sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

October 22, 2010

How Not to Waste Your Youth

Filed under: society — edge of the sandbox @ 4:26 am

The printed version of National Review takes several weeks to come out.  Then it takes me something like two months to get to the last page, which happens to be Lileck’s piece.  And then I must-must-must write about it.  So here they are, my belated thoughts about “emerging adulthood”.

“Emerging adulthood” might be an invention of a clever sociologist, but wasted youth is nothing new, of course.  “My youth, my alien youth” — rhapsodized Russian poet Sergei Yesenin in… actually, I have no idea when. Iit must have been in the 1910s.  By the time he drunk himself to death at age thirty, Yesenin married about 5 times (once to Isadora Duncan), begot several children and wrote a number of celebrated poetry books.  Soviet school kids were required to commit his poems to memory (not about drunken debauchery, the other ones).  That, my friend, is a youth well wasted!

In good old days unwanted pregnancy tended to end wasted youth although some enterprising individuals, like Yesenin, found a way to keep wasting.  Now we don’t really get pregnant, and so youth lasts well into perimenopause.  At which point a face lift might or might not be an option.

Youth is an easy thing to waste in a capitalist society.  Some people have rich parents, but when I was young and without work, I called my temp agency, and had a job the next morning.  Then I’d quit and go to Europe.  I didn’t feel entitled to a year in an exotic Central European country, but I got to go anyway.

The idea of subsidizing wasted youth is very European; DH has stories about that, but these are his stories, not mine.  The way I see it, if you are going to scramble, do it your way.  If the government starts paying for your goof offs, there will  be strings attached:

How about expanding programs like City Year, in which 17- to 24-year-olds from diverse backgrounds spend a year mentoring inner-city children in exchange for a stipend, health insurance, child care, cellphone service and a $5,350 education award? Or a federal program in which a government-sponsored savings account is created for every newborn, to be cashed in at age 21 to support a year’s worth of travel, education or volunteer work…

Really?  You want an “emerging adult” “mentoring” at risk children?  And why devise complicated favor exchange system instead of, you know, paying people in cash?  And who will be paying for the substances?  And how is an “emerging adult” supposed to headline a show at 1 am if she needs to get up next morning to “volunteer”?  It’s like a  wasted opportunity to waste youth.

A psychology prof at Clark says that there is some sort of magic “age 30 deadline” by which “emerging adults” are supposed to get their shit together.  Says who?  DH pointed out that half of the people around here are nearing 40 and are still doing their arty little thing.  We are not talking wasted youth here, more like wasted life.

On the other hand, a capitalist society offers multiple opportunities to get one’s shit together.


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