Monday, August 06, 2012

Call Me, Maeby

Societies and cultures change; they evolve. We often take this fact for granted and, I think, we subconsciously chalk all social change up to this evolution without really thinking it through.

For example, even in this age of near unlimited digital photography, if you have a big family gathering, likely, at some point, everyone will crowd in together so there can be a portrait (professional or, more likely, otherwise) with everyone in it - knowing full well that the gathering itself, and the family comprising it, will be far better and more accurately represented by the thousands of candid photos taken and posted to facebook. Why do we still gravitate towards the portrait? We might as well be renting a Daguerreotype; it's just as relevant.

We just don't think through things. It's either, "that's how we've always done it," or, the equally infuriating, "I guess that's just how things are these days."

What particularly gets me in that realm is our insistence on expecting and treating everyone as if they're nine years old. We've normalized infantile behavior. Even with all the renewed talk of "personal responsibility," we don't actually expect people to behave maturely in any situation.

From hockey dads beating each other senseless while their kids look on in horror to women in pink skinny jeans with "princess" written across the butt taking their four kids to the mall for school clothes - we've reached a point in which society has so elevated youth to premier status that people are incentivized to not grow up!

Reading a book about consumerism recently, I was amazed to realize that the entire point of our consumer economy is to make people act like children - to follow instincts, without regard for consequences.

Everything is always someone else's fault. Just ask the Republicans... or the Democrats...

...or your average 5 year old.

I'm as big a fan of consequence-free immediate gratification as the next person, and I'm willing to admit we live in a society that makes it as easy as possible to present that consequence-free immediate gratification actually exists, but I also think we're smarter than that. I think we all know deep down there's something more to life; we've just been taught to avoid thinking about it or asking why.

My wife, the middle school teacher, is constantly surprised by the new ways her students find to be ignorant of the world (that sentence was intentionally vague in the hopes it would apply to a variety of contexts). I'm not sure those kids are any different than the same kids in other times and places. I just don't think we provide the space, or the encouragement for anyone to develop self-aware, self-assured, or self-conscious.

Self-consciousness has gotten a bad wrap as uptight or boring. It really just means we've come to recognize our actions have an effect, both on ourselves and on the people around us.

Perhaps we could use a few more self-conscious people around here?

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