I appeared on Aryeh-Cohen Wade’s “Culturally Determined” program, on BloggingHeads.TV, where we discussed my essay, “Adolescent Politics.” Along the way, we talked about Donald Trump, Joan Didion, and the impact of social media on politics.
Politics and the Expression of the Adolescent Id
7 responses to “Politics and the Expression of the Adolescent Id”
Really enjoyed this conversation. Comparing social media to the high school cafeteria is spot on. Found your overall argument regarding the adolescent nature of politics and the role social media plays in perhaps re-awakening the adolescent id in adults thought-provoking. How do we get out of the cafeteria? Can we, even? And if we can’t, if the cafeteria is our new home, can/will our collective adolescence eventually reach some level of adulthood?
Fun, insightful dialogue. Enjoyed listening to it.
A hypothesis about why politics has become adolescent. Ideally politics is sustained by high culture. But since the end of WWII and certainly since the 60s and 70s, American high culture has been under assault (from the left for being too white, etc., from the right for being too secular). This was the insight of Alan Bloom and currently Roger Scruton, among others: if we trash the high culture which sustained American democracy, the culture of respectful debate will disappear.
So a way to go beyond adolescence and to adulthood is to continue high culture by making it speak to people’s current issues. Identity politics on left and right grows because they fall back on identity as a substitute for high culture. High culture can’t be forced onto people through lecturing, or saying how wonderful it was in the past. It has to be made – through aesthetic, intellectual and spiritual creativity – to speak to people so they embrace it themselves.
Maybe I’m being excessively optimistic, but I keep encountering anecdotal evidence that high culture isn’t as irrelevant to the “kids these days” as various culture warriors would like us to believe. In a discussion of curricular and related matters years ago, someone who teaches at a private girls’ high school noted how interested her students were in the classics (Greek and Roman in this case) that she was able to cover. She felt like they were much more engaged with the material than with more modern work aimed deliberately at (what some one else believed were) their interests.
More recently a blogger I read who teaches in a Spanish department at a decidedly non-prestigious Midwestern university is teaching Cervantes this semester in the original 17th century Spanish and her course was oversubscribed. So it seems that young people who, we are assured, hate anything more than a decade old can indeed respond to high culture if they’re given a chance. Unfortunately, denying them that chance seems to be major item on some educators’ agendas.
Which is not to say that the definition of high culture couldn’t be expanded. But there are good and bad ways of going about that (like the difference between that book by Bala that I was pushing in an earlier thread and standard science wars stuff). In “Cultivating Humanity” Martha Nussbaum outlined a picture of what a genuinely multicultural college curriculum would look like: engaging seriously with high culture from multiple traditions and examining how, say, classical Indian and classical Greek philosophy approached the same issues (regarding ethics or epistemology or whatever) and the similarities and differences. It was both an inspiring picture and depressing in that it bore almost no resemblance to what typically goes on under the banner of Multiculturalism.
The Classics program at my university was shut down due to lack of interest. Modern languages will soon suffer the same fate.
This distinction might be relevant: people (kids, college students, whoever) being interested in high culture, and the places of high culture being conflicted about the high culture of the past, and especially modern, Western Enlightenment high culture.
Eightieshair, what you say is tracking the former, which is my sense as well. But those very same kids when they go to college might find it very hard to know how to keep or cultivate their interest in high culture, when a lot of what counts as intellectual work is basically deconstructing the past greats. This is not just a recent identity politics thing. After all, Wittgenstein, Austin, Carnap etc thought that they were turning over all of philosophical history, which was seen as nonsense. Same with Heidegger. 20th century movements of various sorts have had a very conflicted relationship to past high culture, while their criticisms seem so high falutin that most ordinary people are left confused.
Nussbaum’s way of integrating the high cultures of different traditions and cultures is much better, and more what we need.
Most of life doesn’t get beyond the level of the high school cafeteria. It’s like that working in most companies just as well as in politics.
Most people don’t mature much beyond high school age. They just get old. Look at most TV programs and most Hollywood movies: they are directed at someone with a high school age mentality, maybe a bit older than 14, say, 16 or 17.
Look at how most people lead their romantic lives: they don’t mature after high school. They don’t develop a “higher” concept of love.
Obviously, some people do mature, but it takes self-discipline and inner “work”, a kind of therapy that one does with oneself or in the presence of a good therapist or teacher (I’m thinking of Massimo’s Stoicism, for example). But that doesn’t come “naturally.”
From what you (Dan K.) say about your own life, you are engaged on a project of self-awareness which is the road to growth as a human being. That’s a very personal and individual thing: it means seeking autonomy and avoiding herd mentality because herd mentality is that of the high school cafeteria.
I agree with much of what is said in the video though I thought the host’s suggestion that the government could take over Facebook and change the algorithms so they were not so addictive seemed to display a naive view of government. Politics is essentially a power game.
There is no doubt in my mind that these technologies are deleterious culturally, socially and politically but I don’t think you can really fight the technology (other than by boycotting its worst manifestations).