Sunday, February 15, 2015

Dependent but paraben-free

Like Miss Self-Important, I was baffled by Eric Posner's call for for declaring college students children. The biggest issue with it for me, though, was something much more basic, namely the vagueness surrounding whether the idea would be to treat college students or all individuals of traditional-college-student age as minors:

Society seems to be moving the age of majority from 18 to 21 or 22. We are increasingly treating college-age students as quasi-children who need protection from some of life’s harsh realities while they complete the larval stage of their lives.
It would be one thing if we as a society acknowledged the difficulties of becoming a self-supporting adult by 18, and the existing effective-majority of 21 (adult socializing is legally out of bounds for 18-20-year-olds), and decided to move The Age up by a few years. It might not be the best idea - if we let the 'the brain only fully develops at...' crowd pick an age, they'll go with 50 - but it would be, as I say, one thing. It would be another entirely to declare 18-22-year-old college students children, while maintaining 18 as the age of majority for the non-student population. It would be writing into law an existing norm, though, of a class-based age of majority.

This is, as others (Elizabeth Nolan Brown? a NYT op-ed? both?) have brought up, already an issue when it comes to campus rape. College-age women are evidently less likely to be victims of rape if they're college students, but the cultural conversation is about college sexual assault - especially cases at elite schools. One might also point to the issue of juvenile offenders (generally not from the most advantaged backgrounds) tried as adults - there's no upper-middle-class equivalent. Privilege - that amorphous buzzword - can be summed up as, at what age will society consider you an adult? If the answer's over 40, you're positively drenched with the stuff.

Except... is it actually advantageous to be a dependent at the age when your first gray hairs appear? It's advantageous to have the option - that is, to have a safety net if things have gone wrong. But are endless years of dependency desirable?

In a very interesting article of hers that Miss Self-Important links to, she points to "descriptions of emerging adulthood as something that one is 'supposed to have' [and that] soon enough slip into talk of emerging adulthood as a right, and one that government programs are obliged to provide for everyone." She's skeptical: "And what more important use of tax revenues is there than to level the emerging-adulthood playing field so that the less fortunate can have equal access to a year or two of aimless hipsterdom after college?"

This is already the case when it comes to the cultural conversation about unpaid (or negatively-paid) internships. These internships tend not to be necessary for entering well-paid fields, nor (last I checked stats on this) do they up the chances of getting paid employment. But rather than discussing them as yet another foolish undertaking of the pampered classes, another way well-off parents hurt their kids while trying to help them - as we very well might have done - we refer to them as the epitome of privilege. We ask how we can extend the ability to work for free for an indefinite period of time to all.

The obvious counterargument would be, well, college. It's now quite generally accepted... not necessarily that every individual should go to college (although that's a popular view with political support), but that no one should be prevented from doing so for socioeconomic reasons.

But the thing is, not everything common among elites is better. For that matter, not everything common among elites is conducive to perpetuating elite-ness! Some highbrow habits are conducive to regression to the mean. Going to college, getting and staying married, these have advantages. But the elite thing of researching the ingredients of all food and cosmetics products, this seems mainly to encourage women to stay out of the workforce, with dubious benefits to their paraben-spared offspring. Related: the elite thing of not vaccinating one's children. I'd lump unpaid internships and ever-emerging adulthood into that same category.


Miss Self-Important said...

The other end of brain science says that brain function also begins declining in one's 30s, so the window for brain-science-approved adulthood is about 4.7 days in the midst of one's 32nd year. Glorious, clear-headed days those shall be.

Phoebe said...

Oh! Something to look forward to.