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Written by: Diana West
Thursday, April 30, 2015 6:28 AM 

Yale men at the Yale Fence


A new book, The Prime of Life by Steven Mintz, a professor at University of Texas, has come out this spring from Harvard University Press. It comes to my attention because often when it is mentioned, so is The Death of the Grown-Up -- as in today's review in the British paper The Guardian. The review bills The Prime of Life as "the defense of the kidult generation," which, of course, The Death of the Grown-Up cuttingly critiques. 

From The Guardian:

Meanwhile, there is a corresponding flap about the way that their 50-something parents are also refusing to act their age. The men play football after work, the women make cupcakes and together, although they have been married for 30 years, they go on “date nights”. To some commentators this jumbling of developmental markers is unseemly. To others, such as the permanently outraged American conservative commentator Diana West, it is much worse. The title of her 2007 bestseller said it all, and a bit more to boot: The Death of the Grown-up: How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilisation. This hoo-hah – and that’s all it is, suggests Steven Mintz of the University of Texas – is the result of our foreshortened historical memory. In The Prime of Life Mintz argues that we can’t see back further than the 1950s, a decade during which it was indeed normal to be married, mortgaged and manacled to a career by the time you reached your quarter century. For some odd reason, we assume that how things were in 1955 is how things have always been until about 2005, when everyone suddenly started behaving as if they had been cast in a film starring Adam Sandler.

As commented in a new-media-tweet that could be an old-media-bumper-sticker: "If you aren't permanently outraged, you aren't paying attention."

But "hoo-hah"?

No doubt the cutting-edge kidult would say "waaaa." Instead, I'll point out that the post-grown-up metaphor of my title drives more than a single-tracked discussion of human development. In tracing the 20th-century cultural decline that parrallels the rise of adolescent influence and adult youth worship, the book examines the very dangerous world of post-grown-ups -- "parents who need parents," boundary-less, borderless, identity-challenged, and without reliable moral compasses. Increasingly assuming the role of subjects, not citizens, these same post-grown-ups, guardians of norms that are nothing if not "counter-cultural," fail to reject speech codes and other totalitarian dictates. In this post-9/11 period, they also alarmingly ape the stunted behaviors of the dhimmi -- non-Muslims repressed by Islamic law and thus prevented from rising to full and free adulthood.

The ramifications for our remnant republic are dire.

It may be seen that this same complex of developments encapsulated in "the death of the grown-up" fosters our many failures as a society to fend off existential threats, from Islamic jihad, demographic assaults on nationhood, systemic attacks on society's foundational supports, and, not least, expanding government despotism. 

It is childlike people, after all, who find, accept and seek parental-style care from the central state.

Mintz, however, would seem to regard such interventions as progress.

In a recent essay called "The New Adulthood" at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Mintz argues that "economic insecurity and inequality of contemporary society" are the roadblocks to "transitioning to mature life."

Soul growth out, economic determinism in. Adolescents of the World Unite?   

In Mintz's view, "creating broad access to college" becomes a way of increasing "economic mobility" and successful adulthood both. Therefore, he argues, college drop-outs, somehow, have to be kept in college for the grown-up good (?).

His suggestions toward that end:

Designing curricular pathways with sequences of preselected courses, and providing one-stop student-support services, including financial aid, academic advising, and a writing center (available online) sound like topics for educational researchers. But they have proved effective in promoting completion among students for whom higher education has historically failed. That, in turn, has a major influence on how people negotiate adulthood. 

That's not all.

Meanwhile, free or low cost childcare would benefit families when their incomes are lowest. More predictable schedules for part-time workers would allow parents to better organize their lives. An expanded Earned Income Tax Credit would greatly improve the economic well-being of low-income workers.

Mintz's solution to the death of the grown-up -- sorry, problems with "transitioning to mature life" -- is more nanny state.

Hoo-ha. More nanny state -- more state control -- means more infantilization. 

From The Death of the Grown-Up, pp. 87-88.

Pondering what conditions might ever bring despotism to American democracy, [Alexis de] Tocqueville imagined an America that would have seemed unimaginable in the nineteenth century: a nation characterized, on the one hand, by an "innumerable multitude of men, alike and equal, consistently circling around in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their souls" and, on the other hand, by the "immense, protective power of the state." In the twenty-first century, however, it begins to sound very familiar.

That power is absolute, thoughtful of detail, orderly, provident, and gentle. It would resemble parental authority, if, fatherlike, it tried to to prepare its charges for a man's life, but on the contrary, it only tries to keep them in perpetual childhood. It likes to see the citizens enjoy themselves, provided they think of nothing but enjoyment. It gladly works for their happiness but wants to be their sole agent and judge of it. It provides for their security,  forsees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, makes rules for their testaments, and divides their inheritances.

Why should it not entirely relieve them from thinking and all the cares of living?

In the 19th century, Tocqueville was still talking utopia -- and a benevolent one at that with citizens' pleasures paramount. History shows, however, that real-world totalitarian states have nothing to do with child's play.   


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