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September 29, 2008

More and More Evidence of Perpetual Adolescence

I just completed two books that had been on my list for a while: Dianna West’s The Death of the Grown-up: How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization (thanks to Jeff Myers for the recommendation) and George Weigel’s Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism: A Call to Action (thanks to Hugh Hewitt and Kevin Bywater).

The timing was better than I anticipated. One of the fascinating things about West’s book is that she began writing it before 9/11. At that point, her thesis was that sometime during the fifties things were put in place (in pop culture, advertising, and education) for a significant cultural shift. The result: we moved from a culture in which children aspired to be adults to a culture in which adults aspire to remain children. This was done primarily, West suggests, through the introduction of a stage of life we now assume has always existed: adolescence. Adolescence, however, is merely an invention. In practically every other culture in human history, there was no transitional stage to adulthood after childhood.

The great tragedy of adolescence, however, is not its invention as a transitional stage. It’s much worse than that. The great tragedy is that it is no longer a transitional stage! The excuse made for adolescence is “they’ll grow out of it.” The problem is that too many “theys” are not growing out of it. In our culture, adolescence is not a stage of life, it is the goal of life.

As West was writing her book, 9/11 happened, and her thesis intensified. Her expanded thesis suggests that since we are a culture addicted to adolescence, we are thoroughly incapable of dealing with the threat of radical Islam.

Enter Weigel. His book offers fifteen lessons that we should have learned from 9/11 but which, he fears, we have failed to learn. Weigel’s examples offer in a disturbingly clear manner, that West may indeed be right. Quoting Bernard Lewis in the introduction, he gives a striking contrast between the cultural mentality during World War II and today. During Word War II, Lewis suggested,

“we knew who we were, we knew who the enemy was, we knew the dangers and the issues. It is different today. We don’t know who we are. We don’t know the issues, and we still do not understand the nature of the enemy.”

We don’t know who we are (identity crisis; not taking responsibility for ourselves; wanting freedom without consequences). We don’t know the issues (unwilling to engage in ideas; preferring to be spoon-fed, entertained, and “bailed-out”). We don’t know the enemy (self-absorbed naval-gazing, thinking we are invincible; assuming the enemy thinks like we do).

Sounds like adolescence to me…

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