Saturday, November 04, 2006

Big Babies?

I imagine myself to be a grown-up, as, presumably, do you. You think that because you negotiated puberty and developed secondary sexual characteristics, and got qualifications and opened a bank account and subjected yourself to the scrutiny of anti-terrorism laws and anti-money-laundering laws and learned to drive and got a job and perhaps a spouse and maybe children, and quite possibly even pay your taxes, you are a grown-up.

Sometimes, things strike you as a bit odd. It strikes you, for example, as out of kilter that between getting off the plane and reaching the outside world at London Heathrow there were, at last count, 93 notices telling you off for things you hadn't done or which it hadn't even occurred to you to do.

The plain fact is that you are being treated like a baby. You, I, all of us are on the receiving end of a sustained campaign to infantilise us: our tastes, our responses, our behaviour, our private thoughts, our decisions, our buying habits, our philosophies, our political sensibilities.

We are told what to think. We are talked down to. We are distracted with colour and movement, patronised, spoon-fed, our responses pre-empted and our autonomy eroded with a fine, rich, heavily funded contempt.

Here is a random sample of what is implicit in the assumptions that are made about all of us:

We are unable to control our appetites;
We cannot postpone gratification;
We have little sense of self, and what we do have is deformed;
We have no articulable inner life;
We are pre- or sub-literate;
We are solipsistic;
We do not have the ability to exercise responsible autonomy;
We require constant surveillance and constant admonition;
We are potentially, if not actually, violent;
We have no social sensibilities beyond the tribal;
We have no discrimination.
Do we still want to sign up to this? Do we want to be Big Babies?

While I disagree that it is the media's fault, this article made me think about how much of a kid I am: I play video games; I have posters on my basement walls; I have an iPod. The list goes on. I realize that many people of my generation are like me: they haven't fully grown up yet. I wonder, though, if that is a problem.

After I looked at the following list, in which the authors suggests ways to be an adult, I wonder if I really want to be an "adult." However, some of the suggestions would be good not only for me, but for everone in our culture--especially the first suggestion.

How to be an adult
Don't be affronted: Being affronted (or offended, or complaining about 'inappropriateness') is no response for a grown-up. Only children believe the world should conform to their own view of it: a sort of magical thinking that can only lead to warfare, terrorism, unmanageable short-term debt and the Blair/Bush alliance
Mistrust anything catchy, whether it's the Axis of Evil, advertising slogans, or blatant branding ('New Labour'). Catchiness exists to prevent thought and to disguise motive. Grown-ups can think for themselves
Ignore celebrities, except when they are doing what they are celebrated for doing: acting, playing football et cetera. Skill does not confer moral, political or intellectual discrimination. (Except in the case of writers. Writers know everything and can lecture you with impunity.) If a celebrity is not celebrated for doing anything but being a celebrity, smile politely but pay no notice
We should not assume that market forces will decide wisely. The market is rigged by manipulation and infantilisation
Consider our own motivations: We may rail about being treated like children, ordered about, kept from the truth, nannied and exploited… but are we complicit in it? Could the reward actually be infantilisation itself?
Autonomy is the primary marker of being grown up. Babies, children and adolescents don't have any. We don't want to be in their boat
Suspect administration: Its purpose is to free the organisation to do what it's meant to do: but the triumph of the administrators - the lawyers, the accountants, the professional managers - means that too many organisations now believe that what they are meant to do is administer themselves. This is a profoundly infantile attitude
Do not love yourself unconditionally: Such love is for babies and comes from their mothers. Ignore fashion, particularly in clothes. You don't want to look like a teenager for ever
Never do business with a company offering 'solutions' as in 'ergonomic furniture solutions which minimise the postural strain associated with sitting' (chairs) and 'Post Office mailing solutions' (brown paper). The word suggests we have a problem, but since we are grown-ups, that is for us to decide
Denounce relativism at every turn: Shouting 'not fair' is childish. Demanding respect without earning it is childish. Don't fear seriousness. Babies aren't allowed to be serious
Watch our language. Is there really much difference between a six-year-old in a fright-wig and his father's waders shouting 'I'm the Mighty Wurgle-Burgle-Urgley-Goo' and an ostensible grown-up demanding to be called 'Tony Blair's Respect Tsar'?
Hide: Grown-ups are not required to be perpetually accountable, while the instincts of government and big business, both of which are, almost by their nature, great infantilisers, are to keep an eye on everyone all the time
Eat it up: There is nothing more babyish than having dietary requirements

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