American Immaturity: How We Grow Up After We Grow Old
At the age of thirty-five, the author of such literary classics as I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and Assholes Finish First has had something of an epiphany regarding the licentious lifestyle which informed his New York Times-bestselling tomes. As the years have worn on and life taken its toll, Tucker Max has conceded that copious sex and booze do not lead to happiness. Forbes’ Michael Ellsberg explains:
… this most public of “I-don’t-wanna-grow-up” males is in fact now in the midst of a serious, intentional and devoted period of cleaning up and growing up.
He is changing his ways of the past, and—gasp!—becoming a mature adult male, one is who seeking a committed, long-term relationship, leading to marriage, with an intelligent, substantive, accomplished woman.
The full account of Tucker’s rite of passage from reckless detachment to sober insight is well worth the read. What it speaks to, perhaps unintentionally, is the very nature of maturity.
The word “mature” is defined as “complete in natural growth or development,” also “fully developed in mind and body.” Left undefined is the standard for development.
Without here delving into the full philosophical proof, let us accept for the sake of argument that human maturity is the capacity to deal rationally with the facts of reality and to act to sustain your life and pursue long-term happiness. Consider, the reason children remain in the care of parents until they reach adulthood is because they lack the knowledge and experience to act rationally in pursuit of their own lives. Otherwise, they would have no need of parenting.
An animal is mature at a certain age, having developed to the point where its instincts and physical abilities are sufficient for it to act according to its nature without the aid of its mother. Human beings are different. We alone must utilize reason in order to survive.
By this standard, it is apparent to the casual observer that maturity is a rare trait among men and women. Physical development is completely disconnected from the ability to deal rationally with the facts of reality. Indeed, many make it into middle and advanced age without maturing in this sense. Some go their entire lives without truly growing up.
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.
So, what pulled him out of it? What causes anyone to mature? The answer is rational choice. Human maturity is volitional. It has to be pursued and embraced. Tucker relates:
It would be the easiest thing ever to keep living that life, to go out and get drunk and sleep with random women. It’s so much easier than it was five or ten years ago! I have money now and people know who I am. I could travel the world. It would be so easy for me.
But I don’t like doing that stuff anymore. It is possible to go out drinking and partying in a healthy way I think—but the way I did it was ultimately self destructive, and so emotionally bankrupt in a lot of ways. I was having fun doing it for a time, and I’m glad I did it. But it was no longer rewarding to me, because I realized I was surrounded by so much misery and pain. Once you start to see this, then you see it everywhere. It was like, "Wow, I can’t be in this bar scene and this drinking culture without being around a bunch of miserable people.”
Scarlett, Tucker’s current girlfriend, felt guided by him toward a similar revelation. Like him, the facts of reality confronted her, forcing a choice between acknowledging her life, or continuing on a wayward course of fantasy. Tucker says of Scarlett:
She was miserable. Have [you] ever meet someone who always puts on a good front but you can tell they’re miserable? That used to be her. She was like a flight attendant with that fake smile—but it wasn’t just her job, it was her whole life. All I did was hold a mirror to her. At first she tried to argue. But then she came back: "How did you know?"
… She was definitely the type that wanted to know everything at that point. Some people will go the other way. They’ll double down on their lie. But she didn’t want to live a lie anymore.
She wanted to live in the light of truth. That’s the threshold of maturity. That is the moment when we come into our own.
It is bad enough when an individual refuses to mature. Consider the consequences of an entire nation intent on fantasy. Mark Steyn highlights the fact that President Obama’s currently proposed budget places the national debt on track to reach 900% of GDP by 2075. Are there any grown-ups among us prepared to deal with this reality?
The capacity of Americans to mature will determine whether or not we pull out of our cultural and economic nosedive and restore a republic governed by just laws which protect individual rights. It is the choice and capacity to acknowledge the requirements of life, to concede such axioms as “money doesn’t grow on trees,” which enable mature adults to act productively in pursuit of their own happiness. Absent that, misery is inevitable.
More from Helen Smith: Are We All Tucker Max Now?