Monday, April 26, 2010

Child Adults and Adult Children

What are Adult children?

Adults who play with toys, who spend more time playing games than living life, who may “provide” for themselves financially, but who are not autonomous. Going through the motions to get a well-paying job is not the same as growing up, and if somebody devotes the resources obtained through this well-paying job solely to entertaining oneself that person is not an autonomous (i.e. self-creating, self-determined) subject. They are a child working toward the means to preserve the state of childhood.

NOTE that I say SOLELY. I have my toys and entertainments too, as do all adults, but there are other things in my life. It’s not just about working to provide myself with toys, and playing with those toys. I’ve got other shit on the go, and ends other than entertainment that I devote my resources toward. This is the basis of the distinction between an adult with a healthy fun-loving spirit and an adult child.

Growing up in a small, reasonably wealthy town, I was used to seeing Child-children and Adult-children. When I stepped off of the plane in Jordan, I met my first real Child-adults. As I stepped outside of the airport in Aman my first sight was a boy of about seven or eight selling handguns and ammunition that were laid out on a blanket in front of him. I was twenty-three at the time, and remember thinking to myself, “I’ve never HELD a gun. This kid, who is a third my age, makes his living by selling them…” It was a rude awakening.

The human animal is infinitely adaptable. If a child has to become self-reliant, it will, as long as the need presents itself soon enough in the child’s development. Once a pattern of dependence is established, however, even drastic circumstances will fail to break it. European culture created the idea of childhood, as we generally understand it today, in the 1700s. This social construction created a safe psychological space for learning and development in which the mind could grow and discover itself before having to confront the challenges of adult life. The mind thus prepared, it was believed, was better capable of overcoming those challenges. Neil Postman goes into great detail on this subject in his book The Disappearance of Childhood, which I highly recommend although it comes to conclusions that I strongly disagree with. Other cultures have had childhood as a cultural institution as well, with the definitive characteristics of that state being relative to the conditons of their society, but those cultures traditionally have rites of passage. Rites of passage are traumatic events designed to break the cycle of dependence and allow the child to be reborn into adulthood as an autonomous subject.

European culture couldn’t come up with anything like that… so they’d just fuck. Sex was the rite of passage.

As we all know, sex was the big taboo of late European culture. I say “late,” because fucking was not private or taboo in early European culture. It wasn’t until the birth of European childhood in the 1700s, when suddenly there was a whole class of people in society that sex had to be kept secret from, that it became a forbidden subject. In this sense, sex was a neurotic rite of passage for the West. It wasn’t a cultural institution, but there can be no doubt that it was a rite of passage all the same.

Modernity has utterly torn the idea of childhood apart. Sex is everywhere. Sexual images are used in advertising, so the first encounter with sexuality that most children of our age will have is with images being used to sell products. The psychological impact of this is obvious: we are breeding a generation of prostitutes, and Adult-children. The rite of passage, neurotic or not, has been trivialized by associating it with consumerism and thereby robbed of its significance. Sex isn’t a taboo that one breaks, thereby gaining autonomy over social expectations, but rather it has become a commodity. Just one more form of entertainment. Many people in western society stay children because they can conceive of nothing higher than entertainment and leisure to direct themselves toward. At the prey of these desires, they will never become autonomous.

Child-adults in our society, paradoxically, are often prey to the same desires. Adult-children are accustomed to having those things provided for them, first by a loving parent and later by an infantilizing corporate institution. Child-adults know that if they want something, they will have to take it for themselves. They have no higher goals, but meeting their lower goals is significantly more difficult, so they develop a kind of self-reliance that enables them to take over aspects of their own lives. It’s also true that Child-adults start off struggling to meet needs, rather than wants. That gives them a power that Adult-children will probably never know.

Child-adults, however, are only autonomous to a point. Because they are struggling to meet needs, they are still reactive rather than active. They may be very impressive to adults in that they function at a high level when it comes to meeting those needs, but they do not direct their own lives. They react and develop according to their circumstances.

The skill set of the Child-adult would do a great deal to help the Adult-child just as the living conditions of the Adult-child could conceivably allow the Child-adult to realize its potential. But in all this, where are the grown ups?

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