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Time limits to moral adolescence
On living with the parents, kicking people off social-media platforms, and choosing when we expect people to grow wise
Much has been said on the subject of maturity, though often without ever using the word itself. "Adulting" entered the vocabulary of popular culture in the middle of the last decade. University president and United States Senator Ben Sasse wrote a book entitled "The Vanishing American Adult" in 2017. Americans in their 20s and 30s are almost three times as likely to live in a multigenerational household (often "back at home" with their parents) than the same age group 40 years ago. And a recent President insisted on calling his then-39-year-old son "a good kid".
■ Surely it can be a mistake to ask someone to mature before their time -- a theme which should be resonant around the time of year when much of the world celebrates history's most famous teenage birth. But surely there is a parallel (though inequivalent) cruelty between expecting children to grow up too fast and tolerating perpetual adolescence. At what point, then, should we reasonably expect people to have grown past impulsiveness on the way to adopting some kind of dependable internal code?
■ In Theodore Roosevelt's estimation, "If a man does not have an ideal and try to live up to it, then he becomes a mean, base, and sordid creature, no matter how successful." Age neither guarantees nor prevents the formation of such a code; there are crooked and immoral old folks and there are children with advanced moral imaginations. Wealth has no bearing upon it, either; there is no shortage of examples of the rich and famous acting impetuously without fixed principles.
■ The complexity of human existence and the boundless variety of circumstances forming each life precludes any simple universal answer to the simple-sounding question, "When do you expect to become wise?" Yet that is a question everyone should ask, not only of themselves (first and foremost), but of their offspring and their friends.
■ These things can't be rushed -- just ask anyone who's been forced to suffer through the unjustified certainty of a young person who has just discovered either Ayn Rand or Karl Marx. One has to start somewhere, then test one set of ideas against others, becoming not only tolerant but welcoming of the inevitable friction that occurs along the way.
■ Nor should there be any artificial assumption that anyone can ever achieve perfect, universal, inerrant wisdom. The mountaintop guru is a cartoon character, not a real life goal.
■ But just as it makes sense to expect people to perform occupational professions after a certain amount of training and practice, so too should we have a decent cultural understanding that people need to be oriented towards trying to achieve some form of real wisdom before they are "old". If we aren't at least a bit demanding in this regard, we consign ourselves to the consequences of letting clowns and fools make judgments that affect us all. Perhaps the world's most courageous moral voice right now belongs to a man who hasn't yet turned 45 years old. It is not asking too much to expect that everyone seeks to grow wise well before they grow old.