Friday, February 29, 2008

Peter Pan Syndrome

~from First Things a book review on The Death of the Grownup by Sally Thomas.
My reflexive response on reading Diana West’s The Death of the Grown-up has been to keep announcing magisterially to all and sundry that I am one. Pass the salt, because I said so, and I am a grown-up. “We know,” the children reply wearily, which is a relief. After all, I’ve just been reading a book that argues that, in the wake of World War II’s “Greatest Generation,” successive generations have abandoned traditional notions of adult gravitas in favor of a presumably, and even desirably, terminal adolescence. The titular allusion to Patrick Buchanan’s The Death of the West cannot be accidental: This cultural development, West argues, marks a devolution of civilization as, well, we used to know it. Adult judgment—the mysterious sixth sense, as it seemed, which enabled my mother to declare from outside my bedroom door that I was not going out wearing that—has been replaced by a gormless disinclination to discern the good from the not-so-good, or to venture even that such distinctions exist at all. The problem, as West views it, is not merely rejection of authority but rejection of the responsibility to assert authority on any level, wreaking havoc in the family and the local community and rendering the West as a whole all the more vulnerable to jihadist assault...

... To give context to these contemporary events, West constructs a historical trajectory that arcs from the World War II–era entry of the word teenager into the popular lexicon, to a future of multicultural uncertainty. By her account, the rise of the student radical in the 1960—and the accompanying acquiescence of sycophantic college administrators and parents who laud destruction of property and the hurling of mindless obscenities as “acts of conscience”—begets, in an unbroken lineage, the Islamic terrorist threat of our own era, “The Real Culture War.” Of the 1960s’ campus protests, she writes, “In place of a hierarchy based on accrued wisdom, there would emerge a power structure based on accrued grievance.” And in this hour, she argues, the powers of the West—like those ’60s parents—practice something “more like supplication than statecraft” in dealing with the militant Islamic world. Hence the proliferation of official Washington Ramadan celebrations, and airport security policies that shy away from “profiling” Middle Eastern men.

What, exactly, is everyone afraid of? Mainly, says West, they are afraid of defying the cultural narrative, also in development for the last thirty years or so, which asserts that no culture may claim to have advanced any further, or to have accrued any greater wisdom, than any other culture.

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