Friday, August 21, 2015

It's time to create new adulthoods for the new worlds now emerging

Recently the NYTimes published an article on wage-slavery in the white collar ranks of Many of us reacted in horror at what we read. But there soon followed articles pointing out that, after all, that's not so different from other high-tech workplaces, which tend to brutally competitive and all-demanding. This was even offered as a defense of Amazon.

But perhaps what the article revealed is that the meritocratic ideal as realized in the Amazon workplace is toxic and embedded in a now unworkable conception of adulthood. Do we need to rethink adulthood?

For it turns out that the nature of adulthood, like childhood and adolescence as well, is not written in stone, nor inscribed in our genes. It's something we create. The world's changing and so we must reconceptualize adulthood.

That seems to be the burden of Susan Nieman's Why Grow Up?, reviewed by Tom Slater in Spiked!:
The lines between childhood, adolescence and adulthood are mutable, and have changed over time. Less than a century ago, childhood, as a time of pampered play and dependence, lasted barely a few years for the vast majority of the population. And when most young people were out of school and married by the end of their teens, adolescence – the rebellious grace period between Tonka trucks and 2.4 children – didn’t even exist.

Instead, Neiman presents adulthood as a process of coming to terms with the circumstances you find yourself in and then committing to changing them – reconciling the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’. She situates this in the history of Enlightenment thought, in which the doomy realism of Hume clashed with the rugged idealism of Rousseau. ‘It would take Kant’, Neiman writes, ‘to appreciate the fact that we must take both seriously – if we are ever to arrive at an adulthood we need not merely acquiesce in but actively claim as [our] own’.

Kant’s concept of ‘the Unconditioned’, a point at which the world makes perfect sense, is central here. In order to develop into intellectual and moral maturity we must never lose sight of the idea of perfectible society – even as we come to recognise that the world is far from perfect.
Slater concludes: "This elegant, and accessible book is the philosophical kick up the arse my generation so desperately needs." Hmmm.

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