Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Evolution of the Man-Child

This guy is like a Leo Buscaglia who kicks you in the teeth.  I like him, sort of.

UPDATE:  Since I wrote this, Jordan Peterson basically lost his mind.  Truth is stranger than fiction, it seems.  He became a drug-addict and went to Russia to kick the habit.  They apparently placed him in an induced coma and then he came back to the States.  He has since become a darling of the far-right and the "red pill" and "incel" movements.  Talk about going off the deep end!

But this posting isn't really about him.

What is a man-child and why is this a hot topic these days?    There are a number of reasons, but the phenomenon of the "man-child" or the "bounceback kid" or the stoner living in Mom's basement has been around for decades now.   In fact I was one at one time, sort of, but I managed to pull myself out of that nosedive and move on with life, sort of.

When I was 13 years old, my 23-year-old sister decided that it would be a good idea to "mellow me out" by giving me pot.   And it was pretty amazing.  Suddenly, I felt really good and good about myself.   It was a lot of fun, and I went back to the pipe again and again trying to relive that initial feeling.  It never really came back.   Instead, my grades dropped, and I lost interest in almost everything in life, other than getting high and drinking beer.

I dropped out of college.  I hung around with other stoners.  We drank beer, smoked pot, and bitched about how shitty life was, what a raw deal we got, how others were cheating and working the system, and how the good old USA was evil, vile, and corrupt and unfair.   And we'd do another bong hit to forget about it, before we went off to do menial jobs for low wages.   And nothing ever changed in our lives and never would.   Few of us had steady girlfriends for very long - women don't want to marry a stoner and loser - it is not a very great future for them.   And many of my stoner friends used women - badly.  Misogyny and pot go hand in hand, as I have noted before.

What changed?   Well, I did.   And it is never too late to change, but as the video above points out, the longer you wait, the harder it is.   And I was fortunate in that at age 18, I was a salary employee of General Motors - it was like going to a very sobering boot camp.   So unlike my po-thead friends, I had a good job, a college education I was working on (slowly!) and something of a future ahead of me.   Once I stopped smoking pot, I finished my degree in less than a year and moved away - and started law school.

So you can change your life - it is possible.    30 years later, I am retired and doing well.   But if had not smoked pot and maybe made different choices?   Once of my classmates at GMI is now President of GM.   I am not saying that would have happened to me (I am not as smart as she is) but I could have done far better and perhaps done greater things.   But I'm not complaining - I'm doing far better than my stoner friends - I had a career, and am comfortable and happy most of all.   I had none of those things when I was a "Man-Child" pot smoker.  In fact, I was pretty miserable back then.

My experience was not unique, and over the years, the man-child phenomenon has gotten worse.  They started calling them "bounceback kids" in the 1980's and 1990's, because you'd try to launch them in a career by sending them to college, and they'd bounce back, live at home, and work at menial jobs that made just enough to keep them in pot and beer.   And it seems their number is on the rise - an army of video-game playing basement dwellers who have no future to look forward to, other than perhaps to attend a Nazi rally or a Bernie Sanders rally (the latter being marginally better).  They have grand political ideas - much as we did, back in the day - but are utterly clueless with regard to their own lives.

Why didn't we see this in earlier generations?   Well, I think in part because society wouldn't let this happen.   In the early 1900's, you had to work or die - there was no social security, welfare, or safety net.   Work or die.   You read some of the Horatio Alger stories of the late 1800's and what is interesting is not the improbable success of the young hero, but the wretched conditions the other young boys have to live in - being boot blacks, delivering papers, or working in factories.  Life sucked then, and there wasn't time to smoke pot and  live in Mom's basement.  Mom was probably dead, anyway.

The next generations had to deal with the great depression and World War II.   Parents sent off young men to CCC camps to work and earn some small amount of money to send home to support Ma and Pa.   And then World War II - 18-year-old men being given charge of a million-dollar airplane, or a new tank, or a heavy gun or truck.  Or just handed a rifle and told to march into withering enemy fire.  There wasn't time to be a slacker or a stoner then, although the GI's on leave drank up a lot of beer.   After the war, they all got jobs and settled down - well, maybe except a few who started biker gangs.

The 1950's saw the birth of the beatniks who challenged conformity and perhaps were the first examples of the man-child - the Maynard G. Krebs of the era.  But the 1950's were a conformist era, and few challenged the status quo.  The economy was expanding, and you were expected to become a "company man" and toe the line.  All that started to change in the 1960's.

By the 1960's - much of which actually took place in the 1970's - the hippie movement was in full swing.  Dropping out, turning on, and tuning in was the new mantra.  My oldest brother decided to denounce "materialism" and went off to live in a commune, spending the next decade of his life living in an unheated barn and following the commands of the bearded "guru" who ran the place.   A decade later, he wakes up and wonders where the fuck his life went, and goes back to college to get an advanced degree, and a job.   Today, he has a job with (hopefully) a pension.   Like I said, it is possible to change your life, but it gets harder the longer you delay.

Since those days, the bounceback kid and the man-child are now firmly part of the landscape.   And one reason why is we can afford this today, as we are a wealthy country, whether you choose to believe it or not.  Parents can afford to keep children as pets until their 30's.   Eventually, something has to give, and the kids wake up and set out on their own.   When we lived in Alexandria (when we were in our 30's), we had a gaggle of friends who liked to come over and swim in the pool and drink beer.  We called them the "20-somethings" as they were all in their mid-20s, working slacker jobs, and getting high or drunk a lot.   Some were living with parents.

Well, that was over 20 years ago.   Since then, they have all married off, some having children.  They have careers, houses, 401(k) plans.  They are no longer children anymore.  But it is sort of a new norm in America to spend your 20's just hanging and goofing and really not starting life until your 30's.   And many don't start having children until their 40's - which leads to complications, medically.

Thus, I am not sure the man-child phenomenon is going to go away anytime soon.   He (and increasingly, She) is now firmly part of the landscape.  The idea that your 20's is a time to slack off has taken hold in our culture.

The good news is, like I said, it is possible to change your life - although harder as you go along.   A young woman I know was sent to jail for stealing credit cards, and was hanging out with a drug crowd in flophouse motels.   She had all the potential of a crack-whore, and I sort of lost touch with her, as it was too painful to watch.   Well, today, she's a successful businesswoman and property owner.   She changed her life, but not until, well, about age 30.   You see a pattern here.

And so on down the line - I know dozens of people who have gone through this route besides me.   The problem is, of course, not everyone pulls out of the nosedive in time.  Some do indeed go on to become crack whores, or go insane from smoking pot and dropping acid all the time (it is not good for your brain to be a chronic, ask Jason Mewes).

Not only that, drug use and hanging out with marginal people can be dangerous, particularly today.  My young friend who was hanging out in flophouses could have ended up raped, killed, trafficked or whatnot.   And drug use today is far more dangerous than the beer and pot we had back then.   In addition to methamphetamine, we have opioids now - which are killing so many people that the average life expectancy in the USA has dropped a year.

In other words, this has stopped being funny for a long time now.  Even if you escape injury, death, or great bodily harm, there are other issues to consider.   Going off to college and dropping out was a bad idea for me - but I recovered, because I didn't have crippling student loan debts.   Today, we see bounce-back kids living with Mom and Dad because they can't pay off their student loans.   This shit has gotten way too serious that smoking pot will make you forget about it.

The millennial generation or whatever you want to call them did get a raw deal in that regard.  But, I think that is all the more reason not to fall into the man-child trap, because it is so much harder today to get out of it.   I realize this is not good news, but it is a reality.

And you can accept reality and live in it, or rail against it an accomplish nothing.   Those really are the only two choices.