Wednesday, November 01, 2006


One of my favorite questions, which ultimately may not have a absolute answer, is "what does it mean to be truly human?" Having a growing baby and being an undergrad professor puts a poignancy on the question, also. One of the things that I am beginning to see as essential to being fully human is embracing the limits that time places on us. I mean this in the sort of "meta" sense of birth-infancy-childhood-adulthood-elderhood-death. Each stage, of course, brings its own limits and freedoms, many of which I cannot begin to imagine as my earlier (and belated) stage of adulthoood.

However, in our society (and I would argue it is ultimately a product of our dirty dualisms), we tend to stick to childhood, or that made-up developmental stage, adolescence. What, though, does it mean to be an adult? In this article, the author contrasts the difference between childhood and adulthood, arguing that our society is one of "Big Babies." I don't disagree. I know that I also I am still stuck, in significant ways, in childhood. As a consequence, I still am somewhat deformed as a human. Thankfully, developmental sluggishness isn't a permanent situation.

What does Bywater list as the "essential" traits of any adult?
Don't be affronted Being affronted (or offended, or complaining about 'inappropriateness') is no response for a grown-up. Only children believe the world should conform to their own view of it: a sort of magical thinking that can only lead to warfare, terrorism, unmanageable short-term debt and the Blair/Bush alliance

Mistrust anything catchy, whether it's the Axis of Evil, advertising slogans, or blatant branding ('New Labour'). Catchiness exists to prevent thought and to disguise motive. Grown-ups can think for themselves

Ignore celebrities, except when they are doing what they are celebrated for doing: acting, playing football et cetera. Skill does not confer moral, political or intellectual discrimination. (Except in the case of writers. Writers know everything and can lecture you with impunity.) If a celebrity is not celebrated for doing anything but being a celebrity, smile politely but pay no notice

We should not assume that market forces will decide wisely. The market is rigged by manipulation and infantilisation

Consider our own motivations. We may rail about being treated like children, ordered about, kept from the truth, nannied and exploited… but are we complicit in it? Could the reward actually be infantilisation itself?

Autonomy is the primary marker of being grown up. Babies, children and adolescents don't have any. We don't want to be in their boat

Suspect administration Its purpose is to free the organisation to do what it's meant to do: but the triumph of the administrators - the lawyers, the accountants, the professional managers - means that too many organisations now believe that what they are meant to do is administer themselves. This is a profoundly infantile attitude

Do not love yourself unconditionally. Such love is for babies and comes from their mothers. Ignore fashion, particularly in clothes. You don't want to look like a teenager for ever

Never do business with a company offering 'solutions' as in 'ergonomic furniture solutions which minimise the postural strain associated with sitting' (chairs) and 'Post Office mailing solutions' (brown paper). The word suggests we have a problem, but since we are grown-ups, that is for us to decide

Denounce relativism at every turn. Shouting 'not fair' is childish. Demanding respect without earning it is childish. Don't fear seriousness. Babies aren't allowed to be serious

Watch our language. Is there really much difference between a six-year-old in a fright-wig and his father's waders shouting 'I'm the Mighty Wurgle-Burgle-Urgley-Goo' and an ostensible grown-up demanding to be called 'Tony Blair's Respect Tsar'?

Hide Grown-ups are not required to be perpetually accountable, while the instincts of government and big business, both of which are, almost by their nature, great infantilisers, are to keep an eye on everyone all the time

Eat it up There is nothing more babyish than having dietary requirements

Never vote for, do business with or be pleasant to anyone who uses the words 'ordinary people'

In other words, to be an adult is to be independent and free through responsibility and discipline. It is to be interdependent with others in a non-coersive manner, but never to be "dependent" like a baby/child is. The whole point, if I understand Bywater and the Christian tradition correctly, is that humans will eventually move (if they take the duty of adulthood upon themselves) into elderhood, that is, mature leadership of the next generation to help them to adulthood. And spoil their children.

1 comment:

Jason said...

I was surprised that I fit many of those traits, though a few key ones I fail at time and time again. Another great entry, Russ. Or shall I call you "Source Q"?