About a week ago, my sister and I were marveling the reluctance of many modern teenagers to become not involved, but even simply knowledgeable about American politics. Why wouldn’t they want to know how the government impacts them on a day-to-day basis? They proudly (and ignorantly) boast “the government doesn’t affect me so I don’t need to worry about it,” and “I stay as far as possible away from anything relating to politics.”
So Caroline and I wondered, why would someone be so proud of their disinterest and disconnection from the politics and government of their own country? Indeed, I think I’ve discovered the answer.
Unlike in past time of—well, I’ll not be naïve about it. I suppose “growing up” has always come with a certain amount of freedom and liberty. But I think in history, there has always been a certain amount of responsibility and obligation associated with growing up that our generation is unwilling to acknowledge. Of course, I might verily write a book on that, but the relevance is in how it applies to civics. For indeed, adolescents see that they gain legal equality with their parents and elders—driving privileges, status to drink legally or go to clubs, and so on. Yet in all this, they deny the responsibility that they have to their community, to their state, to their nation.
When Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States and observed our democratic form of government, he rightly presumed that a greater sense of individualism and independence would follow equality under the law. The government protects our equal rights as individuals and asks only that we participate in election of the legislators and executives (well, in addition to up to 40% of our total income, but that’s another blog entry…) As long as no one impinges on our liberties, many people feel no desire or obligation to do the serious thinking about these issues; we would rather remain totally independent and committed only to our own aspirations, interests, and necessities.
So certainly, the Peter Pan Syndrome (or whatever sociologists are calling it) has a worse consequence than leaving 20-something men to live off their parents’ income and play video games all day. Abigail Adams warned her son, John Quincy, that character comes with difficult times; and indeed, times are no easier in the 21st century than they were in the 18th and her words are still applicable:
“The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.”