How to age well

The plague of respectable adults

My only concern is not to become one.

The youth are supposedly naive and idealistic because they believe in changing the world, until adulthood comes and teaches them the hard lessons of reality. But this is only an ideological fantasy which conveniently assuages the guilt of adults at the same time it deludes and flatters the youth. In fact, for several decades now the youth have been denied access to the naive idealism which is their birthright but for which they nonetheless continue to be mocked. All better to push the youth into an uncritical stupor which was once only imaginable in the most resigned of the elderly. To make the youth as stupid as adults: education today.

Many of the people who use one hand to mock the youth for their naive idealism use their other hand to stuff the youth with advertisements and work and patriotism and law and order. These odd, hypocritical creatures, these respectable adults, mock the children they themselves have killed.

If indeed the tendency of youth is naive idealism, as I hear so often, then I’d like to know why I never had such pleasures in my own youth. The most naive idealism I ever knew in my youth was American-style libertarianism, Ayn Rand and the cult of “individual rights.” I honestly can’t remember anyone who sincerely and passionately believed in fundamental changes to the dominant status quo institutions. Certainly I knew people who sincerely aspired to do good, and of course the liberal faith in non-profit organizations was not uncommon. But aspirations toward social justice within coordinates defined by currently existing institutions are longings to intensify the status quo rather than fundamentally change it. Such youthful aspirations are not at all naive or idealistic but eminently realistic and practical. So if it’s true that the youth are naive and idealistic, then my generation was robbed.

I blame the respectable adults. It must have been these dubious creatures because no matter how far and wide I look for idealistic youths, all I can find anywhere are respectable adults. They’re everywhere, sometimes even in the bodies of teenagers. And you just know they’re the culprits because when you ask them how things could possibly have gotten this bad, they blame a dozen factors all of which conveniently have nothing to do with their own responsibility, before finally changing the topic to something more “realistic.”

The silent, guilty conscience of the respectable adult has abandoned us—the youth and the not yet capitulated young adults—to a life without compass. And then, as we do our best to navigate the impenetrable fog of lies which we have only inherited, the same respectable adults mock us to discourage us, because to disentangle ourselves would be to disentangle their bad faith. This is why most respectable adults want us to suffer as they suffer, and it is why they really do actively discourage us from seeking liberation, because our liberation would inevitably shatter many of the fragile excuses which they need to make their own shameless complacency livable.

But now, well past the prime of my youth though only at the doorstep of real adulthood, neither have I met with those hard lessons in which reality is supposed to teach me the virtues of reasonable moderation. The only lesson adult reality has taught me so far is that if you’re born into a certain minimum of privilege and work extremely hard, you may be lucky enough to survive in modest comfort so long as you’re willing to invest most of your entire life’s energy into institutions which you know damn well effectively prohibit the very possibility of honest and ethical human co-existence. I would much rather be belittled for my immaturity than admired for a mature bad faith.

It seems the real crisis today has nothing to do with the youth: the real crisis is that we have far too many respectable adults running amok. Just look at them, running around working bullshit jobs, dying from stress and anxiety and guilt, repeating lies they’ve now forgotten to be lies, and bequeathing to the youth an increasingly unsalvageable worldview just to avoid admitting that somewhere along the line they failed and gave up. How much more we would love and respect them if only they could be honest!

Fortunately for us, respectable adults pose no challenge and do not even have to be resisted. As ethical and political deadweights, they need only be forgotten.

My only concern is not to become one.

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Murphy, Justin. 2015. "The plague of respectable adults," (December 14, 2018).