The Ethics Of… The Youth of Today

Well it appears that I’ve accidentally written a series of articles again, and once again, I can’t think up a catchy name for it. One day I’ll sit down, plan out all my topics for a few months ahead and make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen, but today is clearly not that day. In the meantime, feel free to come up with your breeding-related theme names and post them in the comments.

So we’ve already established that some people shouldn’t be allowed to have kids (but it’s even worse to stop them), and that we should all try to have fewer kids (though this conflicts pretty badly with our biological and social norms), but what do you do with the kids when they are inevitably born? Even if you’re a hardcore advocate for human depopulation (and god knows I heard from a few of them last week) the fact remains that people are going to have kids for as long as the human race exists – quite literally. Given this, attention needs to be paid to what we do with the little critters.

Now before someone who knows me calls me out on this, let’s establish something immediately; I don’t know squat about raising children. In fact you would in fact be hard pressed to find someone less qualified. I am the sort of person who basically locks up in terror when expected to do anything with children, usually ending up with me telling them my thoughts on geo-political events while holding them as far away from my body as physically possible.

dont-make-me-hold-your-baby-collIt’s hard to express just how accurately this depicts the situation.

So if you’re looking for commentary on how to raise your specific potato-creature correctly, such as whether it should be walking/talking/piloting heavy machinery in the 15th trimester or whatever, then turn around now. This is not the website you’re looking for.

What I do know about however, are the dark seething forces that lurk just below the human psyche; power, brutality, manipulation, fear and hypocrisy – so, you know, a perfect summary of your average childhood.

It’s a funny thing about youth; practically no adult seems capable of remembering what their own was actually like. It seems like the older a person gets, the more their early years fade into this rosy mist of fluffy teddies, boisterous good times and mentors who were wonderful in every way – and this retroactive adoration of childhood seems to spike alarmingly once they become parents.

What is subsequently forgotten in the process is the sheer volume of bullshit that adults and society in general manages to heap upon anyone under the age of 25.

Don’t believe me? Ok, imagine this scene with me for a minute:

You’re at work in an office and need to go to the toilet. You stand up to do so, but your boss looks over and tells you none-too-politely to sit down. Annoyed you tell him that you need to go to the toilet, at which point he tells you to sit down, raise your hand and ask permission.

Outraged, you get up and walk out and go to the toilet anyway. When you return, you are told to get HR and face disciplinary action – you have to stay 30 minutes after work today. Refusal will result in being forced to stay late every day this week.

You inform them that this is illegal, a clear breach of Australian labour laws and an outrageous act of disrespect to boot. They respond that it is in fact completely legal for someone in your position, and that you have zero legal recourse. They call you a disrespectful trouble-maker for suggesting it.

You threaten to quit the company. They inform you that, not only are you required by law to stay in this job but they can and will report you and your family to the authorities for extended absence. It’s for your own good, they tell you.

Put the concept of compulsory schooling in a work context and it’s amazing how closely it describes indentured labour. Were you to enforce these sort of restricitions on any other group of people, perhaps on the basis of gender, race, or even other age groups it would rightly be considered an outrageous case of discrimination – the curtailment of basic civility and autonomy for utterly arbitrary reasons.

And that’s before we even start on the way many teachers, parents, shopkeepers, authority figures and even people on the street treat young people, purely for being young. Imagine what would happen if you were to attempt any of the following to someone in the 30-40 year old bracket;

  • Dismissing their opinion because they’re 35, so clearly don’t know what they’re talking about (pfft middle-aged people, amiright?).
  • Yell at them to show some respect, making sure to be incredibly disrespectful yourself.
  • Telling them to do something ‘because I say so’ and then getting angry if they don’t comply.
  • Demand a seat from them on the bus purely because they are middle-aged.
  • Blatantly lie to them about how the world works for your own entertainment, to the point of a society-wide conspiracy, and then letting them figure it out on their own.
  • Make serious and binding plans for the futures of all middle-aged people without ever once consulting people in that age bracket, and actively denying them the right to have a say on the topic.
  • Cramming your values down their throat every day, all day, regardless of how broken those values may be. If they protest or disagree you can punish them.
  • Physically hitting them for disobedience and being legally allowed to do so (provided you own them and don’t leave a mark).

Wars have been started for less. Yet we seem to have absolutely no problem doing this with young people purely because they are young.

Worse, we go the extra mile and make sure we rub young people’s faces in their powerlessness by writing endless articles about ‘the youth of today’, the various failings of ‘Generation Y’, how the youth are so disrespectful nowadays, and their own worst enemies and so very entitled! All while utterly ignoring the fact that, even if this condescending drivel were true, the state of any generation is almost exclusively the fault of the generation that raised them and/or designed the society they grew up in.

Baby boomer

So how is it that this sort of situation is allowed to exist at all? Why haven’t we seen a soaring civil rights campaign rise up to meet these injustices?

Well it’s mainly because the adults have a point – much of the controls placed on children and young people are for their own good. Concepts such as compulsory schooling and a childhood free of work (interestingly, a relatively new idea) have been demonstrated beyond doubt to be beneficial both for young people and for society as a whole.

Furthermore it is a biological fact that they (for the most part) simply aren’t as smart, emotionally stable or as capable of either compared to (most) adults. You only need to look at a selection of kids or teenagers who were left to make their own decision to see that this rarely ends well.

dumb teenCase in point.

I’ve mentioned autonomy – the right to control your own life – before, and this control of young people is a good example of when it needs to be limited. If the right to autonomy is calculated as a combination of rationality and being well informed, then most young people clearly do not qualify, hence why we deny them some of their more powerful rights until they turn 18 in Australia (and rarely really trust them until 21-25).

But this fairly solid rational has a hidden barb in it for us smug adults; if we deny young people their rights based on how rational and how well informed they are, then why don’t we apply these same standards to ourselves?

Letting a child drive is a stupid idea because they cannot be trusted with the power of a vehicle. But if the criteria for being granted the right to drive is whether a person can be trusted, why is it then automatically granted simply because a person turns 18? I don’t know about you, but I know some 18 year olds (and some 35 year olds for that matter) who I trust significantly less than a 10 year old.

drunk teenThough giving them the right to drink at the same age was probably a bad move.

The idea of giving a 14 year old the right to vote would be laughed at by virtually everyone. Put the future direction of our nation in the hands of someone who’s major interest is One Direction and/or Call of Duty? I think not. But if the right to vote is granted based on a person’s ability to responsibly participate in our democracy rather than an otherwise arbitrary age limit, then I have some bad news for you; that criteria pretty much disqualifies half the voting public, and that is being generous.

Abandon hope all ye who watch this video.

The more you think about this, the more disturbing the entire concept of age limits becomes. It’s a self-evident fact that many young people are significantly more intelligent, more rational and better informed than many adults. But because these youths are a minority within their age group, they are not only denied these rights but automatically treated with contempt by a large chunk of society. And given that treating an individual based on stereotypes of a group they belong to (ie. men perform better at maths on average compared to women, so we won’t consider any woman for this engineering job) is practically the definition of bigotry, this is very disturbing indeed.

In particular the fact that young people can be excluded from the political process, despite their entire futures being affected by today’s political decisions (and especially when that policy specifically targets young people) is frankly disgusting. Imagine the outrage if we suddenly decided people over 60 would lose the right to vote because they were statistically less open to new ideas, and more prone to conditions that made them irrational? And yet this is absolutely no different than what we currently do with the young.

So why is it like this, and how is it so normal to us to discriminate like this? Well much like the disabled, the simple fact is that there is nothing they can do about it. If a random adult told me to give them my seat on the train, they would be laughed at. If they then yelled at me and told me to show some respect, the lingering echoes of my resulting wrath would linger for generations to come. And if they DARED lay a hand on my person in the process… well I’m sure we’ve all had a fantasy or two about a legitimate chance to put the boot in. You fill in the glorious details.

But do that to a kid and what happens? Nothing. Because they’re too weak, too small, and too aware of their position in society to do anything about it. And should they act up and defy the adult authority, don’t we leap at the chance to heap abuse and derision upon their heads?

It is true, there’s nothing more irritating that some obnoxious little prick who thinks they’re oh-so-deep and wise and qualified to tell you how the world works. But isn’t it telling that when that smug little prick is 15-20 years older people will pay them the big bucks just to hear those same (or even worse) idiotic opinions and clap when they’re done.

Smug tosser

The key step to success is apparently a complete lack of self-awareness

Maybe the reason the kids today are so disrespectful is because we don’t deserve it.

11 thoughts on “The Ethics Of… The Youth of Today

  1. Very well said! I’d like to think that I’m a professor who doesn’t live too far up in an ivory tower, because I really like to socialize with my students. I find it keeps me young, but it also helps me see the world through their eyes which really helps me keep my sanity about the next generation. If I were to just look at their grades, I’d probably be very depressed. lol I think each generation has challenges to face and those challenges are different and so not surprisingly each generation takes on a somewhat different shape. I am not sure what it’s like in Australia, but here in the U.S. the biggest worry we have with this current generation is their high confidence in themselves which is based on having a life in which everybody is treated as being special and nobody ever fails, because children should not have hurt feelings. The information age should be a powerful age to be alive and yet it feels like I come across so many students who have little understanding of how to use it. Many of them seem to have faced very little adversity and seem quite shocked when life is actually hard, and that they can fail even though they “worked REALLY hard”. Rant over…the point is there is no other reason the current generation is this way except because of how they are being raised. I too have always found it strange that the old criticize the young…the young they were responsible for raising. lol

    As I watch my son grow, you can see his individuality blossom even though he is only 8 months old and I realize that as a parent you have to incrementally foster this individuality. You have to slowly increase the number of avenues they have to make their own decisions, while making sure that they also get some important boundaries from you along the way. This is most likely very hard, but it something that I always want to be evaluating and re-evaluating as he grows. I never want to be the father who says “Because I say so”. I feel teaching a kid to default to authority without an explanation why is a dangerous habit for a kid to have and so if I’m going to set boundaries then I feel I should have a reason for those boundaries and be willing to explain them if he asks, even if he might be a little too young to understand them. I think kids always understand far more than we give them credit for. While you are completely right that we can’t just leave them unchecked as it will erupt into some Lord of the Flies scenario, but I think it’s a pretty common attitude these days to underestimate children and to me that’s the biggest mistake you can make as a parent. Not only are they smarter than we think they are, they are usually a lot tougher than we think they are too.

    Although not totally related, I wrote a blog piece about parenting and respect just recently. Not sure if you read it, but thought you might find it interesting.

  2. Interesting that you should say that adults don’t deserve the respect of children. I think it was a bit of a cop out answer and that more analysis of the issue should be given. It is unfair however to paint the whole post in the same brush and though I think you make a fair point about the bigotry of not allowing people to vote due to their age I feel that you have succumbed to some of that nostalgia about your childhood as well.Whilst you might now sneer at things like call of duty I am sure that in your youth you were just as interested in something mind numbing that your elders called childish. As a 15 year old now living in London I feel a lot more comfortable about many of my peers not having more control and being limited. The idea that some of them might some day be in positions of power frankly scares me. In truth I think lord of the flies might not fully grasp the full extent of the carnage that might ensue. Though made for friendly for a child audience there is a French film about a town where all the parents leave to teach the children a lesson. I would not recommend watching it but a brief glance might show some of the insight that went into the making of the film.
    I would like to count myself as a part of that section of youth potentially mature enough to take on more responsibility but personally do not like the idea. My youth is a period where I can learn and build up the experience necessary to live in the real world. Some more chances to voice an opinion and have a say would be nice but I struggle to see how those deemed “worthy” would be discriminated from those that aren’t.
    I enjoy reading your pieces, please continue.
    Calum Drysdale

    • Hi Calum, thanks for the comment. Yeah that last line was more for show than substance, I admit. And you’re right, that crack at Call of Duty was a bit unfair as well – I was referring more to the culture of it’s multiplayer community than the game itself (though a couple of them are pretty bad themselves).

      I agree with you that I’d be hugely uncomfortable with many young people havig more power – I look back at my opinions as a teenager and get pretty damn embarrassed. But the core point of the article was that this also applies to many adults as well. I agree that the criteria for who is and isn’t worthy of power is a tough one, and that age limits are better than some methods we could come up with, but I reckon it’s worth looking into. One idea I’ve had for Australia (where we have compulsory voting) is that everyone be asked a multiple choice question about one of the parties’ policies, and are only allowed to vote if they get it right. Very easy to pass, but it would cut out an aweful lot of uninformed voters.

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