these three is going to turn into one of the people I was talking about before.

About the rest of the class, I’m not sure–let’s face it, these guys intimidate the hell out of their fellow classmates, and for good reason.  So they do a lot of talking and the rest of the class does less.

They’re an interesting class, the most fun I’ve had in years–and that’s causing its own problems, but that’s a story for another time.

The final research project for this class is to research and then write a policy prescription–legal arguments only–for what the law should say about faith healing and children (that is, whether parents should be allowed to choose faith healing over standard medicine for their children).

When the class gets into discussions of this stuff, we get not just the usual opinion bullshitting but at information from at least two people who have dealt directly with similar cases and with the local agencies charged with handling them.

Last class, though, we got to talking about the entire concept of taking responsibility, about how some people will take it at great (potential) cost to themselves and how others won’t do a thing that might inconvenience them in any way. 

One of these guys–the firefighter–thought that such an orientation to life was inborn–you’re either naturally one of those guys, or you’re not.  Other people disagreed, and I pointed out that if the answer to this particular riddle was innate, then there was no such thing as morality.  Morality requires agency and at least partial freedom of the will.

And then, in the middle of all the talk, something struck me.  I do know what I can see has changed dramatically between, say, WWII and now–even between the early days of my childhood and now. 

It’s not, as Robert wants it to be, that we’ve all decided to teach Ann Beattie and John Updike stories in schools.

I doubt if what  literature is taught in schools has any effect at all on most kids growing up.  They get very little of it–especially these days–they don’t bother to read half of what they’re assigned, and they forget what they do read in no time flat.

If people these days are affected by narrative at all, they’re affected by the narratives they see on television and in the movies–and what do they get from that?  Star Wars.  Harry Potter.  Lord of the Rings.

If the key turning out a nation of guys like my six was narrative, we’d be the most responsible, adult, upright nation in the history of the planet.

Here’s the thing, though:  I think my firefighter was mostly wrong. I think that the ability to take responsibility for the world around you–to have things worth dying for when you don’t want to die–runs on a continuum in human personality.  On one side are people who just can’t develop it at all.  On the other are people who just seem to be born with it.

In the middle, though, I think there are a lot of people who can develop it–but in order to develop it they have to want to, and in order to want to they have to have an incentive.

Being the guy in the room who takes responsibility for the situation is difficult, and it’s often unpleasant.  It may mean that you don’t buy yourself pain medication in order that your children can have new winter jackets.  (That was Bill–when I found out he’d been lying about needing the stuff, I nearly killed him.)

It may mean you put yourself in harm’s way, as a soldier, as a cop, to try to rescue the woman drowning in the lake or to intervene when you see some kids trying to beat the hell out of a homeless man on the street.

For generations, there really was an incentive to go from dependent child who expected to be taken care of by everybody else to responsible adult ready to take care of other people.

We made childhood a very restricted experience.  Children had special clothes that looked “childish.”  They had to wear what their parents and schools told them to wear.  Their coming and going was restricted, too–I wasn’t allowed to date until I was sixteen, and then I had to be back by ten.  My brother, being a boy, got to stay out to twelve.  At my high school, girls could not wear stockings until senior year, and then, when my class got to senior year, they changed that to nobody wearing stockings at all at any time.  Knee socks, or nothing. That was it.

Even college didn’t provide much of an increase in personal freedom.  I’m old enough to remember parietal hours, the four or so hours every week-end when boys were allowed in girls’ dorm rooms–but only with the door open and three feet on the floor.  Forget birth control pills.  The housemother rousted you out of the bushes with a flashlight if you disappeared into the evergreens longer than about a minute and a half.  Curfew was at ten o’clock on weeknights and midnight on weekends.  The library closed in time to make sure everybody could make it back to their rooms.

These days there are almost no restrictions on the behavior of children at all–and what restrictions there are tend to be hysterical, overwrought and arbitrary.  My guy in the National Guard can vote for President and got shot at, but he can’t have a beer in the state of Connecticut.  What?

Then there are the endless complications of laws about “children” and sex that make no sense at all–it is illegal for anybody to have sex under the age of fifteen in CT, and illegal for somebody over eighteen to have sex with somebody under eighteen.  Try working this out in a world in which parents have no say at all about who their teenagers are dating, virtually no power to enforce curfew, and no knowledge of where their kids are going and what they’re doing when they’re there.

It’s no wonder that there are “sex offenders” on the registry who are just nineteen year old guys who had sixteen year old girlfriends who had parents willing to file charges for statutory rape.

If you can make all your own decisions by the time you’re twelve–if you can dress like Madonna whether your mother likes it or not, stay out all night, get your tongue pierced, and all the rest of it.

If you can do all these things, make all your own decisions, without ever having to earn any of it–what incentive do you have ever to cross over to that side where you’re the one taking the responsibility?

I feel like I’m putting this very badly, much more awkwardly than the way I thought it out in my head over the last couple of days.

But this is a start, and maybe I can go from here.

After I run out to Staples and do stuff.


Written by janeh

December 4th, 2010 at 9:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'You’re So Immature'

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  1. Hmmm. So now the tenor of the reading assignments doesn’t matter? Whatever happened to that woman who explained to me that all ideas–the authorized ones, anyway–began with the High Culture and worked down, with universities as critical points in the transmission? I don’t know how much cynicism and “preaching the gospel of snatch” (Sayers) hurt, but they can’t possibly be helping.

    Popular culture. Yeah, THE LORD OF THE RINGS is on my side. Maybe STAR WARS and HARRY POTTER. Certainly SPIDER-MAN. The last words of the first Spider-man story are “…with great power comes great responsibility.”

    Think about LOTR, by the way: students reading in sizeable numbers a three-volume novel with roots deep in northern mythology concerned with addiction, power and responsibility written by an Oxford philologist–and the entire literary establishment, including the universities, about had apoplexy. Nothing like it since a woman wrote an entire novel around philosophy and its consequences for politics and day to day life. In the words of Oliver Barrett III “You can dish it out, Vassar, but you sure can’t take it.”

    Like to run the numbers, though? How many people saw Frodo pick up his burden last year, and how many saw Homer Simpson shirk his? Homer lies, cheats, steals and is wilfully ignorant–and it’s all just fun, and he’s a good guy. It’s not like he’s a villain or anything (Of course not! A villain would have a plan, and work to achieve it.) And George Bundy? The responsible adults on television would all fit on one decent ensemble cast.

    And has anyone looked at popular romance or adventure novels lately? Shows up in movies too: meet a cute stranger? Quick, have sex with him! Have his baby! He’ll come back and marry you, and you can all be one happy family. From the male’s point of view, go get the girl pregnant and take off. You don’t have to help with diapers or homework. Come back and bond with the kid when the boring part is done.

    I think, at the extremes, the readers and viewers sort themselves. You’re either a “Sons of Martha” type, or a “Gather ye Rosebuds” type. Of the middle I don’t know. Time was, the university talked about exposing young minds to ideas, though. Clearly the modern university does not regard certain ideas I value as the sort of thing to which young minds ought to be exposed.

    As for the drive to prolong adolescence, has anyone seen the slogan “I may be getting older, but I refuse to grow up?” Getting out of high school might get you permission to wear stockings, and turning 21 might get you other choices–but you didn’t get any of them for being mature and responsible. Then and now, time passed, you had a birthday, and the rules changed. Whatever drives our current moral state, I don’t think the previous restrictions on adolescent behavior encouraged responsibility. It just made the kids wish they were older and out of school.

    I’m not opposed on principle to housemothers with flashlights, but I don’t think they’d cure our presentn ills.

    (And back to LOTR for just a moment: Did anyone else notice how careful Peter Jackson was to excise any dialogue which made Sauron’s servants or Saruman sound like government or university officials? Talk about sanitized! I never heard a critic mention it, nor–one exception–point out that 13TH WARRIOR was a retelling of BEOWULF. They’d have had to read books.)


    4 Dec 10 at 11:42 am

  2. I’d suspect that taking responsibility for others (or oneself) is dependent on something else innate and distributed across a continuum, not that responsibility for others is itself. There’s something about the ability to look outside oneself – empathy, perhaps, but it’s more basic than that – that probably applies. Most of us pick it up as we mature from our parents and others around us, but a tiny minority are able neither to actually feel the impulse to responsibility, much less heroism, nor to fake it. Well, ‘fake it’ isn’t quite what I mean, I mean perform the actions out of duty or the desire to fit in or something – not because the need to do them are necessarily internalized.

    We as a society do seem to turn ourselves inside out over responsibility, especially regarding young adults and adolescents, and sex. We’re all over the place, both personally and as a society. We seem to want perfect freedom – but of course, no danger for, say, the little pre-pubescent girls to whose parents we sell clothing that often sends a very sexual message. We want adolescents to have a ‘healthy’ sex life – but the skies will fall if one of them falls for someone over or under an admittedly arbitrary age.

    It happens in other aspects of society too. As a childless person, I generally try not to pontificate on child-rearing, but I do observe my peers. Some of them have adult children and grandchildren who are a delight to be around. Others…surely it wasn’t only me who longed to get out on her own in adolescence or only my family who insisted that everyone under their roof contributed as they can? I’m not talking about 30-ish adults back home caring for parents or recovering from some particularly nasty job loss or divorce; I’m talking about the ones who NEVER get an education, hold down a job for any length of time, or even lift a hand to help out at home. Now, those are cases of avoiding all responsibility! And I don’t know how they think, or why they live the way they do, although I’ve sometimes heard hints that the adult children think the parents are to blame.


    4 Dec 10 at 9:36 pm

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