Refined weapons-grade adolescence

In response to Bill Kristol Wrong to Dismiss Young Adults:

That’s an interesting contrast between Kristol’s dismissal of dewy-eyed 26-year-old children, and the general cultural tendency to flatter them as fountains of wisdom, while defining them as children in practical terms through ObamaCare.  As a general proposition, are 26-year-olds grown-ups or not?

Lisa’s list of twentysomething high achievers is inspiring, although it could be argued that exceptional individuals should not be cited to set the rules for society.  Still, the notion that a 26-year-old might not be a fully competent, capable adult is a very recent invention.  It would have seemed absolutely laughable a century ago; people in their mid-twenties who needed, or wanted, to be treated as adolescents in any respect would be regarded as mental defectives.

What we’ve got today is a refined weapons-grade adolescence, in which youth is farmed and harvested for cultural power and financial gain.  I think Americans have come to regard extended adolescence as a symbol of societal affluence – a luxury that our wealthy nation should be able to afford.  That’s one of the contributing factors to the student loan crisis: a view of college as a sort of extended teenage holiday from the pressures of the working world.  Those who might be denied this extended adolescence are viewed as impoverished, even as the practical value of those six-figure college diplomas comes into question.  

As youth stretches into the twenties, the value of high school diminishes.  Those who choose apprenticeship in excellent blue-collar fields, instead of college, are viewed the way high-school drop-outs were regarded generations ago.  Conversely, college is becoming a hideously expensive remedial course in the material high school didn’t teach very well.  And marriage is now viewed by young people as something to be addressed after the basics of life have been squared away… a process they envision reaching completion in the 30s or 40s, often long after their first child is born.

Most societies quarrel over when childhood ends.  We look with obvious distaste upon eras that concluded it didn’t last much beyond 12 or 13 years of age – an outlook imposed by physical necessities of primitive life, which we have transcended.  But when should adulthood begin?  I would submit adulthood conveys respect, which in turn calls for responsibility.  Prolonged adolescence defers responsibility while demanding respect.  That makes young people highly susceptible to manipulation and flattery, which is useful to those who would take advantage of them.