June 9th, 2006

Tarot - 4 of cups

Coming of Age in America

The program chair for St. Louis Pagan Picnic contacted me a couple of months ago to ask if I would be willing to do a workshop on anything related to this year's theme, "Coming of Age." I really couldn't think of anything that I had to say that was particularly Pagan on the subject. My thoughts on the subject are more historical, economic, and political. It is, unmistakably, a subject I have opinions on, and my opinions sum up as follows: we in America have broken this process beyond all repair, what we're doing culturally on the subject of the transition from adolescence to adulthood is flatly not sustainable, and we are absolutely going to have to come up with something else. But it's going to involve changing the entire way we think about family, marriage, education, and work, and I just plainly don't see how we're going to get from here to anywhere sane.

Even a total gentile like me knows the line from the Bar Mitzvah, usually performed at age 14, where the 14 year old male stands in front of the congregation and says, "Today I am a man." And historically, why wouldn't he? A 14 year old is nearly fully physically grown. Even under starvation conditions, they're almost certainly post-pubescent and are feeling an urge to procreate, to potentially start a family. Psychologically, a 14 year old is clearly not a child. We, in our wisdom, though have recognized something intuitively that science has recently borne out: 14 year olds are crazy. Starting at around the onset of puberty the parts of the brain dealing with causation and forecasting undergo a massive explosion of totally random neural growth, and until the counter-productive pathways are starved out, a process that seems to normally take until around age 25, that person is almost clinically insane. When you ask a 15 year old, "Why did you do that?" and they answer, "I don't know," they are very probably not lying; the part of the brain that can answer that question is out of order. When you ask a 15 year old, "What did you think was going to happen?" and they answer, "I don't know," they are almost certainly not lying, because a 15 year old can only barely and with much straining and effort even try to predict the future consequences of a current action, and they're certainly not going to put in the kind of effort it takes most of you to solve a calculus problem before every action they take. So our culture, like most throughout history, recognizes a time period where each person is technically no longer a child, but not legally granted all of the privileges of adulthood yet. Still with me? Good.

With improved diet and medical care, average age of onset of puberty is down to around 12 now; one should certainly argue that a pubescent child is no longer a simple child but clearly a larval adult, an adolescent. And, in fact, an awful lot of kids I've known and a fair number of families I've known recognize either age 13 or puberty or both as a kind of a milestone, the beginning of being a "teenager" or at least a "pre-teen." So when does adolescence end? Ah, that's a question that's gotten more complicated every year that I've been alive. Because there are a whole host of legal privileges and cultural markers that all used to happen at the same time, or at most within a 3 or 4 year period, that are now spread out over half a lifetime. It used to be that you turned 18 and not only could but were expected to leave school, find work, leave home, sign your own contracts, handle your own finances, and marry and start a family all in a very, very short period of time; that was also the age at which you became eligible for (and during drafts, required to perform) military service. The only remaining milestones involved voting and drinking, at 21. And therefore if nothing else, you were unmistakably expected to be an adult at age 21 -- out of the house, parents of your own children, living independently, with all of the rights and privileges and obligations of an adult American citizen. That first legal drink, at age 21, made a perfectly functional way for an American to say, "Today I am an adult."

But trust us to complicate things. College became the norm for the middle class and up, and not uncommon in the working class, and until I was in my late teens or early 20s most colleges had rules that specifically labeled students as children, not adults, and granted the college staff and faculty a limited legal guardianship of loco parentis that didn't end, regardless of age, until drop out, expulsion, graduation, or (in some schools' cases) marriage. And our culture certainly doesn't treat most college students as if they were full adults; a fair amount of adolescent behavior is not merely expected but at many schools actively encouraged. This is backed up by an obscure Supreme Court ruling from the early 1970s, I'm told (I've been unable to find the cite), that claimed that you don't get to claim your own constitutional "free exercise of religion" rights for as long as you list your parents' home as your legal address and they claim you as a dependent on their income tax; the girl in question was 22 and the Court ruled that "free exercise" meant that her parents still had a constitutional right to dictate her religious practice and education, not her. By that standard, is a 23 year old graduate student who still lists their parents' house as their legal address and who's still claimed as a dependent count as an adult? Apparently not. Now add the complication that in the wake of the dot-com stock market bubble's collapse, it became not uncommon for an entire generation to return home and live with their parents until age 30, or even later. Does that mean that they're not adults yet?

But wait, there's more evidence to throw onto the heap. Average age of first marriage is rising, too, and age of birth of the first child rising even faster. Having that first child was a clear marker of adulthood, an almost necessary one, for every generation up to and including my parents'. If a couple are living in one of their parents' basement, don't see any reason to get legally married, and don't get around to having a first child until they're in their late 30s or late 40s, does this mean that they were an adolescent for twenty five to thirty years? That's unsustainable. And the fallout from this problem is writ large upon the land; we're now well into our second consecutive generation who've gotten into their late 20s, their 30s, their 40s, even in some cases their 50s and still don't "feel like an adult." That's not a problem you can solve with some silly ritual involving candles and smouldering sage and glorified bathrobes and blank verse, because nothing you wave over someone or chant at them or make them look silly while doing is going to make them feel like an adult when nobody even knows what the word "adult" means, any more than astronomers know any more what the word "planet" means.
Auto Assault

P.S. Decided; Suspended my CoV Account as of 6/11/06

I'm sorry, I'm just way, way too bored with City of Heroes and City of Villains right now. I went ahead and suspended billing on the account. In particular, if any of the Aeon University Cheerleaders need me to take any in-game action like promoting someone to lead the squad or changing privileges or something, they need to get me to do it no later than Saturday evening, because starting either Sunday morning or Monday morning I won't be able to log in.

... and it would tremendously improve my quality of life if more people would sign on to Auto Assault, and create Mutant characters on the Wastelands (RP) server. I'm just saying.

Edit, Friday afternoon: Well, isn't this an interesting development. When I deactivated the CoH/CoV part of my PlayNC account, the server specifically told me that this would lock me out from being able to post to the CoH/CoV web forums. All well and good, and perfectly understandable. But now I can't read them, either; it says I've been permanently banned. And to enforce this, it won't let me logout from the ID I was logged in under. I can only read the forums using a different browser. Now, maybe it's just a bug on their web server side with the Logout link; on the off chance that's true, I emailed their support link. On the other hand ...

When I unsubscribed, it asked me to fill out an online form explaining why I was unsubscribing, I explained that I was bored with all of the missions available, and would be more interested in returning when the game has more missions, ideally some that don't force my character to join Arachnos whether I want to or not. Could they possibly be so petty as to try to lock me out from even reading about their game over that private response?