May 04, 2004

We live in what is steadily and increasingly becoming a youth culture ... a culture based around an ideal of youth. Never mind that worldwide demographics still carry that strong pyramidal shape which reminds that what it means to be under the age of majority varies sharply from culture to culture: those trends which are shaped by English-language mass media, primarily in the western world, cultivate a near worship of youth and youthfulness ... perhaps especially in the context of reluctance to accept personal responsibility. The most familiar trend of western culture, and that which have been among the most potent evangelisms to be exported worldwide, is the technology/humanities value-hierarchy polarity which is a direct descendant of the Platonic/Aristotlean polemic, itself reincarnated during the European renaissance, amplified during the post civil war period of England's Age of Reason, and finally come into its own with the newest incarnations of democratic and economic theory.

Today, there is a very strong sense that what is of real value is to be found in technology, engineering, and the economic and business skills to translate these into profit: and Adam Smith's invisible hand spins that perceived value into an appropriate level of monetary compensation.

I suggest that a culture which chooses to orient itself around a youth ideal could not have chosen otherwise. Technology, engineering, hard sciences, mathematics: these are (to some extent process-oriented) knowledge approaches which are notorious for the great leaps in understanding commonly made by those under thirty years of age ... and comparatively rarely by those over. These also happen to be generally more accessible to those who are younger, not least because they (almost uniquely) structure their core teachings around formula, fact, and textbook. Some cultures have an educational streamlining structure which allows their most gifted students to advance into college/university-level studies at a comparatively young age: nearly all who are offered access to such options follow them into one of these knowledge approaches. Even in everyday encounters, it has become axiomatic how frequently the youngest members of the family become the most computer- or other technology-literate.

Humanities can have no core textbooks. The closest they can come is through theories of how to approach a specific form of art or question of life: and even in the act of examining and learning about those theories a student of the humanities comes to understand that other approaches are possible, even contextually preferable. The true textbooks of the humanities, such as they are, are the living art itself. Certainly there are those who, at a young age, have exceptional gifts for art or music or writing: but few indeed are those gifted in these areas whose ability, understanding, awareness of their gift does not grow with their age -- and many have been encouraged to lay their gift aside in the more pragmatic interest of making a living.

Thus, despite an extremely prevalent countering mythology: knowledges associated with the technological pole tend to be much easier to acquire relatively quickly (especially as compared to those knowledges associated with the humanities pole) ... and consequently are likely to be more strongly valued by the youth of a culture, not least because they are the one area of knowledge in which those youth are likely to excel over their elders. Equally, as a technological perspective becomes culturally dominant, one consequence may be to attempt to redefine all fields of knowledge, all approaches, into a technological mould: at its most simplistic, into process-driven, objectivist, absolutist, fact. (Hence, perhaps, the current popularity of spelling bees and trivia game shows: entertainments and displays of knowledge which have evolved within a structure that values absolute, readily rote-learned answers.)

And what of the reverse? When new and escalating technologies are introduced into a previously balanced (per this particular polemic anyway) or elder-oriented culture, do the ways of thinking associated with learning the ways of the new technology act to begin turning that culture into a newly youth-oriented one (or, perhaps more accurately, an age-rejecting one)? As the youth of the culture embrace and become dominant in the new ways of thinking, are their elders increasingly no longer seen as masters of anything worth knowing?

O irony: to even attempt to separate, to isolate (post)colonial theory from all the other factors which sprouted in parallel with the global landgrab, itself becomes an expression of evangelistic polemic: a revived imperialism ... of idea!


Smile of the day:

The strong young man at the construction site was bragging that he could outdo anyone in a feat of strength. He made a special case of making fun of one of the older workmen. After several minutes, the older worker had had enough: "Why don't you put your money where your mouth is? I will bet you a week's wages that I can haul something in a wheelbarrow over to that outbuilding that you won't be able to wheel back."

"You're on, old man," the braggart replied. "Let's see what you've got."

The old man reached out and grabbed the wheelbarrow by the handles. Then, nodding to the young man, he said: "All right. Get in."

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