I am in Europe so I will be soon visiting England and my friends Dr. A and Mrs. A. It has been one of the great pleasures in my life to first make their acquaintance, many years ago at a meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society, and then to form a lasting friendship. Their home in an English village is to me the center of Western civilization, a true redoubt of Christendom. Dr. A is the most interesting person I know: a great scholar, a great writer, a great gourmand, and great fun. I have learned much from knowing him. During my many visits with them, both in England and America, Dr. A has insisted on avoiding assemblages of what he calls YPs; that is, young people. Even the best pub is a no-go zone if the YPs are there. I have come to sympathize with his practice. However, as I have much more contact with YPs, both professionally through teaching and socially, I have by necessity developed my own explanation of YPs, their behavior, and our culture.
I will begin to describe the nature of YPs by the converse description of what it means to be an adult. Acting as an adult requires one to: 1) understand and meet his/her responsibilities; 2) understand and respect the needs and rights of others; and 3) understand and appreciate quality. It is often beneficial to the understanding of any concept to look at its limits. In this case consider the opposite limit to acting as an adult, the nature of a small child; i.e., being childish. A child has no responsibilities. Furthermore, a child expects all to serve their desires to such an extent that they do not comprehend anyone else’s needs. As for quality, one need only observe the monomaniacal tendencies of children to understand they are driven by emotions that are far from thought in their appreciation of popular culture in every form, from the movies they see over and over again, to the hotdog they eat void of all condiments and bun. YPs mimic these same childish tendencies. For example, it is rare to find young people who can make it to an appointment on time. This is not being responsible and typically does not respect others. The quality of youth culture, which is one in the same with the popular culture, is deplorable. YPs have so much disposable income given to them that their tastes tend to dominate the markets for popular entertainment such as music, movies and television. Thus, in these mediums adults are depicted as dolts and YPs as wise. Some might call this a market failure. I call it a cultural failure. There are multitudes of examples of the childish behavior of YPs that will certainly come to mind to those who read this essay.
Becoming an adult is a process of changing perspective from inward to outward. In total, the requirements are synonymous with gaining wisdom. It is the proper role of parents to facilitate the process of their children moving from a childish nature to a mature, adult nature. Herein arises a fundamental problem with our culture. Certainly there has been somewhat of a generation gap throughout human history. But I believe something has changed in modern Western culture that is unique. The adults in society have abdicated their responsibility of raising their children to be adults. Thus, YPs act more like children than like adults. Furthermore, adults are mesmerized by a cult of youth such that they act childish themselves. Perhaps today’s adults have taken their 1960s slogan of not trusting anyone over 30 to heart. Now being over 30 they don’t trust themselves.
Much of the cult of youth comes from the infantile belief that the youthful life without cares (i.e., responsibilities) makes one happier. Apparently those who hold such a belief have forgotten all of their own youthful angst or have not experienced the deeper satisfaction that comes from a well-lived life in all its stages. I will admit that to be young is to be healthy and attractive. Perhaps even innocent and inquisitive, but these attributes have certainly left most teenagers and are not precluded to an adult. There is now a pervasive, childish sentimentality among adults that regards emotion over thought. In turn adults have instilled in children self-esteem as the trump to objective views of their talents and behavior. Thus there is a generation of young people who have strong opinions based on no knowledge and have a self-centered view of the world. This behavior is most obvious in considering any sports team on any level. It is typical for players to have their own agendas making them uncoachable and team play as rare as the dodo bird. When a team, even with mediocre talent, does follow instruction they become champions. I would put the New England Patriots and Detroit Pistons in this category.
As I have no children of my own to raise toward adulthood my small contribution to revitalizing an adult culture is to make fun of YPs and their foibles wherever and whenever possible.
Ira Katz [send him mail] teaches mechanical engineering at Lafayette College. He is the co-author of Handling Mr. Hyde: Questions and Answers about Manic Depression and Introduction to Fluid Mechanics.