Saturday, February 11, 2012

Growing Up Absurd

Last night I went to see a documentary/biography of Paul Goodman entitled "Paul Goodman Changed My Life". It was quite an interesting film to be sure and I'd certainly recommend watching it. Seeing the film was my first exposure to Paul Goodman and his most famous work, "Growing Up Absurd"- a book about the problems of disaffected youth in relation to society. Since the film was the first I'd ever heard of either Paul Goodman or the book, I've obviously not read the work, though it is certainly in my plans to do so.

The director of the film was at the Dryden last night and was on hand to take questions and discuss the film. We couldn't stay for all of the discussion but if we could have, I'd have asked if the director, or anyone who had read the book, saw any correlation between the youth of the mid-late 60's (the book was released in 1968) and the youth/young people of today. Obviously, the late 60's was an extremely volatile time. It's quite understandable that the youth of that generation would feel disaffected, disconnected from their country/government, angry, feeling they had been sold a lie, perhaps. I suppose I ask the question because I notice a similar disaffectation among young people today.

I'd say it's safe to believe that we, too, have been sold a lie, albeit a different lie from that of the 50's and 60's. We were told from the beginning that we could do anything, be anything we wanted. From an early age the idea that the world is completely open for our taking, we are capable of anything-any profession is within our reach if we want it. This idea is great for opening up one's imagination and for creating dreamers, which is necessary, otherwise you'd never have any invention or forward progress. But this idea, however, is a lie. We can't be and do whatever we want. No matter what you believe about creation/evolution, each person is programmed with specific skill sets. This is necessary to propel life forward. Everyone has a job and a place within society/community to keep it flowing. This is true among the animals, too. A worker bee in a hive cannot be the queen. He wasn't made for that job, he was programmed for a different, yet equally important task. No one told him he could be the queen bee if he wanted it badly enough. That's absurd! So I believe it's true in human society as well. I cannot be an astronaut. My brain simply isn't wired to understand all that is necessary to understand in order to navigate space. Do I find space and space travel absolutely fascinating? Yes indeedy. But I'm incapable of the responsibilities of that job.

I believe that this lie has created apathy, laziness and a feeling of disconnect and lack of purpose among people of my generation and younger-those in their mid-late twenties. When the world is your oyster, it's difficult to choose what to do. This is the same reason why it takes my patients an hour to choose a prize after their dental work. There are simply too many choices. The pressure is really piled on starting around junior year of high school to start looking at colleges and really think about what you want to do. Of course, college is practically mandated so you have to go, and you have to choose a major at some point if not in the first year or so. Because we've been told we can do/be anything the likelihood of choosing something that befits our strengths is not always high. And if we've chosen poorly, failure to succeed is almost guaranteed. This creates an enormous stress. No one likes to be or feel like a failure. Plus you can just add on the stress of wasted money, either yours but more likely your parents, who are also disappointed. Hookah hookah hookah, disaffectation!! This is apparently a word I've just made up because it keeps giving me the little red squiggly underneath.

Anyway, I pointed out in the beginning that I've not read the book. I'd like to read it and revisit this idea and see for myself what correlations there may be. As a parent, I feel it's an important thing to consider. How will I raise the girls to find their place in society without them feeling like a cog or that they've been stripped of the ability to dream and imagine. That's what makes us human and individual. Yes, we all have our place and purpose in contribution to society, but I kind of agree with Ayn Rand, that our entire purpose is not to morph into the greater good of all society to the point that the individual is lost. The individual is vastly important. But that is a post for another time. This one is already long enough!

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