A few minutes into the documentary Pirooz Kalayeh made about me, Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen, is a scene in which I’m at a Zen center in New York City who had invited me to speak there and the head of the Zen center asks me, “Do you think that unresolved problems in your childhood might have something to do with your acting like a perpetual adolescent and refusing to become an adult?”
That’s why I found a recent Salon article by Scott Timberg called “Why Grow Up?” is a Political Question: Our Cult of Youth is No Accident – And It Has Dire Consequences pretty interesting. Because if I’m an arrested adolescent, then so are most of the people I associate with. I seem to be born of a generation of arrested adolescents and the trend appears to be growing with each new generation.
The article is mostly an interview with Susan Neiman, an American philosopher who lives in Berlin and directs the Einstein Forum. She is the author of the book, Why Grow Up?: Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age.
Neiman sees the glorification and fetishizing of youth as a grave danger. She says, “By encouraging our most infantile characteristics, and diverting us from the truly important adult questions, it distracts us from the social problems that need to be solved. We will not be able to solve all of them in a lifetime; but it’s hard to contribute to any solutions without reinventing adulthood, and embracing it.”
I posted a link to this article on my Facebook page and in response my friend Marc Catapano said, “I think that basically ‘maturity’ in today’s society is a marketing ploy. You need to buy the right stuff to prove you are a grown up. And unfortunately although I like the POV of the philosopher she offers no evidence of today’s society being particularly immature beyond marketing.”
Last year, on the occasion of my fiftieth birthday, I wrote a piece for this blog that was edited and reprinted by Shambhala Sun magazine under the title A Punk Looks at Fifty. In that article I said, “I’ve never grown up. That annoys a lot of people I encounter.”
The article was inspired in part by an ad I saw for Cadillac cars that implied that what a real grown-up ought to have is lots of very specific stuff – a new car, a house, a mortgage, a 401-K, etc., etc. And I have never had any of that stuff. Yet somehow I’ve paid my own taxes and made my own way in this world for the past thirty years.
I blame Buddhism.
At least in part. I also blame punk rock. I blame the attitude that punk rock and Buddhism have in common. And that is the attitude that there are different ways to live your life, and that the ideals of the mainstream majority may not be the best.
A Buddhist monk not only doesn’t have a Caddy and a pool, she or he is supposed to own no property at all. In actual practice very few Buddhist monks really live up to this ancient ideal. What normally happens even in Asia is that you put your stuff in storage or leave it with your family and then enter a monastery wherein, for the duration of your stay, the amount of stuff you own is severely restricted. But even this somewhat half-assed version of the ancient vow of poverty has a big effect. You start to notice that you don’t really need very much. Most people who go through this ritual imitation of real poverty come out of it with a lot less wants and needs than the average population seems to have.
I get what Nieman is saying in her interview when she says, “The state has an interest in preventing us from thinking independently, and it cultivates and exploits our worst tendencies in order to do so, for grownup citizens are more trouble than they’re worth.” And I’m right with her when she says, “We all suffer from the fact that we have no appealing models of adulthood – young people who fear that there’s nothing to look forward to as well as older people who fear they need to resign themselves to being able to do nothing interesting or meaningful after a certain point in their lives. It is this view that is profoundly unhealthy.”
My best years were not in my teens and twenties. That pretty much sucked. I’ve had a lot more fun since then and I plan to continue enjoying myself as long as I possibly can in every way I can think of.
In fact, Susan Neiman doesn’t say anything in the interview I really disagree with. It’s actually the author’s preface that bugs me. It begins, “Whether you look at superhero-besotted Hollywood, the clothes alleged grownups wear in public, or the spread of video games out of the suburban family room, it’s hard to miss noticing that much of contemporary culture is caught in childhood.”
I’m not so certain that it’s the clothes you wear and the movies you watch that determine maturity. Real maturity may be more about the ability to think for oneself that Susan Nieman advocates in her interview, rather than the ability to dress like a adult is “supposed to” and avoid superhero movies that the author of the article endorses.
To me, Buddhism has always been about learning to truly think for oneself. How you choose to dress or what movies you like are largely irrelevant. To me, the real sign of maturity is when you can actually be who you are rather than what someone else thinks you ought to be.
August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT
August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE
August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR
August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY
September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany LECTURE
September 6, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY
September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT
September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT
September 20, 2015 London, England THE ART OF SITTING DOWN & SHUTTING UP
September 21-25, 2015 Belfast, Northern Ireland SPECIFIC DATES TO BE DETERMINED
September 26-27, 2015 Glastonbury, England 2-DAY RETREAT
October 26-27 Cincinnati, Ohio Concert:Nova
November 6-8, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY RETREAT
April 23, 2016 Long Island, New York Molloy College “Spring Awakening 2016”
Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!
Every Saturday at 9:30 there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!
Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info
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Like I said, I’m fifty-one and don’t have a retirement fund. The donations I receive from this blog are what I live on. Thank you for your support of my “adolescent” lifestyle.
Yeah, we should at least be able to define what “growing up” is before we even begin to judge doing so (or not doing so).
I remember an interview with David Fincher talking about he thought the message of Fight Club was to “just fucking grow up, already” (or something along those lines). That was highly disappointing because while the solutions Fight Club offer should not be taken seriously, the problems it introduces (i.e. that of becoming an automatonic, all-consuming corporate drown) definitely exist, and one of the struggles I’ve had since I graduated…well…high school, really, is that living like an “adult” in this country is a constant fight to night smother my “soul.”
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” — 1 Corinthians 13:11.
The Anime convention here downtown last week already me thinking about this… in some ways, there are behaviors embraced by larger percentages of the population over time that certainly seem like ‘immature’ behaviors if you characterize them that way, like cosplay, following things like comics and anime in general. But I think we forget that adults dressing up as anime characters and the like don’t really speak to maturity or immaturity. The behavior is a signifier/sign that has become outmoded. Playing ‘dress up’ and reading comics and playing video games, etc–even living as an adult with your parents– used to be reliable signs indicating a certain stage of childhood, and more often than not were ‘put behind’ someone as they matured. That’s not the case anymore, but people still find themselves using these things as signs of maturity.
Things like our dress and vocabulary and our hobbies aren’t really mature or immature. The childlike behavior that Paul talks about in Corinthians is much deeper than the stuff that I think many people think of as mature or immature. I think real maturity is about character and moral behavior–being responsible, reliable, compassionate, considerate, learning how to delay gratification, how to plan, etc… I think that over time, the average American has become more mature by those standards.
the idea of “thinking for yourself” has always struck me as odd. Youre thoughts are totally the construct of things which are not you. Every single thought, even the “unique” ones, are products of things which you have very little, if any, control over.
But look at me! I’m the unique one! not like everyone else over there! My thoughts are my own, and independent! Unlike the thoughts and views that everyone else has!
There are different ways to understand the concept of “thinking for oneself.” In Buddhist terms there is no “self” in the way we usually conceive of it. That does not me that the thing we wrongly describe as “self” doesn’t exist. It does. It’s just not “self.”
In conventional terms, we either think for ourselves or we let society or family or whatever dictate what we believe and what we do. When we try to follow society, we never really can because we have to continually guess at what society is telling us. It’s rarely very clear. We also have to suspend judgement, which is never a good thing to do.
In a sense, our uniqueness is an illusion, but it’s also real. Depends how you define “uniqueness.”
The difference is that most people identify with the stream of thoughts in their head. People doing mindfulness watch the stream flowing by, and some watch everything arising and passing away.
Without defining what is mature or isn’t, you could just allow everything to be whatever it is.
Not to say that I’m not an asshole
Reminded of a dinner-table discussion with the, then, father-in-law who brought up “maturity”. Having been blessed with careers allowing creative and artistic effort the comment of the importance of maintaining a ‘childlike’ outlook brought a response as if it had been suggested pedophiles ARE good baby sitters. Dad heard the word ‘childish’ and no convincing from son-in-laws, daughter or spouse could dissuade him. He was mature.^^
A Kesa, t-shirt & shortpants or a three-piece: they’re all costumes.
Once upon a time when I was in my twenties, I quit a job, giving two weeks notice. I quit because I couldn’t continue to stomach the way the manager treated the employees. I’d gone to bat for a new hire I’d been training after I happened upon the boss yelling at her for something insignificant. It was her first day. After the new person left I turned to the boss and said “I quit.” I’d been working there for a few years, and at that time was a valued employee, in fact, I was assistant manager.
The next morning (I had given two weeks notice) the manager boss person called me into her office. She tried to make me stay. During her plea she said, “I’m a bitch” -as though this was some kind of an excuse. I got really mad, saying how dare she hide behind a label like that, why not just admit she was not boss-material, in fact had no business whatsoever dealing with people as a manager. Of course, she couldn’t do that.
I did quit, but before I did the owner asked me about it and I told him what was going on. Shortly thereafter, he made the manager a partner in the business -which took her out of the managing people part- which she now owns (&it turned out she and I made much better friends than co-workers over the years).
Convenient, arbitrary labels tend to piss me off. “Buddhist,” “Arrested Adolescent,” “asshole” (LOL Fred), etc. simply cloud the real situation. The real situation is that there is no “self” as Brad says, but also how, most of the time, the “self” just can’t handle it.
Nieman: “The state has an interest in preventing us from thinking independently, and it cultivates and exploits our worst tendencies in order to do so…” No mention of the commercialization of pretty much everything, then. It’s all the state’s fault, which is just her agenda.
Neotony is a “tool” of evolution. Some groups of animals, faced with a multi-generational disaster, can’t evolve fast enough. Instead they stop maturing and stay in a more flexible, youthful state. They trade some of the highly-evolved tools of adulthood for more options in the now. Maybe they’re better at short-term adaptation to a changing world, and maybe they’re still doomed.
As I approach 60, still refusing to grow up or do much planning, I like to think about this stuff. Buddhism sort of provides a framework for letting go of a lot of fossilized nonsense about “maturity” we learned from our parents. Some of it is useful, but a lot of it belonged to a previous era. Hanging on to it is like hoarding.
Video games infecting suburbia seems more of a signifier of the cultural divide between generations that grew up with games and those who did not.
Many of the games are made for adults so to me it is just that some people like to unwind with games and some like movies. Even though I am not a heavy gamer I do not look at people who play games and think they are acting like kids.
What do you all think?
The last comment mentioned staying more flexible, this is an interesting concept. It can take a long time to achieve those badges of adulthood even if one wants them in the present economy. In the movie The 40 Year Old Virgin the guy works at an electronics retail store. In LA one could not even afford the simple apartment he has with that job. But they got the biking to work part right 😉
Let’s be real here. “Arrested adolescence” only applies to white, college educated people in America. An African American, or Latino, or anyone from an impoverished background would have no idea what this article is talking about. They would say “white people problems.” In general minorities get married earlier, have children earlier, and pursue full time work earlier. “Arrested adolescence” is not a product of culture; rather it is a product of basic income inequality, and it’s essentially a privilege. So enjoy it.
I’m a Brazilian from a working-class background. I spent my early years with videogames and comics; now I’m 31 and a parent, and never stopped. Most of my friends are like this. This is in clear contrast to my parents and most people of the older generations, who had a clear divide between “kid’s stuff” and “serious, adult business”.
The world has become more depressingly similar than you think. Most of modern America’s problems–quarter-life crisis, consumerism burnout, hopeless economy, NEETs, netflix binges being preferable to dealing with society, etc.–are worldwide problems.
My ambition growing up was to become a gentleman.
I let my high school sweetheart down. I knew I had a long way to go.
I had good parents; I had a safety net that allowed me to take a lot of chances.
I met Kobun, and I had a new ambition: to sit the lotus without pain or numbness. I was expecting to turn a corner and be able to sit sesshins like Kobun. I still think that Zen in America is really about communicating what makes that possible, in words people can understand and take to the cushion. For people like me, who started out with two left feet, the important thing was and is to get the fundamentals right.
In the zendo, I’m only slightly jealous of the adults around me, who jump up off their cushions after many periods displaying the grace and ease of gentle people. I’m no good at all at being hungry, tired, and cold all the time, which Demian Kwong reported was his condition at Eiheiji for six months (he caught a lot of colds).
I did finally learn to dance at Mabuhay Gardens, though, a long time ago. And I can sit ok now, first thing in the morning. Maybe I have the fundamentals right now, maybe I just like to have fun with it and I will never grow up. Maybe that’s the future of Zen in America.
Around 1965, in High School, they asked me to choose an option, which I thought was idiotic, since I didn’t know yet what I wanted to do later, and I loathed being obliged to shunt upon a set of tracks which might later prove the wrong one. But this was part of the education reforms which did so much to destroy the Western education systems over the years.
This makes me think that, maybe this lady has it wrong and that, having been deprived in adolescence of a part of the flexibility which ought to have been ours, we try to maintain it later? I don’t know, but I’m sure there’s something there.
One other element is that we’re at the end of an era which followed the various revolutions (Industrial, American, French) after which the time of Aristocracy was over, with its flashy and coloured clothes, giving way to the time of the Bourgeois (Merchant, Trader, Industrial, etc.) with their drab and somber clothing. This started to melt down in the ’70ies, but we can witness that this code still prevails in a lot of businesses (more in Northern America than Europe anyway), but the more up the social ladder you get and the stricter it is. And of course, politicians are bound by it. Why, in the Greek Crisis, one of the main reproaches that were turned to Tsipras and his government is that they don’t wear neckties!!!
So when someone talks about Brad’s “acting like a perpetual adolescent and refusing to become an adult”, I suspect something else: the need for an authority figure (which Brad doesn’t want to be) needs the figure to be cast in stone, and be in no way un-predictable (as Brad tends to be).
I guess I just don’t like the fuzzy mundane memories of a protracted youth. Every time I read another version of Brad and his friends getting beat up by two black kids I get sad. Maybe that is what the perpetual youthful do, rehash their rather commonplace memories to the point of exhaustion in order to mythologize them. I have read that Shunryu Suzuki didn’t like to talk about his past. Now that was a kind man.
“In Why Grow Up? she challenges our culture of permanent adolescence, turning to thinkers including Kant, Rousseau, and Arendt to find a model of maturity that is not a matter of resignation. In growing up, we move from the boundless trust of childhood to the peculiar mixture of disappointment and exhilaration that comes with adolescence. Maturity, however, means finding the courage to live in a world of painful uncertainty without giving in to dogma or despair. A grown-up, Neiman writes, helps to move the world closer to what it should be while never losing sight of what it is.”
Well, if she turns to Kant, right off the bat her thoughts are worthless.
As for dogma, if she examined her thought processes closely, she would she that it’s all dogma, clichÃ©s and propaganda.
And moving the world closer to what it should be is a leap into pure bullshit.
At band practice last night, the other old guy in the group, the bass player, a published poet and all-around good guy, and I were “talkin’ about the good old days,” at the break, and I quoted what you said here about Suzuki…”Now that was a kind man.”
It’s good to be aware of how often we mythologize our past and speak from that place where we might feel we know ourselves best or at least can bring examples that are meaningful to the present.
The other two guys, keyboards and drums, were happily jamming as we talked, cracking up and enjoying the moment. Bill, the bass player looked at me after I quoted you Harlan, and said, “I really think we should change the band name to Geezer!”
If you change the band name to “Geezer” you might get sued.
Wow, they embody the name so fully it would be disrespectful to appropriate it, if we were indeed serious about doing that.
Years ago Eugene Chadbourne (Shockabilly) pointed out when I told him about my nephew’s band, “Joker”….”There must be a band in every town in America named Joker!”
Band names, like all names…
But if you add another word or two you could probably avoid litigation. I entered “geezer” in a band name generator and one of the results was “Geezer Beneath Dumpster.” It sounds like the name of a painting or a sculpture. You could shorten it to “GBD” for the merch, following the tradition of “ELO”, “ELP”, and “BTO”.
GBD is great! Thanks for this link, I’ll hide it from the other guys, because one of our pastimes is texting each other lists of random potential band names that quickly (if they don’t in fact start out that way) degenerate into basically what you’d expect from a bunch of arrested adolescents. The last one, coined after a photo I took and sent around to the band of my eight year old firing off a bunch of “snakes” on the 4th, which I captioned “satan shitting through a fiery portal from hell” came from drummer Matt: Concrete Rectum.
“During her plea she said, “I’m a bitch” -as though this was some kind of an excuse. I got really mad, saying how dare she hide behind a label like that, why not just admit she was not boss-material, in fact had no business whatsoever dealing with people as a manager.
That manager might have been a BPD sufferer or something similar. That kind of (“I’m a bitch”) confession in those circumstances is a common trait and can really confuse and often outrage the person to whom those kinds of utterances are directed – a reaction which that suddenly activated aspect of the speaker’s psyche might very well be geared up to inducing. What I have learned is that your understandable reaction usually validates and galvanises the borderline behaviour and the use of that kind of self-labelling.
I’m not suggesting that you were wrong to express yourself as you did. But the use of such phrases and how we frame them I find interesting. From my own stumbling experience, I think it’s useful to see how it might be insufficient to only derogate the utterance to something the speaker is ‘hiding behind’.
I would call it something like ‘a confessional deflection’, a functionally ambivalent utterance from a person who knows they have a problem which causes them continual distress, shame and guilt, as well as making them sometimes or in some circumstances a damaging nightmare for others who take the brunt of their inability to successfully self-regulate.
And (if I may extend my fiction that your manager was a Bordeline), a person who was most likely addressing someone they thought well of, respected and thus feared on that level. Not only on the level of fearing the negative consequences of her behaviour being outed and losing a valued employee/co-worker, but on the level of fearing that she was a deeply bad person, which is why BPD suffers can be ‘narcissistically defended’ or even roundly co-morbid.
Perhaps she was brought up being invalidated, emotionally abandoned and condemned, and her inability to self-regulate since has perpetuated the cycle of hurting or distressing people she was close to (liked, admired, loved, respected, felt responsible for etc.) and thus inevitably having that behaviour regularly condemned or criticised, triggering the habitual emotionally charged reaction that keeps on fortifying an invalidated, negative self image. And so the dance goes on, picking up and sometimes chewing up partners along the way.
That you were ‘right’ in your criticism and condemnation, even if it was calm and reasonable, might just have been a case of you fitting ‘right’ into the role that that utterance required you to join in with, a little twirl in a dance she might still be tripping through life with.
Ambivalent utterances like “I’m a bitch’ downplay and deflect, and so help to maintain the crappy behaviour. But the person may also be admitting and seeking the acceptance for who they are as they are that they most desperately seek within themselves and amongst others, and on a level that is not receptive to the rational mind when those utterances are leaping out – when confronted or in other circumstances which trigger such a person to utter them in order manage the perceived views of others about their past behaviour or reputation.
We might hate that such utterances are used alongside the ugly behaviour they are related to) and the way they pollute and distort how folk relate to each other, themselves and the culture which adopts and valorizes them, but in only expressing our derogation, we may be missing the real altruistic ‘plea’ mixed in and thus contributing our own splitting effect in how we frame such things.
Somewhere, sometime down the way, someone ‘good’ or ‘helping’ ends up like the priest in the Exorcist (verbally or physically) punching the lights out of an (actual or matured) young girl to save her from evil and throws him/herself out of the window to get a neck correctly twirled backwards.
Thank you for your insights, Andy, I think you’re on to something here. I was young and tired of the crazy. As I said, we became good friends as the years have passed, in fact, she and her husband are coming out to see my band play in their city this weekend. I am also still good friends with the former owner, although he lives in NYC and I rarely see him. He just told me of an employee-wide “dispute” that she had to arbitrate the last time I was in town to drop in and visit finding her in “meetings” and I thot yeah, same old shit…
So by your belief system Bruce Jenner, or rather Caitlyn Jenner, must be one of the most mature people in America.
Andy, I have a friend who I believe is borderline, and her description was “I just feel things very intensely”. A marvelous presence, in my youth she seemed to me like she needed rescuing; very fortunately for me she learned to modify her behavior and get along entirely without assistance from me, as I really had not a clue. Friends we are, and she has been a great help to me in the last many years.
“Talk like Yoda Day”, it must be.
Shunryu Suzuki did not want his biography written either, but I don’t think it was out of kindness, so much. There was the incident with the WWII vet he took in at his family temple in Japan, who murdered his first wife. And the one where he nearly drowned at Tassajara, all of which I never would have known about if it were not for “that evil monk” (as Kobun once called him), David Chadwick. Thanks, David, your writing has always been a tremendous encouragement to me, making me realize that the charisma and grace of the teacher and the discipline of the teacher’s students is not to be confused with what works for me (and possibly my peers), when it comes to (non-material) happiness.
Normal people are pretty boring. If a Borderline isn’t trying to kill themselves, they can be fun to live with.
I bought a new toy last weekend. It seems like parlor guitars have become more popular lately after being out of style for the past 80 or 90 years.
“I also blame punk rock.”
“Blame it on my youth” (Chet Baker version)
More like “blame it on Chet’s heroin”.
Gentlemen learn from an early age that while whiskey and snuff may be socially acceptable and the occasional opium pipe may be enjoyed without prolonged ill effects, heroin should be avoided as if it contained cholera or smallpox.
When I was twelve, I hung around a carnival that played my town. The day after they left, I walked around the empty, littered grass, wondering what it would have been like to go with them.
Flash forward about thirty years. Having run out of gas money in Pipestone, Minnesota, I followed up a suggestion I try the carnival which had just come into the fairgrounds. Hmm, could this be a childhood fantasy come true?
I was with them for two weeks and made enough money to get to Nevada. Learned plenty of tribal anthropology, and card tricks. Let my practice lapse until I got sober enough again. Didn’t get any tattoos or STDs, but I revived my Pall Mall habit for about ten years. All in all, it was quite enjoyable, but I enjoyed the stability of my more moderate life better.
Google honors a guy behind Brad’s fantasyland:
The true dawn of adulthood, of intellectual maturity, if you like, is the realization that adults are all fools. – Gene Wolfe
This is a perfect example of how Buddhism has become co-opted in service of the late capitalist craphole that is “the west”. Basically, buddhists use this philosophy as an excuse not to take responsiblity for society and just pursue their own self obsessed aims (zazen, enlightenment, whatever) and remain rootless, single and without “attachment” to anything really. Far from keeping themselves free, they are actually slaves of this globalised, transient, low security work culture, which wants to keep people atomised, selfish and wary of groups. This way, they are easier to control, Buddhism,as it s sold and understood in the West, s the “religion par excellence for this level of social control.
I still remember the first time I read Das Kapital…
Reincarnated Buddhists and piles of money:
Das Kapital ist fur in-der-Welt-sein
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