Selections from The Vanishing American Adult


But across most of history, you didn’t require a grasp of the finer points of a Puritan worldview to understand the simple secular reality that if you didn’t work hard, you were going to die, soon. God is love; winter is not.

Human flourishing, in Aristotle’s term, is won through the recognition of what you ought to be and the hard work of doing the things that are fitting for you as a human to do in service of others. There’s an ancient corollary to that idea: “He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray,” the book of Proverbs warns.

This crisis of idleness and passive drift is profound for every citizen of this republic. For this nation is premised on the idea that the government exists not to define and secure the good, the true, and the beautiful, but rather to maintain a framework for ordered liberty—so that free people can pursue their happiness in the diverse ways that they see fit.

Unfortunately, centralized education bureaucrats tend to see every failure as a product of still not enough centralized bureaucracy. Most of these experts are blind to the possibility that perhaps we are still trying to spoon-feed young adults who we should instead nudge to travel and to read, to work and to become the kind of students who ask questions before being handed a three-point formulaic answer.

What’s true for marriage or for animal flight training is truer still for coming of age. Teenagers need help. Growing up is actual, hard work. I would venture to guess that most of our teens don’t need more therapy or more antidepressants. They need direction about how to acquire the habits essential for navigating adulthood, and experiences that introduce and instill those habits.

We are fashioned to redeem our time on earth. As such, we need to make our days matter, make them meaningful. Adults need to pause to reflect. We need to “escape” the tyranny of the urgent and the loud.

Unless you are dead or in the process of withering away in front of your screen the way so many millions of us do, there’s an imperative in your soul to unpack life and its endless mysteries. This is an active, not a passive, pursuit. For people who are alive, really alive, their brains are in motion.

A plea for self-discipline and self-control is the one and only dignified alternative to discipline and control from without. For in this broken world of lawless souls, there will be control; there will be government. Order-seeking and security-seeking people, as well as those in search of power for their own purposes, will invariably seek to hold back the chaos of the world. The question is whether people will control themselves or submit to the control of another.

Lincoln’s “silver frame” of Constitutionalism enables many competing pursuits of happiness. Liberty empowers individuals and local communities to make their own choices. Liberty does not mandate how you live, but it does make a grand claim about your dignity and your unalienable rights—and therefore by implication it urges you to embrace a creed affirming the dignity and natural rights of everyone across the globe.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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4 Responses to Selections from The Vanishing American Adult

  1. great book study says:

    This kind of discussion gives me anxiety. I guess I’m a little pessimistic these days. Or maybe it is just an election year on steroids. I see the struggle between those who desire to be free and self-govern and those who believe in a nanny state. Regretfully, it appears we are always moving away from self-government. 😦

    • I can appreciate that — it seems like we’ve been in a never-ending election cycle since 2016. It’s exhausting, and I wonder what fresh hell we’re in for. One would think amid wildfires and plague and hurricanes we could focus on helping each other, but nope. We’re just going to keep fighting for the One Ring..

      • great book study says:

        “Fresh hell…” is one way to anticipate it. I like to think that in the conflicts, especially with wildfires and hurricanes and other natural disasters, you will find communities coming together and helping each other. We just don’t hear about it bc it isn’t sensational enough…it doesn’t divide and spread vile hatred. But I just know people are coming together and being kind, even if our media does not spotlight it. Know what I mean?

      • I absolutely agree. Alain de Botton did this lovely little book about how to read the news, and he reminded us that the story being told there is only ONE story. For every act of violence we hear about, there are incalculable others which never happen. But tragedy, violence, and drama quicken the senses far more readily than good news. My main concern right now is that there might be riots following the election, if Trump wins. This year’s election may prove even messier than the prolonged Bush/Gore one, given the dubious prospect of relying on mail-in votes.

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