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American Immaturity: How We Grow Up After We Grow Old

Particularly in the developed world where we enjoy life far removed from the pressures of subsistence, one can entertain many forms of neurosis without dying as a result. Consider that American children once aspired to adulthood, not as a means to some impractical fantasy, but as an end in itself. Dr. Michael Platt describes how that changed in the 20th century:

There were no "teenagers" before World War II. Ask those still living who raised their children before then. Or spend a rainy Saturday in the basement of your library, comparing old Life magazines from before the War and after.

Instead of Teenagers, there were Youths. Youths were young people who wanted to become adults. However confused, wayward, or silly they acted, however many mistakes they made, they looked to the future. They knew that adult life was different than a child's life. They planned to grow up, leave childhood behind, and become adults. They were aware that life is more than youth.

The Teenager has no such horizon. Beyond the "Teeny" world there is no adult life, no past with heroes, no future with goals.

Platt’s rant on teenage culture, written in the 1990s, would likely expand today to account for college students and twenty-somethings who live as though adulthood were repugnant and youth ought last forever. Tucker Max was a conquering nomad king among such postponed adults. He tells Forbes:

I was a ridiculous narcissist in my twenties. It’s not even that I didn’t care about other people. It’s way beyond that. I just didn’t even understand that other people even existed or mattered. I do not believe I was a true NPD [narcissistic personality disorder] in the clinical sense. But, dude, I was close.

While Tucker’s narcissism in his twenties is not in doubt, the greater problem was plainly an inability or refusal to acknowledge the facts of reality. In his own words, he “did not understand that other people even existed or mattered.” He saw them. He engaged them. He hurt and used them. Yet, on some fundamental level, he could not acknowledge that they were real.

This inability to accept reality as such went beyond his social behavior to affect how he treated himself. It doesn’t take much to conclude that five to six nights per week of binge drinking punctuated by careless sexual encounters with random partners has negative long-term consequences. Tucker now has the insight to acknowledge the profound sense of self-loathing which informed his lifestyle, surely a mirror image of the pursuit of happiness.