15 April 2012

The Cult of Youth

The problem with youth is that it is often possessed by idiots.  For some reason, young people have a tendency to do stupid things.  Youth are more violent, for one, and are generally less mature, in several senses.  Since their brains are in the process of maturing, they are more likely to rush to judgments, and stupid ones at that. They lack experience, and thus knowledge.  They are blindly confident also, save for the occasional freak that completely doubts himself.  This leads to creating the perfect storm of ignorance, arrogance, stupidity, and violence.

This, unfortunately, has always been true of youths, from time immemorial.  Not in an absolute sense, necessarily, but in a relative sense it said that the youth are stronger, more arrogant, stupider, and more violent than the aged.  This should make sense, for each of these things are a young man’s games.

What’s puzzling, though, is the celebration of youth.

Arrogance, though attractive to foolish young girls, is a vice, not a virtue.  Violence, and its attendant risk, is a vice not a virtue.  Ignorance is a vice, not a virtue.  And so on.  Those distinct characteristics of youth are troublesome, to say the least, but are often overlooked.

The young are not ignorant, they are idealistic.  The young are not naïve, they are pure—or, better yet, filled with virtue.  The youth are not violent, they are expressing themselves.  The youth are not arrogant, they are confident.  And so, the youth are continually told that they are the future, that they are the embodiment of noble ideals, the personification of virtue.  Or so say the celebrants of the cult of youth.

But this is utter bullshit.

Wisdom, idealism, self-expression, confidence, and so on are all timeless concepts, not tied to any age.  They can be observed and idealized separate from the constructs of time, and their occurrence need not be lauded alongside the presence of other faults and vices.  Consequently, it is not necessary to excuse bad behavior in the pursuit of an ideal since an ideal can exist separate from a concrete manifestation.

What’s sickening, though, is how the cult of youth ignores the simple fact that one need not worship youth, or excuse its excesses and vices in order to laud its occasional virtues.  More to the point, there is no reason to idolize youth given how terrible it is in reality.  One can, as noted, divorce the abstract from the concrete.  In fact, this is how ideals are born.

But instead of holding to ideals, it is now fashionable to celebrate the decidedly imperfect concrete as a way of inspiring(?) others to act virtuously. This is, of course, broadly seen in American society, wherein the young are given every excuse for bad behavior imaginable.  The legal system coddles the young and far too often parents do likewise.  Dalrymple observes that parents have become deferential to the young, and that the rest of society follows suit, because everyone is afraid of what the young can do.  Therefore, because no one exercised control over the youth when they were still toddling about, no one can exercise control over the youth once they reach physical maturity.  The youth have long known, from their parents’ actions, that they were in charge.  And then, when they come of age, they act like it.

This mindset has permeated the school system, wherein those who subscribe to the tabula rasa school of child development assume that all children will easily learn the concepts taught in school of only the teachers weren’t so incompetent at their jobs.  This is an inherently youth-centric approach, as it is assumes the youths are perfection incarnate, and that but for the foolishness and imperfections of adults children would realize their perfection.
Worse still, this tendency has crept into the church.  The young are often celebrated for their wisdom—which comes from their purity, having not yet been corrupted by the cynicism of adulthood—and for their energy.  The youth are the central focus of the church.*  “How can we attract young people?” is the common lament among pseudo-Christians.  There is no such pontificating about being more like God, only about attracting the young.

But this tendency is not wholly illogical.  Older people have no energy to work, and, these days, they often have no wisdom, preferring the theory of gender equality to its historical reality, and the doctrine of niceness to the doctrine of Godliness.  The current generation of the hoary-headed has done a terrible job; why not give the youth some time in the drivers’ seat?  Could they do that much worse?

Perhaps not.  But lauding youth as the ideal of wisdom is both foolish and pointless.  It’s foolish in that the youth are generally unwise, and thus unqualified to be the ideal of wisdom.  It’s pointless in that wisdom is already an ideal to itself, and therefore needs no other abstraction, particularly one that is as ill-fitting as youth.

This is not to say that youth is terrible; on the contrary it is a wonderful time in one’s life.  The naiveté and arrogance of youth is what enables the young to take risks that adults would never dare dream of taking.  Yes, sometimes the risks undertaken are foolish.  Sometimes they are not.  It is the idiot savants that come out alive.  But being an idiot savant presupposes being an idiot.

The reality of the matter is that it is in youth when one first experiences base desires.  Maturity, then, is the process of bringing those base desires into control, and moderating them into healthy appetites.  Elders, and their attendant wisdom, are what youth need to help guide them along this process.  And herein lies the failure of the Baby Boomers:  having never once learned to control their base desires, they are now in no position to tell other generations to do the same.

And now today’s youth are in the unenviable position of being society’s moral ideal while also being wholly unqualified for the job.  Unfortunately, all the other generations are wholly unqualified for moral leadership as well, and so the youth take over by default, simply because they are the unqualified.

The cult of youth is a toxic thing, both for its practical effects—in this case the blind leading the deaf and blind—and for its implications—there is currently no generation fit to be the moral leaders of society.  The former speaks of a future of waste and destruction; the latter speaks of squandered opportunities.   In the end, the cult of youth will be our downfall.

*  As evidenced by youth groups.  You would think that the church would focus on Christ, though, seeing as how the church is the bride of Christ.


  1. Its also probably the way you raise youth. When you consider a person an adult early on and make them responsible. That person will be smart and mature very early on.

  2. @Anon.- All true. However, if you prize youth as an ideal, you will likely want to extend in the lives of others, and thus absolve them of their duty to grow up.