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You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two*

stealing

One of the classic adolescent rebellions played out in homes around the world involves the interpretation of limits. Taking the car out at 12:01 AM is not technically driving at night. Having friends over to ‘study’ isn’t really having a party. The teen, having recently acquired the ability to discern shades of grey, knows exactly what they’re doing. They know that the intention of the ‘night driving’ restriction has to do with the dark and not the time. They know that they are not to have friends over when there is no adult present. But one can admire their commitment to the job of testing limits and tormenting parents. That is the point of adolescence (that and moving themselves and their packed bags closer to the front door). But what about full-grown people who engage in the same rule/law/ethics interpretations? How did they get stuck in an adolescent developmental stage and does it apply to all areas of their lives?

Does the president of the Academy of Arts & Sciences have her staff falsely claim her to have a doctorate on grant proposals, then dare them to pierce something? After stashing close to half a million dollars in an off-shore account does the U.S. Trade Nominee then swipe a twenty out of his mom’s wallet? As the Military Joint Chiefs of Staff defend their male dominated, hierarchical, and abstruse approach to sex crimes are they texting each other about getting with Senator Gillibrand? There are times when skirting the letter of the law and finding creative solutions is admirable. Many examples come to mind within institutions catering to the vulnerable. Hospitals are notorious for rules & regulations that may not always be beneficial to a patient. Social services agencies can at times be more rules than reason. Schools become increasingly rule-bound with every semester. We are often put in the position of reinterpreting or bypassing rules (or even laws) when the situation warrants it.

And this is when things get sticky. A mature adult with a sense of communal responsibility and an interest in the world should be able to discern between personal benefit and compassion/public good. Letting your dog off the leash in a populated park may make the dog happy, but mostly it makes you feel like a cool dog owner. Smashing the window of a parked car to rescue a dog from a sun-baked death is for the benefit of the dog. Both of these acts are against the law and only one poses a potential danger to others (the leash-less dog). We are continuously enacting laws or fines to encourage people to act decently. The very fact that we need to approach decency from the outside in is problematic. Parents everywhere will tell you how exasperating this is as they engage in it day after day after day. Time-outs begat no phone, begat no car begat grounding. Parenthood can at times seems like a progression of creative external incentives to do the right thing.

Isn’t the idea of adulthood that we’ve now internalized decency? Don’t we pull up our big boy/girl pants and realize all we have is our word and reputation? When we decide to lie (and lying is always a decision) about our credentials (on resumes, Linkedin, proposals, and in interviews) do we honestly think that no one will find out? Are we making a conscious decision to be seen as not just less qualified but a liar too? When we put money offshore, presumably having decided that we’ve already paid what we care to in taxes, do we not worry how that will be perceived? In essence the law that allows for this form of tax evasion is no different than many other less sexy loopholes. We all know that some level of corruption exists in enabling these rules and laws to exist. When we avail ourselves of a corrupt, personally beneficial act, we do so knowing we are harming others. That we teach our children (by our act) that this is a decent way to live is baffling. But that we can consider ourselves suitable for public office is simply loony. That we can look at military brass behaving abhorrently and hear the strains of ‘boys will be boys’ in our heads tells us everything.

Children will be children, it’s their job after all. And teens will be teens. But will adults be adults? What becomes of a society that is mired in adolescence? Impulse driven self-absorbed, risk tolerant behavior is very scary when it lacks parental oversight. Rules and laws have their place but they can’t take the place of conscience. Nothing can.

*Oliver (1960) – Lionel Bart

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2013 in Childhood, Cultural Critique

 

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All aTwitter

comicbooks

There are two (polar opposite) views of modernity. There are the early adopters who froth and queue up for new and shiny gizmos and gewgaws and then there are the progress curmudgeons. These curmudgeons sit on their metaphorical porches and attribute the downfall of society to; ‘those dadgum moving picture shows.’ Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of these two opposing views. The early adopters aren’t a new concept (please don’t tell them that it would just kill them) people have been running to buy what’s being sold since the first wheel kiosk opened. It’s the progress curmudgeons that are far more fascinating. Nobody is born a progress curmudgeon. Every kid is intrigued by something newer, faster, and shinier. No, a curmudgeon must be created. They must find a time in history and stick with it. Any and all things that came after these glory days must not be trusted.

This is not an entirely irrational perspective; some things simply aren’t made as well as they once were. For instance clothes used to be made to last a lifetime, although who would want to wear the same clothes for their entire life alludes me. Cars were far less disposable, but they were also lethal (both for riders and for anyone in the car’s path.) Certainly items were easier to use once upon a time. Picking up the phone and asking the operator to connect you was easier than…pushing a speed dial button? Well a typewriter was certainly easier to use than a computer. You only need insert a ribbon (use lye to remove the ink from your fingers,) insert paper, reinsert paper after you realize the lye missed some spots and ink has leached onto the paper, insert paper again with carbon paper (use lye to remove carbon from fingers) commence typing, commence searching for white-out, miraculously finish letter, try and type address onto envelope, give up and handwrite envelope, find stamp, walk to mailbox, repeat. Fine, communication is easier but what about music. Don’t you miss records? You remember records don’t you? There were those paradoxically highly fragile yet extremely heavy items you had to lug around with you through life. They crackled and skipped and sounded nothing like the real thing.

I think we can all agree that progress is just that; progress. We don’t have to like it and we don’t have to adopt it, but we cannot argue with the fact that it is progress. No one wants to feel left behind or to have his/her rituals upended. But discounting progress, or worse imbuing progress with negative consequences is misguided. How many times have you heard people blaming modern movies and videos for increased violence (as if silent movies weren’t horrifically violent)? And what of this notion that social media is to blame for increased bullying. It’s not lax parenting, or the soul crushing experience of a Kindergarten graduation ceremony that leads to the self-esteem issue that is always at the root of bullying. Nope, it’s social media that is to blame. The same social media that allows for positive reinforcement that simply does not exist in any other domain of the real world with the exception of group therapy. Before the advent of (social media) Linkedin did anyone ever publicly endorse your skills? Whether it is a meaningful gesture or has any validity at all is beside the point. It is a public attaboy that simply did not exist in the past. Before we tweeted, did we publicly support other’s views or endeavors? Do we even remember a life before Facebook and the villages it’s created? When, beside a reunion (family or class) did we ever cheer accomplishments, offer sympathies and coo over baby pictures?

Expanding our sense of community is always a good thing. It reinforces our attachment and obligation to the larger world. Humans despite their many differences are at their core the same; they need to be connected to other people. It is not the gaming or chatting that encourages antisocial behavior; it’s the fact that people are using these outlets to avoid social behavior. In that sense the video game is no more detrimental than the comic book (which was also decried as the downfall of civilization.) The progress doesn’t create maladjusted people, it’s that maladjusted people still crave human interaction, simulated or not. Banning or demonizing the tangible is always more tempting than dealing with the elusive. The only way to reach troubled people is to reach out to troubled people. Blaming something we don’t care for or don’t understand is distracting and disingenuous. Social media, comic books, dime novels or pool do not create trouble. Troubled people are drawn to things that make them feel less alone.

 

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Is This Seat Taken?

I have reached the point at which the Town Crier warning the villagers about the evils of social media barely registers.  It’s white noise to me now.  “Yes” I think, “Facebook has taken your mature, socially sophisticated, confident teenager and turned her into a gossiping over-sensitive bully.”  (I think this with the soundtrack of The Music Man in my head. “It starts with ‘F’ that rhymes with…”)  I roll my eyes and pound my fist upon hearing that parents and therapists view Facebook postings as a clue to the inner workings of adolescents.  Evidently, talking to your children or patients does not produce as much insight as does as a status update.  The only thing separating a status update from a scribble on a notebook cover or a diary is its audience, not its nature.  When people start wringing their consumer hands over the privacy of social media, I scream into my throw pillow (purchased with a credit card, online.)  Unless you live in a yurt and only traffic in the cash you store under your mattress, your privacy has already been invaded.

But when an airline is going to let people select a seatmate through their connections on Facebook and Linkedin?  Hand me a pitchfork.  I, perhaps like you, use Linkedin to connect with former and current colleagues, and business contacts.  There is nothing about these rather formal and superficial categories which would suggest I want to be trapped sitting next to them for three+ hours in a flying can, or on the tarmac for that matter.  What if I’m flying to a job interview, or to a not entirely kosher consulting gig?  What if I’m on my way to a funeral?  Do I really want to sit next to that tool in personnel whom I could not afford to not connect with?  While Facebook provides a network a bit more personally meaningful than Linkedin, I still don’t want someone to make a transcontinental date with me without asking.  Look for me at the gate.  Security procedures and delays being what they are, we’ll have hours to catch up and perhaps then decide to try and sit together.  I do not want to go through all the aggravations of planning my travel, be patted down and searched, have my chapstick confiscated, wait at the gate for hours with people eating fried foods in their pajamas, listen to blaring CNN, board a can that smells of disinfectant and fuel, find my seat, shot-put my carry-on, settle myself in, and then hear “Surprise!”  I don’t think our reminiscing about 6th grade will make it past the runway.  And you know what?  Without those George Takei photos, I’m not sure either of us is all that interesting.  It’s hard to believe that the airline industry doesn’t have enough problems.  Do they want to get into the business of enabling stalking?

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2012 in Travel

 

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