Today in the Telegraph, Michael Bywater offers his own diagnosis of the problem: We're all big babies. Or at least we're being treated as such.
The plain fact is that you are being treated like a baby. You, I, all of us are on the receiving end of a sustained campaign to infantilise us: our tastes, our responses, our behaviour, our private thoughts, our decisions, our buying habits, our philosophies, our political sensibilities.He contrasts his current life with that of his grandfather and sums it up quite succinctly:
We are told what to think. We are talked down to. We are distracted with colour and movement, patronised, spoon-fed, our responses pre-empted and our autonomy eroded with a fine, rich, heavily funded contempt.
My grandfather was born in 1888 and he didn't have a lifestyle. He didn't need one: he had a life.I think he may be on to something. The welfare state is increasingly morphing into an intrusive busyboday of a nanny-state. And our biggest mistake may be we just sit back and let it happen. We do not stand up and let ourselves be counted as adults, true adults.
Being grown up is not nearly as comfortable. Let's, just for a moment, beg the question and say that one of the qualities of being a grown-up is what the Romans called discrimen and what we would perhaps call 'discrimination', though that doesn't quite cover it.Read it all, inclusing Bywaters handy Howto on being adult.
Discrimen is the ability to judge a situation and to take right action without being sidetracked by peripheral considerations. Sailors would call it 'seamanship'.
Surgeons speak of 'decisiveness'. In all cases, discrimen is about knowing what to do in the circumstances, even if there is no guarantee of pulling it off.
But if discrimen is a cardinal virtue of adulthood, the tenets of infantilism work against it. Discrimen calls for right judgment; but the idea of something being 'right' is in profound conflict with individualism (which says I can only claim my judgment as being right for me).
It is in conflict with relativism (which says others may have different ideas, which are right for them) and with voluntarism (which says that those different ideas are just as valid as mine, because they, too, have been chosen).
As time slides past, doling out its irreversible quanta, perpetual infantility offers us… the perfect wristwatch: shockproof, waterproof, antimagnetic, a perpetual movement which says everything about us except the single intolerable truth: that we have had it and are headed for oblivion, tick by tick.
We have had to make it up as we go along, we Big Babies. And we have not done a terribly good job. We want (don't we?) to grow up. How? Here's the simple answer: watch carefully, ask why, and mind our manners. It's really that simple. How would the world be if everyone did it?
It would be grown up.