Monday, August 23, 2010

Department of Bad Ideas: Emerging Adulthood

There is an interesting, possibly Hegelian, probably insane assumption underlying the NYT Mag piece on 20-somethings. It seems that in the very recent past, human life was inauthentic and un-free because it was constrained by necessity. People had to marry and bear children young, start working early and never stop, and otherwise do things that we now put off, because otherwise, they would starve to death or be eaten by bears. Now, however, we have "emerging adulthood," an indicator that we live in a blessed age when those necessities no longer apply, and the resulting lives we forge in their absence are therefore more authentically human and free.

The first evidence of this new freedom was adolescence, which was discovered when the necessity of child labor was peeled away to reveal the angsty, rebellious, hormonal but authentic 14-year-old within. This asshole of a creature demonstrated that the previous incarnation of the 14-year-old--the one who worked in the mines or the fields or the kitchens--was a product of necessity and not truth. The adolescent was now liberated. But necessity still bound everyone beyond adolescence. Now emerging adulthood is here to advance the upper limits of human freedom by a few more years by casting off later necessities: "fewer entry-level jobs even after all that schooling; young people feeling less rush to marry because of the general acceptance of premarital sex, cohabitation and birth control; and young women feeling less rush to have babies given their wide range of career options and their access to assisted reproductive technology if they delay pregnancy beyond their most fertile years." Newly free from these externally applied burdens, we 20-somethings have more space to shape our lives according to our own arbitrary wills. We are free! We are authentic! And what have we made of ourselves in light of all this? Well, it seems that at present, the self-realization of the will manifests itself in...hipsters. But ok, no matter.