Against the Youth Cult

Dec 4th, 2012 by Nicholas Pell in Society

It’s no controversy to say that the elderly could be treated better in our society. Rather that revered as truly “senior citizens,” they are cast aside, marginalized and forgotten about the second their labor ceases to be profitable and their stories become tiresome. This is not only a cruel indignity to men and women of experience, it’s also a massive waste of human capital. Less discussed, however, are the various and sundry ways our society lionizes youth for no good reason at all.

For my readers over 30, think back 10 years. Compare your life now to your life then. If you prefer the latter, you’re adulting wrong. When I was 22, I was living in a shitty, black-mold infested house with three roommates, unloading crates of art books every day and banging out hack work on my portable typewriter. Now I’m sitting around my apartment figuring out what I want to write and not write for the day.

Youth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. While my superhuman ability to drink to the precipice of alcohol poisoning without hangovers was a tragic loss, there’s not much else that I had in my 20s that I wish I had back. I was plagued by low self-esteem, a general ineptitude of both process and purpose, anxiety bordering on mortal terror of every day events and an emotional neediness that brings pangs of embarrassment even as I type this.

Was even childhood that fun? I sure don’t think so. When I recall childhood I remember little more than living in constant terror and humiliation, intensely frustrated by the fact that I had no control over my life whatsoever. Growing up in a suburb of Providence, RI didn’t exactly put me at the cultural epicenter of the universe. By the age of 3 or 4 I was already too damn smart for my own good, realizing that I was drowning in a sea of uncultured yokels, with nary a thing to be done about it.

There’s a strong argument to be made for the teen years as salad days. I will confess to a certain nostalgia for the carefree days when the only things that mattered to me were skateboarding, Dropdead and X-Force. This seems little more than selective memory, however; If I think hard enough, I can remember many hours spent freaking out over next to nothing or days spent rotting alone in my bedroom planning my escape.

Did I mention that I didn’t know shit about anything until I was 29 or so?

Rather than being depressed by the rotations of the planet, I’m overjoyed by them. Every year that passes is another year that I put between myself and a misspent youth that I am only now able to make some use out of. I wouldn’t be so bold as to say that my situation is universal, but nor is it terribly uncommon, I’d imagine. This isn’t a question of embracing the inevitable; It’s about seeing the objective and subject benefits that come from years spent on this earth and, alternately, realizing that being young wasn’t actually all that great.

With apologies to P.J. O’Rourke, age and guile beat youth, inexperience and a bad haircut. I speak from experience here. I’ve had some pretty bad haircuts.

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