How we define life generally as well as our own existences structures both our sense of expectations and our perceptions of failure.
Before the last half of the 20th century in the West it would be hard to find any corner of the planet that didn’t see mature existence as action and though in areas of difficulty and loss. Some cults felt that earthly life was ‘a vale of tears’ , others were certain that one’s woes would be resolved after death in some other existence, a third group took up focused action from exile to revolution as a response to pain brought by external enemies, another set revolved around the courts of 20th century psychology reflected that human misery was inherent and could not be remedied, only palliated and made tolerable by contractual acceptance of some anguish in return for the consolations of civilization.
There was a consensus among all these factions that life wasn’t ever going to be easy. Even this presumption, mature life was definitely not going to be fun. There were prophets like Teddy Roosevelt or Douglas Fairbanks advocating taking up struggle with joy and style; yet both TR and Fairbanks had plenty of reason later in their lives to reflect on their losses with something other than delight.
Both TR and Fairbanks were rich though both had their early difficulties for different reasons; their faith in embracing the hard work and severe regimens of their life came out of a live or die crucibles unknown to most of us. They weren’t prepared anymore than any of us as children for the pain and ashes that come from either failure or success.
Somewhere below such masters of meditation on life in ways that seemed to be set with thorny and poisoned laws that guaranteed one plenty of trouble of one kind or another no master who or what one had been on Earth, the result of humanity from birth learnt that they needed in childhood to gird themselves with skills to be competitive in a hard gladiatorial battle that would last a lifetime, that their near neighbors and strangers about whom they knew nothing about were preparing for life with at least as much gritty endurance, mastery of pain and focused learning of skills in their education as they often were.
If they were lucky and weren’t killed off by a plague, invasion, flood or some bit of violence in an alley, they would face maturity with the crafts and talents at their optimal that would give them the best chance in a tough world of surviving for a while.
Thus all of the institutions to promote excellence and competence weren’t driven by some hunger to be the apogee of what was possible for one in one’s mortality. Most societies assume that war is part of an inevitable competition in nature; they even are suspicious of peace as a means of corruptions their kindred to the point where they cannot function in the troubles to come.
It’s hard to argue with this discourse. The Romans after a few centuries of peace watching like cattle as their city was sacked by the Goths in the Forth Century were no models for their legatees in life and empire. Before that they were too buy taking up common pleasures to tiff with competing neighbors even had they wanted to do so. Human institutions were set up to keep all in a society on the alert for imminent catastrophe. Their social and personal virtues were foaled by external foes, contentions internally in which one had to be armed and ready to be a player or be wiped out by more talented and industrious competitors, the terror of death itself.
When all of these factors either vanished or seemed to disappear there was no reason anymore for anyone to work as hard as their fathers and mothers did to attain the levels of maturity and skill people had in the past.
It was probably inevitable that as soon as somebody or some nation had the technology to bypass the hard work, terror and pain of normal human existence with the flick of a button, a slight movement of a dial, a telephone call to a plumber or an order of noodles from a take out restaurant, they would express in a very active way the fatigue and unease all humanity had with such apparently immutable laws of life on Earth. They would want their children to be a generation who knew nothing about the so-called virtues of maturity.
I think the 1940s didn’t so much make an advocacy for a different view of kids as realize that kids for the first time in American history had enough money in their pockets their parents had given the, thinking of their own death of coin in the Great Depression and earlier, to make wooing them by the stores and the mavens of the popular arts a profitable enterprise.
In its first manifestation adolescents with loose money and feral hungers were treated with a kind of ambivalence, the world of these virile mavericks called at the time a realm of juvenile delinquents. Elvis had a sort of swagger and arrogance that one associated quite familiarly and justly with puerile rage and dashing young criminals with the only tolerable sex lives in the country.
In 1952 when the sainted Elvis was first beard on records and then television nearly everybody in America had somebody in their family if it hadn’t happened to them who had to leave school to go to work when they were nine or ten, or had been drummed into domestic service in their own home as a family maid so that the mother could go to work as well as the father and earn a few more shekels to pay the bills.
There wasn’t much fun or leisure in that life. Most people worked six days a week, hard, with no coffee breaks. They too their lunches with them to their labors in a tin pail. They spent one day a week recovering from the six before them so they could do the next six all over again, a little older, until they collapsed and died.
The average longevity of men in my childhood was 62. Life is a craft mostly but this statistical norm shows that not merely lack of a childhood but adult life without much leisure or pleasure slowly killed off most people as efficiently as a Krupp slave camp.
My own grandparents were on the streets of New York in the adolescence working at a trade, as they called it: cobbler, tailor, bookkeeper, pushcart vendor. So were my great grandparents. They never had what we would call childhoods; of course the fear of others in a technological world of Haves doesn’t offer much of a childhood either. It’s not the optimal life of a kid to take up existence as if one were in a minimum security lockup.
My great grandparents like their immediate ancestors they knew learnt a trade at six or seven; as soon as they could get out in the street, they were scrambling like adults. I don’t want to be sentimental about this prior life. Nobody who lived through it was unless they were stupid or crazy. It hurt the spirit to be out of the street as a child selling whatever one could or cobbling shoes most of one’s waking hours. It aged people fast, then killed them off mercilessly when they crumpled.
Some who have no memory of this or who haven’t traveled to see it in other countries think of our current age of comparative leisure and ease as inalienable progress. It might be merely an intermezzo. We can’t prove yet that American life now is anything more than a respite of a porcine empire from normative grueling desperation.
I don’t have a strong opinion myself on this either way. Clearly some inventions like the stone club and bow and arrow changed the history of our species forever. Everyone had to take up certain weapons or tools or be enslaved b y those who did and die. However the materials for stone clubs, bows and arrows ere plentiful and everywhere. Whatever cultures couldn’t make the leap and pick up a club are long gone and we don’t miss them if had they survived they might have enriched us.
One can’t say the same from our current technological revolution. It’s sad but pain from the evidence that some cultures can produce technology, leisure and comfort, others can’t. It’s as clear that technology has a dark and volatile side that might not stick in the long run given its talent for corruption.
Most people in the world notwithstanding the claims otherwise of their supposed leaders and priests would choose a life with technology and comfort and leisure to one without it. As Mae West said, I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor and rich is better. As soon as they come to the West they instantly get waft in their world is miraculous affluence; they don’t have to make any profound adaptions to embrace it. Whether they can get it in most of the world locally entrenched in their prior ways of life is another matter.
It should be mentioned that the United States ha its own limitations about technology coming from its culture. It doesn’t easily primite excellence; it is more comfortable with reliable drudgery and mere competence. Like Japan it is more practical in its applications of common Western technology.
This is not to say that Europe, where Western technology began and still thrives is superior. A mix of European greedily aggressive cultures and technology nearly destroyed all life on the palinode recently and brought us the nightmare of the Second World War.
There isn’t any sign that in the long run our technology is going to exempt any of us in the long run from the old grinding struggle and drudgery. In fact technology is liable at some point in the future given its portability and neutrality to life to kill off most or even all of us. Horrible as it so say, the species has survived the old difficult and painful life; it may not have the same capacity to last thorough its alternatives. One day we might feel lucky to take up common adult life as our ancestors knew it.
In our recent past schools in the United States and Europe if one stayed in them were off for the summer to put the kids to work farming and harvesting. That is very hard work. The Industrial Revolution from the 1790s on had put children into factories to labor at the age of three at times. We assume that the children hated the work. Perhaps they felt it made them adults.
Nevertheless there has been during my lifetime starting around 1950 a very strong unproven if primal argument for ginning kids a different more leisurely and princely childhood than most kids no grow to be adults had had. Lost in this discourse, taken up in arenas that weren’t all entirely rational was that, painful as maturity was as anguished as childhood could be; pulverizing as the system was that crushed most people, it did give many a freedom and power they had earned not with a franchise of law or some constitutional protection but by their capacity to trade off real skills that everyone needs to survive for rule in some of their waking hours over their private life.
I had in my infancy almost became an American child of this infantile generation myself. Though I was brought up in a liberal protected way I experienced as neglect I aimed for that freedom and power my whole life. When I was 21 though I could command a paycheck as a Liberal Arts major I was really fit for nothing. An entirely superfluous human being who had no bargaining power at all with a society that had set any standards of obligations I had to it or stay an affluent or not so affluent slave forever.
I had in me something I suspect is in all of us that wanted to grow up. It’s what in the end separates me from those who don’t want to. Aiming toward an adult life wasn’t much different at its root than embracing puberty; once one was set in a direction by life, a development from childhood to adulthood seemed a direction that was preferable as well as inevitable.
I couldn’t imagine wanting to retreat into infancy anymore than I would have considered a farewell tour of the womb. By the time I was thirty I made sure there were many things I could do I had learned on the job that were valuable. I didn’t want to be a child and live off the charity of anybody with whom I had biologically grown up. I used to say during these times that my generation had lived out the longest adolescence of all time; our rock and roll wars had lasted for decades. I didn’t know what was going to follow me.
In my adult life as a father I spent an inordinate amount of time I can’t account for vainly trying to persuade five different children they should not be expensive parasites in a society that one day in the invadable course of nature would not accept it had any obligations to perpetrate their existence. It would have been self evident to my parents, grandparents and great grandparents, all of whom as quickly as possible had trades from being lawyers to selling knishes on the street from a pushcart.
With this advocacy I was branded an autocrat by my children, a fossil brought up in a different world, was even once arrested if the case was thrown out on what the school system called a ‘mandate’ from the federal government for trying to get one of my children to work at all in their very educational system. I spent some time in this Golgotha being threatened with jail by people with all kinds of certifications of expertise on excellent salaries with health benefits and pensions while I was working for my kids for nothing, illegally at that. Experts who couldn’t have cared less whether my children ever were free adults or artificial perpetual slaves, that my children should discover themselves through failure.
Philosophy like that fills our prisons. Our Left called it progress; kids themselves, needing adults to wrestle with, embracing the sometime adversarial nature of growth as some progressive adults never do, experience such noblesse oblige rightly as neglect. A few years later I heard some of these very didacts, some of them quite large and feisty males, tell me they were fleeing the school system because they were afraid of the kids.
Now that my children are grown up I must admit that somebody or something failed them mightily and centrally; I failed though was willing to go to jail to push their own chances for adult freedom and power at them. I failed because the United States was willing to put me in jail for that benison for my children. Sad to say, none of these scions would be volleyball in any survival situation whatsoever except perhaps as consumers supporting an economy of plastic factories if they could figure out how to forge an ATM card. None have any trade the world really needs; none can claim they can offer any skills worth supporting. At most I can feel that they didn’t kill anybody.
As I go through my existence as an illegal parent, os to speak, one advocating adult life, by listening to how other parents of my age dealt with parenting with variations built into different wives and home life I can see the same failed patterns in their persuasions as I dolefully must confess I find in my own advocacies.
Few or none of them were able to convince their kids they needed to pay back the world in civil adult negotiations for supporting their existence. Even if they had a few bucks in their pockets, they were all in their hearts aging infants on imaginary Welfare.
If the reader is looking for bad guys to blame for our follies and our creation of artificially invalid children, I know who they are; I can’t satisfy him by blaming either the Right or the Left alone has corrupted us with their sugary tyrannies. They both vied for who could do in humanity whenever they had the chance with their external definitions of men and women as well as children.
Do we trash the Right as the bringers to our species of the Western faith in consumer greed that inspires the rubes to be obese and passive couch potatoes, the poor to hunger for what they don’t need and steal to get what enslaves them, to saddles us with rents that keep us out of public theaters to the point where we can’t even talk it over, the pitches which get the grandparents to expensive furnished slaughterhouse for the angel of death in Florida and Arizona to take up shuffleboard even if they lack talent for the game, the hunger both for possession and one more night of brainless adolescent passion that poisons the whole country, corporation and individuals into catastrophic debt?
Do we hunker for the covert sense of being a soldier in a not too kosher if pious colonial enterprise that makes us ask no more questions about the world than the citizens of the Third Reich did under the boss started to fall? Our wonderful corporation, banks and zealous Right winger oligarchical politicians did all of that veneer our eyes to take us from free adult life and more.
Do we harangue the hapless Left for Welfare, shambling Day Care, the supposed joys of joyful and optimistic divorce, the newspeak in which one can’t among the educated fools among us even voce dissents to their bestial follies, the suicidal school system, the Justice System that either keeps people locked up under any pretest, the therapeutic establishment with their faith system about our nasty ruling neuroses making us all crazy, needed grey priests to redeem us from ourselves, the torments and generic frailty of humanity as a species, the unions for selling out their own people and turning their backs generally on the populace’ It’s not worth it.
We can all say we have the weaknesses within us that could generate all these evils and more.
Yet as much as we may regard our Right and Left and any other candidates to offer us remedies for our social woes as a bunch of loons and mountebanks muscling us by stealth, we all have to measure out capacity for charity for others by how we acted when we watched our children corrupted into artificial glass bubble beings possibly much more crazy and helpless than the equally artificial creatures a wage earning Industrial economy makes from its residents.
It’s a choice of evils; adults can and do flee a pterion of any kind, political or economic with the resources they can bring to a departure, often elusiveness, charm and a talent for quiet bribery, sometimes embracing a necessary frugality in their intinerance to get to a better place to live out their adulthood. Children almost never have that option.
Since those of my now sometimes senescent generation were adults brought up in a society that values adulthood when these types were biological infants we all have to ask ourselves if we are honest assessors of our work on Earth whether or not we have passed onto our kids the values of adult life, whether we have ever attempted to do so.
How much did nay of us contribute to the creation of a vast army of fake Frankensteins that have all the dour regard of the Frankenstein monster himself for his traditions, elders, those who have both created him and helped him survive’ It isn’t an easy question from a lot of angles.
Adult life is much better than childhood in my opinion; as Thoreau said most people live in quiet or not so quiet misery. Thoreau didn’t mean children; he was talking about adult citizens of a species that was dominating the Earth and had more ore less dispatched its natural enemies. At some time in American and the West generally some of us willed Creation to be different than it had been. They wanted to make us into a different species. Did we in our time as a community project our own anguish from a different life our children never knew, which we didn’t want them to know, on our progeny’
Did nature back away into the forest green as Blake and Keats put it as these utopians made war on Creation or did it prepare a much worse fate for our children, one in which they never either lived the life of children or adults’
There is a kind of central paradox in our utopians promoting a world of artifice that is deeply dissatisfying to us on every primal level. It has occurred a second time. Nearly two millennia ago the epicureans of the Mediterranean could not hold back the hunger of the Roman empire to have something more than infantile arrogance, coarse will, amusement and egoism in their existence. It isn’t good enough for us either.
Human beings share certain experiences in all cultures; they all have some means of getting drunk, all suffer pain and loss if they live long enough; all have many opinions about love, politicks and elevated spiritual matters strong enough to kill dissenters from them though they are embracing ideas about things they know really nothing.
As a consequence the notably exiles can pass laws like Prohibition, Inquisitional religious orthodoxy, and try to set up a world like a palatal resort; the odds are they will fail not merely fail but indirectly build roads to the very supposed vices they had once hoped to obliterate.
Beyond living blindly through the involutions of that intriguing political riddle the machine that supported this engineering experiment one step from muscling fat white laboratory rats was the ravaging and corrupting Western colonial apparatus. The power to loot the world of the Western empires between 1950 and 2000 paid the vaporous bills for this artificial children.
It was a realm based entirely on gambling, speculation a world feverishly consuming, a stock market turnout of Manual Fund checks of watery money to the middle classes as they gave the rich another form of Welfare insider trading and sweetheart deals on city bonds that sent American cities into terminal bankruptcy. If one worked at all in such a realm one was deemed a fool.
These utopians were at bottom about as scientific as Hitler’s experts on all and everything; in fact many of them came from the same theoretical courts that in one way or another opposed nature with will to achieve some seemingly attractive intent. One doesn’t think such things unless one has a lot of technological and economic power and a certain monarchial turn of mind along with an army when thinking of ennobling the rabble.
When I traveled through Germany I never met among many intelligent people one German who ever saw the fall of the Thread Reich as a commentary on the will. This was a culture very much trained one day a week to think of life as a wrestle with sin and the devil. Nobody had more handles on such masters than the Germans; their philosophers fro Schopenbauer to Nietzsche discussed the caches and involutions of the will throughout the 19th century. The will always wants to cut down on freedom and diversity of others.
Freedom and adult life is generically on the other side. If our country with its notions of freedom and diversity opposed this new attempt by the most excellent engineers and cannon makers on the planet to remake our world, albeit minus most of the people on it surgically killed by their machines, we can at least claim that not even covertly do any of these successors of theirs and those like them troubling the Earth represent us. Their war against nature is not our war.
It’s a hard burden to live with if we with our mortality an adult power have only accomplished that. We can’t help as humans seeing in our kids the hope and potential for life that we have not realized because our progeny when young by law have not reached the geography of their own as yet unknown and unimaginable major losses.
Yeats says in a famous poem that if Florentine Renaissance painters had known what the mature would look like after their youth they would never have painted beauty with such ardor. One might wonder as Yeats never had to what we are going to think when we see something quite different but perhaps even more grotesque and piteous if we live long enough in the age of our children.
If we helped them become what they are, stood by while other people did it, or fought as I did ineffectually not to do it, can we define life for us as children and adults as departures from the integral muscle of our various political machines enough to assess whether or not these very different glass bubble kids who are strangers to us as well as everybody else were done a favor’ As a swing figure who remembers when adults were valuable and now lives in a country where the Justice System tries not merely to imprison both old and young people who are not adults who lack political correct private tastes but to have adults arrested who dissent and take action against their mandated big plans for us, I find myself bewildered not by the results but the long range effects of this national etude in warring against nature by avoiding a free and diverse maturity.
Even the language has changed the meaning of adult as it once did toilet. Adult movies or magazines are flicks and porno operations where one is supposed to watch other people make love while one presumably masturbates if one has the energy. This must be adult life on death row.
Adult situations mean real characters rule by their nether itches in a humorless farce who will do things that people never do as well after thirty while using language as elevated as palaver of early adolescents sitting on a stoop on a slum city street.
There is the codicil to this view of maturity that if one is below a certain age one isn’t qualified to take up certain intrepid and brainless erotic actions that nobody in his right mind of any age or even after death would be wise to embrace. Along with childhood and senescence, maturity has been baptized by our grey atheist priests with a new definition that might last us as long as the first parlous threatening day when we have real enemies and need some equally real adults in the vicinity.